When the PGA Tour returns to action and televisions this weekend with the Charles Schwab Challenge, CBS Sports will be operating in a new reality. Less than half its usual personnel will be on-site. There will be more production trucks to facilitate social distancing. Operations and backup operations will be strewn throughout the country, from Orlando to Stamford to Los Angeles. Two months of planning has gone into making it all work despite the complications.
And there will be some changes. The unprecedented broadcast will have reality television DNA all over it.
First, there's The Challenge of it all. A monumental one.
“This is the most complicated production plan I’ve ever been involved in, including Super Bowls and Final Fours and other events,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said on a conference call with reporters Monday.
Nantz, who intends to give brief remarks at the outset of action Thursday on the lingering coronavirus and social unrest, echoed that sentiment: "It’s one of the great challenges in my 35 years in broadcasting."
There will be a Big Brother element, considering there's so much personnel off-site, including lead analyst Nick Faldo, who will have to call the action from some six million feet away at the Golf Channel studios with Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo. Dottie Pepper and Mark Immelman will be on the course.
"It's an unusual time in our careers,” Faldo said. "You’ve just got to embrace it."
McManus said some players have agreed to be mic'd-up during action in the hopes more participants will sign on after a successful foray. Additionally, perhaps the most innovative wrinkle will be an Inside the Ropes feature in which players will enter a small tent between holes and answer printed-out questions about the round or what they've been up to the past few months.
This, of course, is the engine that drives all good reality television. The Bachelor. Survivor. Million Dollar Listing. Keeping Up With the Kardashians. You name it. For the near future, the PGA Tour will become Real World: Fort Worth, with subsequent seasons to come each week until fans hopefully return for the Memorial in mid-July.
From atop his perch above No. 18, Nantz will be in his own episode of Man vs. Wild. Or Alone. Whereas typically flanked by five or six others, he'll be by himself, flying solo. While communication will be more difficult, the voice of CBS' golf coverage revealed it was always his preference to be on-site as opposed to working from home. This way his four-year-old son can't knock something offline and put what he called limited tech savviness to the test.
Golf, which is already quite expensive to produce, is even more expensive to produce this way. It's not an ideal situation but CBS is committed to making it work. They have a backup plan to back up the backup plan. And the possibility exists that necessity will reveal some of these inventions make sense long-term.
The confessional-style interview has great potential. It can showcase personalities for casual fans. With PGA buy-in, it can be an additive game-changer. While The Match showcases the upside of hearing players, incorporating it into competitive tournaments is more difficult. But if it's non-intrusive and paints golfers in a positive light, it's possible to see it become a broadcast staple even when fans return.
While the landscape is allowing some trial and error as far as the blocking and tackling and bells and whistles, it's not lost on Nantz and others involved that presenting escapism must strike the right chord.
“Tonally, we have to get this right. I consider this to be perhaps the most important moment in this country in my lifetime,” Nantz said. “We can't let this opportunity pass without real and meaningful progress when it comes to equality, diversity, justice, love and empathy."