It was a beautiful song but it ran too long
If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05.
— "The Entertainer," Billy Joel
At some point in the wee hours of today,
Shawn Robbins will have boarded a red-eye flight from New York to Atlanta. He'll have been clutching a book-sized container in his hands, one that never leaves his sight. He's been told he can run it through the TSA's mammoth scanner machine, but that's when the paranoia usually sets in. As he says, "You don't want to get down there and the tape is blank."
The tape happens to be the two minutes and 30 seconds or so of "One Shining Moment" that has taken him and editor Shelley Goldmark, who's worked on OSM for some 20 years, more than three weeks to cobble together. Robbins always spends these hours in the air staring at the plane's overhead compartment, making sure no one makes off with this master reel. If he has to go to the bathroom, he might even take it with him.
For him, the national championship game is a culmination of sleepless nights, bleary eyes, and nonstop basketball. As the producer of "One Shining Moment," Robbins gets constant emails, texts, and voicemails from CBS cameramen to producers and everyone in between, full of helpful suggestions for what might be deemed OSM-worthy. This starts from the opening moments of the first games in mid-March, and it's up to him and Goldmark to sift through not only those moments that seem obvious — a buzzer beater here or an alley-oop there — but also the hours of B-roll game footage that never make it to air.
It's hard to adequately convey the chaos that pervades any TV production truck or control room doing a live sporting event. It's a testament to any successful broadcast that we, the at-home viewers, rarely witness any stray artifacts from this organized madness. What we do see, if everyone is on their game, is, in this case, basketball with informative graphics, timely replays, and seamless transitions. Robbins' job is all of that — only magnified. He must go back through all those endless reels of tape and piece together two- and three-second clips until he forms a narratively cohesive story. It's e pluribus unum in action: out of many, one.
"Literally watching the games is one way," Robbins says. "But then there are things that never make it to air. Let's say there are eight cameras at each game. All those cameras are feeding into a tape machine and there are all sorts of things the people at home never see. So if the game is two hours, that's 16 hours of footage on each game. We literally go through every frame looking for stuff."
Robbins knows how it sounds, like there aren't enough hours in a day for him and Goldmark to accomplish such a feat — the first four days alone consist of 48 games. "I know this tournament very well in fast-forward," he says. The struggle pays off, though, when a process that can feel downright Sisyphean yields a special moment that never made it to air.
That's actually something that CBS is hoping to accentuate this time around, according to Harold Bryant, an executive producer and VP of production at CBS Sports. "This year, we have not just game cameras, but now we've added in 'specialty cameras' that will look for those dramatic moments: a hug, a high five, a kid on the bench looking like he's in pain or sorrow," he says. "The fun of the tournament is what we're trying to capture: the color, the cheerleaders, the bands, the painted faces, and so on."
For Robbins, that means keeping eyes on as many cameras as possible. For the championship on Monday night, it'll be him, an editor, and two assistants that have access to the main CBS video router, allowing them to pull in any feed they like. They'll go into the game with about two minutes and 35 seconds already done. That leaves just 30 seconds to fill, and every image is a contender, right up until the final buzzer and postgame celebration.
"It's mayhem for us in the best way, because there are all these great celebration shots and everyone is chiming in," Robbins says. "And it's like, 'Oh my god, punch up 32! Punch up X! Punch up Z!' And we're looking at all these great shots but we need to figure out, OK, what's getting in at this point?"
The most frequent complaint Robbins hears is that some school, of the 68 that now get selected every year, is not depicted in some way. It's an unfortunate reality of his job, he says, and a wholly unrealistic ideal at that. With barely more than three minutes of airtime, there's just no way that every school will make it. This year, he says, there'll be just over 40 schools, give or take, that make it to the final cut, but that'll mean more than two dozen unhappy alumni groups. And there are tournament moments, such as the harrowing leg injury suffered by Louisville's Kevin Ware, that pop up without warning but always deserve their due tribute. "What we've done really works," Robbins says of how they treated the grisly incident. "That's part of the journey of the tournament. It is touched on, and that postgame shot of Rick Pitino being hugged by his players is so unbelievable."
And if it seems odd how little "One Shining Moment" has actually changed over the years, that the themes and representations embedded in Barrett's composition seem to need no revision, that, according to Robbins, is all by design.
"The segment has to stand the test of time," he says. "We always look at the piece, and we say, 'In five years or 10 years time from now, is this going to be representative of this tournament? Did we do a good job?'"