This is a story about how to get on the fast track and become a producer for 60 Minutes Sports.
Fast, that is, if you’re counting in dinosaur years.
Me and my *boychick Alan Goldberg go back to 1978 in NYC. He was sleeping on his sister (and my friend) Leslie’s couch and waiting tables at Restaurant Tartufo on the Upper East Side. Completely at a loss about what to do with his life now that he had graduated from Indiana University, Alan was open to suggestions.
Alan’s true gift is that he is very, very interested in you and your story. His other gifts in order of importance for becoming a 60 Minutes producer are:
Actually, move No. 4 to the top of the list. She was a regular at Restaurant Tartufo, a doctor, originally from North Carolina, who always ordered a burger, fries and a Coke, and always asked for Alan.
Like any landsman wandering in the desert wondering how much longer he would be sleeping on his sister’s couch, Alan was thinking of applying to law or business school when the little lady doctor asked if he had ever considered journalism. Because, she said, “I think it would suit you”
So he applied to NYU Graduate School of Journalism, got in, and found himself the recipient of a teaching assistant fellowship.This meant he would be assisting students in the journalism department before he’d taken a single class.
NYU School of Journalism was just starting up and someone else took a liking to Alan.
After graduating, he got a job at CBS News, with a show called West 57th Street, a hip 60 Minutes anchored by a very young Meredith Vieira (Today Show) and Steve Kroft (60 Minutes). From there he helped start Dateline, with anchors Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley, and then settled in for almost 19 years with 20/20, producing interesting stories with Barbara Walters.
Four months ago. Alan was offered a new plum: 60 Minutes Sports on Showtime. He’s a guy, so he loves sports; he produces news stories, so 60 Minutes is the shimmering crown. Think kid-in-a-candy-store.
His new gig brought him to New Orleans to do a behind-the-scenes story on Super Bowl, so we dined on leftovers from his lunch at Katie’s with Mary Maitlan and James Carville, co-hosts for the New Orleans Super Bowl Committee. We laughed like it was 1978.
Alan is also serious; he’s very proud of stories like those on anorexia and transgender kids that he produced for 20/20. Before Alan and Barbara Walters brought sunlight to these subjects, these kids and their parents suffered alone and in the dark. He was awed by the 28 million viewers tuned into the anorexia hour, the resulting changes in treatment and perspective, and most of all that young lives were probably saved.
The Super Bowl story is something else again. Alan decided the way into this one was scale. How to grasp and then portray in words and pictures the MILLIONS of dollars it takes to produce the event, the $4 million for a 30-second commercial to reach an estimated 110 million viewers across planet Earth who will be watching, or the influx of NEARLY HALF A BILLION dollars into the New Orleans economy? And, even though the Super Bowl is a thing, the way in is always through people, bringing us back to the little lady doctor from North Carolina ordering a hamburger, fries, and a Coke in Restaurant Tartufo, suggesting Alan Goldberg consider journalism.
Alan chose a half-dozen people and their stories out of a cast of thousands to find his way into his narrative of Super Bowl scale. It’s a totally subjective process and the one that most bears the imprint of the producer. If you believe, like Alan does, that everyone has a story, then his job is really to take a microscopic slice out of a gigantic pie of possibilities and make it deliciously interesting and new.
First, he decided to include the Super Bowl ringmaster, Frankie Supovitz, head of events for the NFL. Alan caught up with him two months ago in a room of 350 key players at the Hyatt across from the Superdome. The little guy with the backpack is Supovitz, a would-be biologist who started as an usher at Radio Center Music Hall. Supovitz views the Biggest Party on Earth as a massive science experiment akin to a NASA launch, delegating to a huge and stellar team. He starts with thousands of moving parts. Like a biologist, he dissects the beast and names the parts. Supovitz does it all with a certain calm; his reputation is for building very, very good teams. Alan describes it as “a massive operation and somebody has to direct it and be the funnel for all these decisions.
Alan next opted for the head of security as another beacon of scale for his story. This is the guy whose job it is to make New Orleans and the Superdome the safest place in the world on game day. Daunting, especially in light of the numbers: 20,000 credentialed workers who need FBI clearance just to sell hot dogs, 5000 journalists, and 70,000 ticket holders. All in one place.
He also found it interesting that the party event planners are two women for this most male-centric of events. Private party for 10,000 VIPS? Not a problem if you’re among the most experienced in the country … another way into the narrative.
As for the nuts and bolts of producing a story, Alan starts by watching hours and hours of raw videotape. At some point (and each time he does this, he feels this will be his Waterloo), he has to sort through all of the material, then sit down and write the script that will tell the tale. He creates the essential roadmap for his collaborators: the correspondents, video editor, executive and senior producers, standards and practices and legal. That’s a lot of checks and balances and you have to be able to play nice with the other kids on the playground to pull it off.
His pre-interviews can be as tough on Alan as they are on the subjects themselves. Sometimes he goes in knowing more than the interviewee realizes. Caught on camera. Sometimes he has to shake hands with real evil, as he once did with an accused Nazi. “It was hard for me because my mother was a Holocaust survivor. It’s this ritual; I had to shake his hand and thank him for sitting down with me, and then the tape rolls and it’s all business and I can ask the hard questions.”
Still, people will call him afterward asking for favors. “I’ve outed these people on national TV and they’re fine with asking me if I can write a recommendation for their daughter who wants to be a filmmaker. They totally compartmentalize what they’ve done from the rest of their lives; crazy.”
So for 60 Minutes Sports, Super Bowl XLVII will be about size, which really counts in this story. He’ll chip away at a ton of information to reveal a great story, one in which you’ll learn something new and be entertained. In the process, he’ll make people laugh and comfortable enough to talk on camera without fear. He’ll move through the world making friends like he always has.
Good work, my boychick.
The Ultimate Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Super Bowl will next air at 9 p.m. Feb. 6 on Showtime.
*BOYCHICK: An affectionate term for a young boy. Thank you to the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation for Yiddish translation.