Visiting with coordinating director Jennifer Love at the Culver City headquarters of the NFL Network is not all that different from being on the sidelines at a pro football game. Love, a tall Texan with energy to burn, oversees a team of directors, ADs, stage managers, and scenic crews with the same precision and clarity of a two-minute drill. In fact, when the network’s centerpiece show, Total Access, hits the road during the season, Love really does have a two-minute drill to handle the constraints of broadcasting live from eight different venues in as many weeks.
“Your on-field set is quite limited,” says Love, describing the constraints of moving around and shooting in the “game-cart”—a custom-built hydraulic platform/set with just enough room for a camera, operator and on-air talent—that has to be rolled out for the pre-game show and then back in place for halftime. “We would practice and time the move until it took exactly two minutes,” Love adds. “It’s all about staying calm under pressure.”
Love is the only female coordinating director on the network’s team (and the only one in the sports broadcasting industry) but that doesn’t faze her. “I’m treated like just another guy,” she laughs. “Probably because I never get offended by the locker room atmosphere.” Although the University of Texas graduate loved Longhorns football, she never imagined a career in sports. While working as an AD on The Home Show, Love met her directing mentor, Bob Levy, who was asked to start up the Fox Sports Network in 1995. Love came along, learning everything from how to design a studio to building a playback reel, which is the very heart of every live sports show.
When a brand-new cable network, owned by the NFL, began its operations five years ago, Love came on board as the first and only director. At that time, the network was run by 20 people, and with no scheduling department, Love had to book talent on her cellphone from the director’s chair. “We have a rule now that if your cellphone rings in the booth you have to pay a dollar,” she smiles. “It’s five dollars if it rings on the stage, because it goes out on-air!”
The NFL’s Total Access studio stage is where Love feels most at home. Asked about blocking a two-shot in front of a Peyton Manning photo mural she selected before the stage was built, she says without hesitation, “I’d go with either the Steadicam or the jib, depending on how he’s facing.” Then later, showing off the technical operations center and tape room, the same type of place where she spent much of her early career as an AD learning how to slug, edit, and time out shows, Love admits there’s a lot about directing she’ll miss as her management duties overtake her booth time. “The first time I counted down to air as a director I got sick to my stomach,” she remembers. “It still happens every now and then and that’s a good thing: it’s a nervous adrenaline that comes with live TV. I suppose it’s like what the athletes go through; you stay sharp and on your game.”