(Keith Barbaria, TODAY's technical manager)
For my first go-around with the new Blog for TODAY, I struggled to decide on what cool and interesting behind-the-scenes things to talk about. As Technical Manager of the show, I'm lucky enough to be involved in many aspects. I manage the extremely talented crew that operates all the equipment, I work directly with Jim Bell and his editorial staff as they come up with ideas for segments and need to have technical problems worked out, I even get to travel with the show from time-to-time and help set up the operations for shows like the TODAY Wedding series with the great production management staff and our field crews.
That's a lot of stuff to try to talk about! So, in thinking about it, I realized the single most popular question I get when people find out what I do is, "Gee, what time to do you have to get to work?"
I usually put on my best smile because the answer is truly one that causes some pain!! The fact is, some of my crew actually gets to work at midnight, or an hour earlier if we are setting up for a concert on the plaza. The staging crew and the highest level of my technical staff arrive first.
The Technical Director, who is also the crew chief, looks over notes left to him by me and the production managers, and the worksheet (a segment-by-segment detailed list of times and show elements that is put together by the production assistants that everyone on the show uses while we are on the air) and makes his plan for the technical set up. Depending on how complicated our set up is, I arrive between 3am and 4am. During the set up time many things are going on. Audio is selecting and preparing their music clips for playback while using the worksheet to decide on who wears what microphone and when. One mistake by them, and you could hear Al off-set while Matt or Meredith is trying to introduce a segment. The graphics crew is setting and creating the many animations, lower third graphics, and other elements that playback into the show. Our video control is checking each of our 12 HD cameras and balancing their pictures to match each other and look the best they possibly can. The studio crew is busy running many cables for speakers and monitors, setting up the studio floor and plaza.
If all goes well, at 4am the entire crew takes lunch. Yes, I said lunch at 4am! The show caters breakfast foods but there are also sandwiches and hot soups. Some people have breakfast at midnight when they get in to work, so 4am is truly "lunch time." I know, bizarre. I've had the honor of working on this show for almost 10 years and I STILL really can't wrap my head around it. Though I have to admit, there are morning when I choose the soup and ham sandwich over the egg wrap and toast!
From 5am-6:30am, we do a facilities check and rehearsal. We check every mic, every cable, every camera and lens, look at all our tape pieces, preview all of our graphics, check all of our remote feeds, and even check our transmission up onto the satellite and back down to earth. With the little time left, we will rehearse a complicated segment with the director.
At 6:35am Matt, Meredith, or Ann are in the studio doing our affiliate cross-talks to let people know what is coming up on the show. You may see these at the end of your local news just before TODAY comes on where you live. At 6:55am we run through the open once. The open is one of the hardest parts of the show for us. It had multiple graphics and animations, music cues, audio cues, and camera moves that all have to happen together. So we do that once to make sure it's perfect at 7am.
At 7am, the show starts. For me as Technical Manager, if I did my job by providing all the information and tools to the crew, I should just be able to watch and support the crew during the show. If there is a technical problem or an on-air outage, that's where I jump into action with the crew and studio engineers to fix the problem fast. Once the show is over, the process starts again almost immediately. We prepare as much as we can before we leave-- the rest will have to wait until the next morning, after the editorial staff decides what news makes it on the air.
Next time I get to blog, I'll go into more detail on specific aspects of the crew and technology we use to do what you see on the air each day. For now though, at least you know not only when we get to work, but why as well!