In a non-Super Bowl year, the AFC Championship Game is by far the biggest event on CBS’ air. 48 million people watched this year’s game on January 21.
CBS Creative Director Pete Radovich had the idea to incorporate John Malkovich into the AFC Championship open early in the 2017 NFL season. Originally conceived for an aborted Thursday Night Football tease with another big name actor, the idea would be to have Malkovich reacting to an overwrought script as he waited for cameras to roll. It would be a send up of the very concept of the big splashy tease usually reserved for a game this big.
Radovich used DEFINITION 6 Senior Editor Anthony J. Cortese to bounce ideas off of early in the process, as he often does. "That’s part of the great fun of collaborating with Pete. The script is a starting point, but he is tremendously open to any idea worth exploring," says Cortese.
Limited to four hours with the talent in Boston on the Wednesday before the game, it was all hands on deck. Cortese directed the background talent/orchestra on stage while Radovich worked with Malkovich on his performances up in the balcony. Moving quickly, DP's Joyce Tsang and Tim Wildgoose captured as much as possible as quickly as possible. "Through it all, Malkovich was extremely collaborative and open to the entire concept, which made it a ton of fun," recalls Cortese.
"The moment we wrapped, I drove back from Boston with the footage... transcoding and prepping for edit in the passenger seat as I went," Cortese continues.
"I did a first pass on Thursday, logging takes and assembling a pretty solid first cut. By Friday morning, we had a complete rough cut together and began fine tuning and exploring alt takes."
The CBS executives originally asked for a tease that ran 2:20. "Our initial cut was 4:40… so we knew we’d have to make some tough choices," Cortese noted. "But, we also knew that we had something really special that would get talked about. So, 24 hours before kickoff, Pete drove back up to Providence, where the pre-game production meeting was being held with (Jim) Nantz, (Tony) Romo, Sean McManus (Chairman of CBS Sports) and the producers of the broadcast. He threw on the long version, and they were so blown away that they found an extra 1:10 of precious air time to accommodate a longer cut!"
It’s worth mentioning that the edit week coincided perfectly with the DEFINITION 6 NY move to its new location on 40th Street. When Cortese found out that he'd been chosen to cut the piece, he knew the move could present some serious obstacles. "I knew for certain that I did not want the client to have to withstand all the inevitable bumps and bruises of our move while prepping for the biggest game of their broadcast year," said Cortese. Andy Solomon (VP, Operations) and Chris Reinhart (SVP, Post Production) agreed, and arranged to edit and mix at an outside facility that the client was comfortable with. "I am so proud of the support I get from the entire DEFINITION 6 team. It worked out perfectly. In the end, our move had absolutely no impact on the production whatsoever."
The 4:40 version went online (Facebook and Twitter) early on Sunday morning and by game time it had already been viewed over half a million times. When it finally aired, it was a legitimate viral hit. Tweets, Shares, Likes in the tens of thousands. It was nuts… People were talking about it online… Sports Illustrated ran an interview with Radovich ("How CBS’ Pulled Off the Malkovich AFC Championship Tease") in which all the key production people, including Cortese, were name-checked.
Then, the icing on the cake. On Tuesday evening, during a game between the Knicks and Celtics (in which John Malkovich was in attendance), the ESPN on-air talent began praising the tease all over again. A competitor... giving props on air, during a nationally televised game!
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