Q&A with Director and Senior AD for MLB Network Greg Stern

Upon graduation with honors in 2000, Greg Stern began his television career at HBO as an Assistant to the Producer on the Emmy Award winning documentary Do You Believe in Miracles: The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team.

Following that film, he moved into the same role in HBO’s live boxing telecasts. From 2001-2008, he worked his way up from Assistant to the Producer to Tease/Feature Producer and Associate Director.

Since leaving HBO in 2008, Stern worked on the 2008, 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games for NBC as a Graphics Producer/Designer/Manager. At the end of 2008 he was hired to create the Associate Director position at the brand new Major League Baseball Network.

Stern started prior to the January 1, 2009 launch and created the position, trained other Associate Directors and helped the Network go live in various other capacities. The launch was, at the time, the largest network debut in cable television history with 50 million homes.

He launched and directed debut season of MLB Network’s first morning show, Hot Stove. Stern is an Emmy-winning director for MLB Tonight, Intentional Talk, Quick Pitch, and MLB Now. He currently serves as Director and Senior AD for all studio shows and special remote productions, including Studio 42 with Bob Costas, MLB Draft, MLB All-Star Game, World Series, Hall of Fame Inductions and World Baseball Classic.

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MSBC: What did you do during your college career at Michigan that led you to where you are today?

Stern: I tried to be as hands on in any part of the business as I could. I knew I wanted to have a career in sports television and since Michigan did not offer much in terms of television production classes, I found avenues on my own. I started out as a freshman working for WOLV TV and became Sports Director my third year. The campus television station was very small, so we took on many different roles to get our broadcasts on air. You name it, I did it — producer, director, anchor, technical director, cameraman, hauler of all the equipment from South Quad to wherever we went! But it was an amazing experience because I learned how things worked and I was forced to make last-second decisions and changes when something hindered our progress. Besides WOLV, I made sure I worked in different areas of sports outside of school. I had a position in the sports department at FOX 2 in Southfield, worked with the New Haven Ravens (AA Eastern League for the Colorado Rockies) and Bridgeport Bluefish (independent) and interned at HBO Sports as I headed into my senior year. Maybe the most important thing I did was to meet people and start to grow my contact list. Meeting people and picking their brains can help you in ways you cannot imagine. You never know where those contacts can take you and vice versa — you may be in a position someday to help them. The sports television business is very tightly knit.

MSBC: Will you talk about being a part of the MLB Network launch and how much the network has grown since then?

Stern: It was an exciting experience for me because it was out of my comfort zone. Being an Associate Director at HBO was not the same as it was to be at MLB Network. Not only did I have to build the position from the ground up, I had to learn new techniques, new terminology and new technology and then teach others! By the time January 1st rolled around, we were still not 100 percent ready and it was a scramble to get on the air. But we made it! The network started with only MLB Tonight and our commercials were limited to a few local spots and some of those infomercial type ads. But we still launched in over 50 million households and once people started to discover us, our ratings grew. Once ratings grow, advertising grows. By year five, we are in over 70 million households and if you watch the network, you will definitely notice the amount of sponsorship we have within all of our shows. MLB Tonight is our Emmy Award winning staple, but our in-season lineup starts at 2 p.m. and does not end until the last game of the night ends — a far cry from the one hour we started with in 2009. We added a third studio in 2012 and every day, our parking lot is full — a sure sign of health and growth!

MSBC: From a television perspective, how is media, technology and the game itself all changing and advancing simultaneously?

Stern: Like any service industry, television is in a constant state of change. If you think back to the beginnings of television, it started out with a few channels of black and white. Usually a household only had one set, if lucky. Then color came out and eventually televisions became more affordable. Remote controls took over for the dials. Channels increased, cable/premium stations blossomed. Tivo/DVR technology brought a new dimension of how to deal with advertisers. The biggest industry shifts I have seen in my career are both based on the rise of digital technology. The first is behind the scenes when networks started eliminating tapes and going all-digital. The ease of storage and the speed in which material can be archived, searched and prepped for use was a major revolution, one which is not yet finished. Dozens of tape machines that you physically had to insert, play and eject a tape (remember that?) are disappearing. Now all you need is a computer, video file and a mouse. The other is social media. It has brought the everyday television viewer, and the players themselves, right into our world. While we do not have programs dedicated solely to social media, it does play a major role in what we produce. People are connected 24/7 and we have to find ways to keep their attention. Whether it is adding a new camera angle at a stadium, producing a game with sound solely emanating from microphones on players and umpires or displaying tweets in a lower screen ticker, we have to be alert to whatever is trending and even be ahead of the curve. No longer can a fan only get their information from the next day’s newspaper. The digital revolution has altered the foundation of the game itself too. Video replay would have been impossible not that long ago. Cameras are small enough to fit in a catcher’s mask and microphones are powerful enough to be placed in a base to get a unique sound. The rise of saber metrics and fantasy games have changed the way the game is played and viewed. Fans watch the game in a whole new way and want different types of information. Front office and field personnel sign players, position them on the field and create matchups because of the digital revolution.

MSBC: In the clip above, and during all other Intentional Talk episodes, what are you doing while directing behind the scenes?

Stern: There is a lot that goes into an interview that lasts usually less than 10 minutes. That interview was in Arizona, 2,400 miles away from the studio. On-site we have a technician with the camera who needs to make sure the camera works, the lights are available and, as you could see, use a reflector to keep the sun out of the eyes of the player. All of our ballpark cameras (two in every stadium) are controlled by two operators at our studio. So when the guest arrives, we set the shot up and do what we can to make it look good. The operators work with me to make sure the shot is framed properly, shadows are minimized and, along with our audio engineer, he sounds good and can hear our studio talent. After I sign off on that shot, I will set up the interviewers. In this case, I need to get Chris Rose and Kevin Millar in place in the studio. Like I do with the on-site guest, I make sure Chris and Kevin are in the right place, the lighting and audio are good and the monitors behind and in front of them are filled with the proper material. When we begin the interview, I cue Chris and Kevin to start talking, tell them which camera to look at and when. I have an audio engineer making sure they sound good and who mixes in any music and a technical director who is the one actually taking my direction as to which camera or source to take to air. When the player, Josh Collmenter, started talking to the grounds crew guy, I directed the ballpark camera operator to move the camera in such a way as to see everything we need to see. I am also monitoring the second ballpark camera to see if there is a good shot to switch to as well as monitoring the studio cameras to see if Chris and Kevin have a good reaction shot I can use. Intentional Talk is a very graphic-heavy show, so I am also directing the graphics producers as to what we need. This clip was only a portion of the interview but we also used video footage for some questions and I am in charge of getting that to air at the proper time. I am also looking ahead to possibly anticipate the next piece of video needed or which shot to take. Any advanced warning I can give to my crew will make things happen faster and properly. I direct everyone to where the material will come from and how we get into and out of it. And of course, I have to pay attention to what everyone is talking about so I do not lose track of the conversation and listen to the show producer as to any changes that might occur within the interview. Multi-tasking is my forte!

MSBC: Where does your passion for baseball stem from and what is your favorite baseball related moment in history?

Stern: Honestly, my passion for baseball started because of one of my best friends who lived next to me. I was seven years old and one summer afternoon he traipses through the woods to my house in his little league uniform. I was hooked — I thought it was the coolest thing. Even today, I remember how my first jersey felt as I first put it on. The smell of that ironed-on Blue Jays logo uniform is imprinted in my head. As for my favorite moment, it was an event that started 59 years before I was born. I am fascinated by the 1919 Black Sox scandal (yes, it it comes from seeing Field of Dreams for the first time). The scandal does have a Michigan connection. What is it? Look it up and enjoy for yourself! All baseball history is my favorite. I love studying the game from the 1900’s through the 1950s. To be in the stands on a weekday afternoon watching the likes of Walter Johnson, Lou Gehrig or Ernie Banks — one can dream.



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