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Paynesville Press - March 12, 2003

Behind the Cameras

By Michael Jacobson

Trevor Fleck - photo by Michael Jacobson At work, Trevor Fleck watches the Minnesota Timberwolves on six small television sets. He sits in a large trailer a couple hundred yards away from the court at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis and coordinates the broadcast.

A producer for Fox Sports Net, Fleck helps bring the Timberwolves into the homes of millions of Minnesotans via television.

Hours before the game, Trevor Fleck read his tease, or introduction. Announcer Tom Hanneman will read the tease on air, but Fleck wants to check the timing with the video highlight package he compiled.

Fleck, a Regal native and a 1987 graduate of Paynesville Area High School, has worked in television broadcasting in the Twin Cities for a dozen years and became a producer of live sporting events about a year ago, starting with Gopher hockey games, then moving to Twins games, and now to the Wolves.

As producer, Trevor's day starts long before the evening broadcast. Typically, he spends a couple hours the day before writing an introduction or tease, thinking about features to highlight and angles to cover, and coming up with a plan for the broadcast. Then, the crew gathers in the television trailer inside Target Center six hours or so before the broadcast starts to find video highlights and to get the graphics ready for the broadcast.

For live sports events, the producer only has to fill 10 minutes before the game plus a few more minutes during the game and at halftime. "The rest is all dictated by the game," explained Trevor.

Once the game starts, eight cameras, six of which can be recorded, document the action. The director talks to the camera operators and gives them instructions. Trevor, as producer, watches the six cameras that can be recorded simultaneously, looking for the best angles of the best plays to use as replays.

During the game, Trevor talks to the people in the tape room, telling them which replays to cue for the next break; communicates with the announcers, Tom Hanneman and former Gopher and NBA player Mychael Thompson; stays in contact with master control in the studio and gives the counts back from breaks; and even speaks with the referees if they need to see a certain replay to check, for instance, if a shot beat the buzzer.

It's the producer's job to stay one step ahead during the broadcast, his director says this February night, as the Timberwolves prepare to host Detroit and run their home winning streak to 13 games. Producing is all about being organized, and Trevor always does his homework, the director continues.

Television broadcasts involve great teamwork, says Trevor, involving cameras, sound, graphics, replays, and announcers. It's his job to coordinate it all. For the game, Trevor has prepared a five-page list of all the sequences of the show, from footage of Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett walking into the lockerroom to final score and the copyright at the end of the broadcast.

Against Detroit, for instance, the teamwork in the trailer becomes evident as Trevor announces that they will run a promotion for Joe Smith Bobblehead Night coming out of the next commercial. Trevor has the graphic cued and ready to roll, while the director tells a camera operator to find Smith on the bench and get a live picture of him to run with the graphic, promoting an upcoming Timberwolves game.

While he prefers doing more in-depth shows - his dream job is to do sports documentaries - Trevor admits that producing live sports broadcasts is more prestigious than canned shows. "This is more thinking quicker and reacting," said Trevor of live television broadcasts.

Sporting events like Wolves basketball games are the prime sports property of television networks, he said. "Nobody gets Fox Sports Net for the shows," said Trevor, who actually prefers working on the shows because he can be more creative as the producer. People want to watch the actual games, he said.

Trevor Fleck - photo by Michael Jacobson Trevor attended Southwest State University in Marshall and started working for WCCO-TV as an unpaid intern in 1991 after graduating from college. Like every would-be sports broadcaster, Trevor wanted to be an announcer, in front of the camera. But it took him only a week as an intern, he said, to realize that he really wanted to be a producer. While not as glamorous, the producer gets to decide what goes in the broadcast and gets to write it.

During broadcasts of Timberwolves games, Trevor Fleck watches the game on six small television monitors in a trailer inside Target Center. As producer, Fleck coordinates the broadcast of the game, keeping contact with the main studio and the announcers, choosing replays, and supervising the work in the truck.

That's where he met and became friends with Mike Max, who started to do shows like Prep Sports Weekly with his own production company and sell them to television stations. Trevor produced many of these shows with Max, as well as working part-time both for WCCO-TV and for the Midwest Sports Channel. Trevor has produced The Clem Haskins Show, The Doug Woog Show, The Jim Wacker Show, and Rosen's Sports Sunday.

In 2001, Fox Sports Net purchased the Midwest Sports Channel, and Trevor went to work for them full-time. He started doing pregame broadcasts for the Timberwolves, for the Twins, and for the Brewers, splitting his time in the summer of 2001 between Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Last winter, Trevor produced his first live sports events, starting with Gopher hockey games. Then last summer, he produced around 50 Twins games.

This winter, he is scheduled to produce 41 Wolves games, exactly half of their schedule. (Another producer from Fox Sports Net does some of the games, and the Timberwolves produce some of the games themselves.)

Each sport has different rhythms and different challenges. Basketball, on the one hand, is dominated by live action, and the challenge is to squeeze replays and extras into the few quiet moments. Baseball, on the other hand, has less action and more spaces, more opportunities for statistics and short interview clips.

Their schedules also differ. The Twins, on one hand, make road trips where they might play 13 games in 15 days in four cities. This means they spend more time on the air, but the preproduction is easier for the second or third game against the same team as the graphics and stats do not have to be reentered into the master video computer in the truck.

The Wolves, on the other hand, sometimes play back-to-back nights and never against the same team.

If the Wolves play back-to-back games, say home and then at Philadelphia, the game might get done at 10 p.m. and Trevor will work in the truck, collecting video highlights from the game, cleaning up, etc. The Timberwolves players park their cars inside the Target Center, right next to the broadcast truck, and Trevor will keep his eyes on their cars as he works.

The broadcasters and other media members ride on the team's charter plane, you see, and Trevor knows that the plane will leave without him, but not without Kevin Garnett.

Trevor will work on his laptop during the three-hour flight to Philly, making a schedule for the next day's broadcast, talking to the announcers about his plans for the game, and writing his tease.

The team and entourage may get to the hotel at 4 a.m., and Trevor will have to get to the stadium by 1 p.m. to start preparing for the next day's broadcast.

On longer road trips, the team may have a couple days without playing and Trevor may get a day off, too. With travel, he averages at least 60 hours per week, he said.

"As fun as it is, it's always nights and weekends, and with a family that's hard," said Trevor, who lives with his wife and three daughters in Eden Prairie. "And the travel is tough, too."

During days off at home or during road trips that another producer covers, Trevor completes the paperwork required for each broadcast.

He also works on features to use in broadcasts. For instance, he recently toured the downtown condominium where Wally Szczerbiak lives with his wife. The couple is expecting their first child, and they shared their nursery and its custom-painted white clouds amid blue skies on the ceiling with television viewers.

Trevor also recently completed a feature about Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, pitching coach Rick Anderson, third base coach Al Newman, and former star player Kent Hrbek, who bowl together on a team in Maplewood. He will save that feature for a Twins broadcast this summer.

For one of his features during a Twins game last year, Trevor earned a writing Emmy from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The two-minute segment, entitled Reflections of Baseball, was an ode to long-lost items from the game of baseball, he said, such as no-ear helmets, flip-up sunglasses, warming up with several bats in the on-deck circle, and the colorful uniforms popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

This summer, Trevor expects to produce between 50 and 60 Twins games. True to his Regal roots - he used to play for the Regal Eagles - he still likes baseball broadcasts the best, in part because he feels he understands that sport the best.

The Twins' clubhouse, according to Trevor, is looser than the Wolves' lockerroom, which he attributes in part to the personality of the manager Ron Gardenhire and coach Flip Saunders. Trevor said Gardenhire is a regular, laid-back guy who frequently can be found playing cards in the lockerroom.

Timberwolves player Kevin Garnett - photo by Michael Jacobson Of the Twins players, Trevor said he gets along best with star centerfielder Torii Hunter, who he said is personable, outgoing, charming, and colorful. He also really likes interviewing first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz because he is honest and does not give stock answers.

While Trevor Fleck is coordinating a February broadcast in the television trailer, Kevin Garnett is leading the Wolves to a franchise-record 13th straight win at home over the Detroit Pistons.

Of the Wolves, Trevor said that Kendall Gill is a true professional, smart, always reading, and even sitting with the media in the back of the team's charter planes.

Garnett has incredible presence, he said, which he noticed when he first interviewed Garnett, right after Garnett was drafted by the Wolves straight out of high school. "When he's in a good mood," said Trevor, "he'll just sit down and talk. You don't even have to ask him questions."

As a producer, Trevor has gotten to interview other sports celebrities - Magic Johnson, Dan Marino, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett, and Bob Knight, to name a few. He has attended two NCAA Final Fours, a Super Bowl, a Gophers' bowl game, and the Twins' playoffs series last fall.

Another thrill for Trevor was when former Vikings star Carl Eller approached him in a bar while he was sitting with some high school friends and started talking to them.

"I was always interested in sports," said Trevor, whose dad tried to convince him not to be a sports broadcaster when he was young. "I wasn't good enough to play any of them."

But he still is part -Ęthe captain, really - of the broadcast team that brings Minnesotans some of their favorite sports.

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