written by R.L. Bynum
It’s controlled chaos in the TV truck for Hemming during Canes broadcasts
Imagine playing your favorite video game at the highest level for three consecutive hours while overseeing controlled chaos. That’s what Carolina Hurricanes games are like for Paul Hemming.
It’s how the veteran television director describes the intensity of each game broadcast. Hemming, better known as “Chopper,” is in his second full season as a key part of the large crew that makes Hurricanes TV broadcasts as good as any in the National Hockey League.
From the loading dock area of PNC Arena, in a 53-foot-long truck that’s a little bit wider than 13 feet (which is shared with the visiting TV crew), Hemming decides on the fly which of up to 20 camera shots to use. He’ll direct shots to be switched faster than it takes for a one-timer to go from a shooter’s stick to a goalie’s glove.
“When a show is over, I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted,” said Hemming, who grew up in London, Ontario, and was a director for TSN (Canada’s version of ESPN) for nearly 27 years. “It’s just because if you’ve put every ounce of energy into your job that night, at the same pace the players are playing the game, then you should be completely exhausted.”
As the above 2015 video of Hemming in the TSN truck shows, the split-second decisions come in rapid succession in a frenzied atmosphere.
“When we’re on the road, if we go out after a game, the server will say, ‘what can I get you,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I can’t even make one more decision, you can just bring me whatever you want,’ ” Hemming said. “Because you’re absolutely fried, because that’s the energy level that it takes to pull out a broadcast the way that we execute it.”
He doesn’t have to prepare his body at the same level as players, but preparation is no less important. Hemming drinks lots of water on game day and uses an electrolyte drink mix called Liquid I.V. He also tries not to stay up too late the night before and makes sure he gets enough sleep.
“We’re not taking body checks or standing in front of slapshots and stuff,” he said. “But, in terms of the energy and the focus and the emotion and the readiness, it’s no different than the players that are playing in the game. Because the thing is, our job is to capture it in realtime, right?”
Hemming jokes that you need a little bit of ADHD to be able to direct a TV broadcast, and it’s like being on a treadmill for three hours. His heart rate never dropped below 120 beats per minute when he wore a monitor during one game broadcast.
Hemming will direct every Canes Fox Sports broadcast this year, working all but the team’s only NBCSN game in March unless that network opts to switch games. Hemming works for Fox Sports South under a freelance contract, which allows him to do other work such as directing NBCSN’s Drone Racing League coverage last August.
Part of a huge TV crew
Hemming and producer Jim Mallia, who is in his seventh season in that role, lead a crew of about 30 people for home games and eight on road games.
“Jim Mallia is awesome,” Hemming said. “He’s a former hockey player who played at an elite level. He played the game. He knows the game inside-out. He coached the game. It was really a perfect fit right away because as a Canadian kid growing up, hockey was all I knew.”
Hemming knows what it’s like to direct a national broadcast and is proud of the product that Canes TV crew presents to Canes fans.
“We’re a regional show. But we put out network-level TV every night in terms of what we’re doing with our cameras, with our replays, with our storytelling, with pictures. Everybody, to a man, is all-in on this crew,” Hemming said, adding that there are crew members working on graphics and videos on their own time.
“Especially in the regional world, guys will be just kind of like, ‘Well, hey, I get paid to show up there on game day and that’s when I’ll work.’ ” Hemming said. “But there’s nobody in our crew that’s like that. And that was one of the things that I thought made this is a perfect fit for me here.”
Making road trips are Mallia, Hemming, pregame producer Adam Holzman, graphics producer Dean Meglio, lead EVS (the manufacturer of the digital video production system) operator Tracy “Smooth” Cook, play-by-play announcer John Forslund, color analyst Tripp Tracy and host and sideline reporter Mike Maniscalco.
As the producer, part of Mallia’s responsibility is to work with the commentators (which includes Shane Willis for home games) to come up with storylines for the broadcast.
“All these other storylines that we have, we put those in the can, and when we start the game, we’ve got all their stuff organized,” Hemming said. “That’s all the producer and then he works with the commentators about how we’re going to orchestrate this into the show, without obviously doing the game a disservice because it’s all about balance.”
Many camera choices for Hemming
For home games, there are operators for seven cameras: the game camera, the camera that takes tight shots, the isolation (or “iso”) camera that’s even with the right blue line (looking from the penalty-box side), two super slow-motion cameras (one atop section 104 and one at ice level), a robotic camera behind the left net and a camera in the booth where Forslund and Tracy are situated that’s also used for the telestration angle.
The iso camera focuses on one player on each Carolina line. That player for each line is determined before the game but can obviously shift if Coach Rod Brind’Amour shuffles the lines. There is an automatic shift if a player who wasn’t the iso player scores two goals.
“It’s like rolling the dice,” Hemming said. “It’s a crapshoot some nights. It’s always nice when you have that guy score a goal and he’s on iso. Basically, you see him from the second he hops over the boards until the second he puts the puck in the back of the net, and you’ve got it all in a replay. That’s like a high-five moment in the truck because that’s gold. With live sports, you can’t predict the future. And sometimes when you hit a home run like that, it’s great TV.”
For road games, the Canes TV team has control of fewer cameras but has access to shots from cameras the home broadcast crew operates. For games against the Rangers, for example, MSG makes up to 21 camera shots available to Hemming. But cutting to those MSG cameras must be done judiciously.
“I do cut those in, but you have to be smart when you cut in cameras from other shows that you don’t control,” Hemming said. “To avoid a really ugly error on air, you only cut those cameras when you know you can.”
Just as the MSG production team helps the Canes TV crew in New York, the Canes’ TV crew works with visiting production teams to let them use extra camera shots and to help if they have specific requests.
All the action from all cameras is recorded and Mallia is constantly talking to Tracy through the intercom. Tracy will tell Mallia to mark a play to be reviewed later during a stoppage. Cook, who Hemming said is handling a job that three or four people did when he was directing broadcasts in Canada, queues up those plays since he manages the tape room. That includes putting together highlights packages.
“It’s like an orchestra,” Hemming said. “Everybody plays their own instrument, and they play it at an elite level. To the viewer or the listener, it just comes through.”
Orchestras probably aren’t that chaotic, though.
“If you ever stood in the back of the truck, you’d hear yelling, you would hear screaming, you’re laughing, you’d hear cursing, you’d hear everything,” Hemming said. “It’s the full spectrum of emotion. But it’s all done in a team environment. Take the atmosphere or the energy or the emotion that you would see on the Canes bench in the middle of the game, and just plop it right into the TV truck, because that’s really the energy, the passion that it takes to execute a broadcast from our standpoint.”
Game days are long days.
When there’s a game, Hemming’s workday starts in the morning and doesn’t end until the conclusion of the postgame show.
On the road, he takes in the entire morning skate because he rides the team bus to the arena. For a 7:30 p.m. home game, he gets to the arena late in the morning and catches the end of the morning skate, with a crew call meeting at noon. From 12:30 p.m. until 4 p.m., the crew sets up preproduction packages.
After a meal break from 4:30–5:30 p.m., the crew is back at it. There is the pregame interview with Brind’Amour and the runup to the pregame show. They rehearse the first five minutes of the game coverage and the first five minutes of the pregame show.
Growing up with hockey
Hemming’s parents, both from England, put skates on him when he was 4 years old and he’s always loved hockey. Living not far from Detroit, though, he attended his share of Tigers and Lions games in addition to seeing the Red Wings.
He played hockey until high school. But when Hemming realized he wasn’t good enough to be drafted to play major junior hockey, he had to find another path to work in the sport.
When Hemming was in 11th grade, a well-known Canadian broadcaster spoke at his high school, stoking his interest in broadcasting. After the speech, Hemming spoke with him about working in sports broadcasting and determined what he had to do to get into the broadcasting program at Toronto’s Ryerson University. Hemming was one of 120 students selected out of 1,200 applicants.
He worked with “Grapes” in first job.
His long career began while he was a Ryerson student, earning $50 a show working with the cantankerous Don Cherry. At the time, “Grapes” was working with Dave Hodge. The former TSN announcer infamously called the Canes a “bunch of jerks” last season for their postgame “surge” celebrations.
“He is exactly how he is in his personal life,” Hemming said of Cherry, who left TSN last year after calling immigrants “you people.” “There’s no TV persona. I mean, he is what he is. I don’t think he could ever not be him. He doesn’t turn it on, turn it off. That is Don 24/7.”
Part of Hemming’s job was to call around to NHL game sites to get score updates since there was no internet at the time.
While at TSN, he directed broadcasts of the NHL, the Canadian Football League (including six Grey Cup games) and 16 IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) U20 World Hockey Championships (World Juniors). At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, he directed all hockey broadcasts for Olympic Broadcasting Services.
It was during his TSN stint in the 1997–98 season that host John Wells gave Hemming the nickname of “Chopper” because he cut all the video and built video elements for all the NHL on TSN broadcasts.
He loved working for TSN but left in 2014 to direct hockey broadcasts for Sportsnet. When the network overpaid for national Canadian NHL rights, though, Henning said it started slashing production budgets, shows and was “bleeding red ink.” He decided to move on after three years.
Opportunity in Raleigh comes up
After having full-time jobs with TSN and Sportsnet, he went the freelance route and directed about 25 San Jose Sharks broadcast for NBC Sports Bay Area for four months during the 2017–18 season. Late in that season, Fox Sports South — looking for a director — asked if he would be interested in directing the Canes games.
Mike Roth, who had directed Canes games for seven seasons, decided to focus on other directing work for ESPN and other outlets rather than direct up to 82 Canes games a season. After working a few games at the end of the 2017–18 season for the Canes, Hemming took over directing duties last season.
The Hurricanes were lucky to be able to find a director with so much experience.
“As a kid growing up in London, I never would have imagined myself being the Carolina Hurricanes director. It’s awesome. I’m super happy to be here,” said Hemming, who has also directed college basketball games, including the RSN broadcast of N.C. State’s game with Detroit Mercy earlier this season.
Some crazy times with Russians
Hemming has plenty of stories from his years in television, but none crazier than his encounters with Russians during two World Juniors Championships — one in Moscow and one in Vancouver.
For the tournament that started just after Christmas in 2000, TSN had paid all the rights fees and assumed it was all set to cover Canada’s games. Its first game was early on Dec. 26 against France at Moscow’s Luzhniki Minor Arena, site of the famous 1972 Summit Series between Russia and Canada.
“We get there, and all the doors are locked,” he said. “And the building is dark. And we know they won’t let us in the building.”
A group of Russians told them if they didn’t pay about $15,000 cash in U.S. money, they wouldn’t be allowed to broadcast the games. Already with a crew there, the cost of instead taking the Russian TV feed would have been even greater.
A U.S. Nike distributor who was responsible for all uniforms for the tournament lent TSN the money to give to the Russian Hockey Federation. TSN was then allowed to cover the tournament and park their truck outside the arena. But because they weren’t allowed to use electrical power, TSN had to rent a generator truck.
“We got it all together,” he said. “We were handing over stacks of cash to the Russians to get in and to be able to do this event.”
At every World Junior Championships, the IIHF makes special pucks with logos to use at each tournament. That year, teams played with what Hemming calls “crappy old warm-up pucks” and the Russians sold the special pucks to make money. Hemming has a collection of pucks from every IIHF tournament he directed — except that one.
In 2006, Canada beat Russia in the gold medal game 5-0 in Vancouver. With the game still in doubt, a shot by Russia’s Evgeni Malkin crossed the goal line and rolled out onto the crease so quickly that nobody was sure if it was a goal. Three replays weren’t clear, so the Russians didn’t challenge the call on the ice before the ensuing faceoff. During a stoppage a short time after that draw, the broadcast Hemming directed showed a replay from a net camera that clearly showed that the puck crossed the line.
“Within like five minutes, all I could hear was bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang up the stairs and banging on the door,” Hemming said. “Busting into our truck were these Russians, and they were — as you would imagine — like a bad Russian villain in a movie. They were in trenchcoats and they had their hands inside the jackets like it would look like they were holding like a piece inside that jacket.”
Directors learn to expect the unexpected and adjust on the fly during a game, but never like this.
“We were scared crapless,” he said. “They came right up to us and stood over our shoulders and said, ‘You show us replay. That was goal.’ And we’re in the middle of the game. We’re all sweating bullets.”
When there finally was a stoppage in play and the telecast went to a commercial, they played the replay from the net camera for the Russians.
“Then, all of a sudden, the poop hit the fan and the IIHF was involved and they took this argument outside the truck,” said Hemming, who, along with his crew, was relieved that their part of this conflict was over. “I’d never been so nervous because it looked like three KGB agents behind me with their hands on their jackets like they were ready to pull a gun until they got what they wanted. I stopped breathing. I didn’t inhale or exhale. And so that got sorted out because I was never sure that the situation and/or my life was not in jeopardy at that point.”
Luckily, there are no such Russian adventures during Canes games outside of an Alex Ovechkin punch of young Canes star and fellow Russian Andrei Svechnikov.
Wilkerson-New leaves HeelsMaven after sending explicit messages
Social media and the internet have always been a challenging place for woman journalists, particularly woman sports journalists. Many times, the general public knows nothing about it.
Thanks to the courage of one journalist, an unfortunate example of this in the Triangle was made public last week.
On Jan. 3, Jasmyn Fritz posted (without naming the person) offensive, sexually explicit messages sent to her during the early-morning hours of New Year’s Day by a colleague on the UNC beat. The messages in the screenshot ended with him admitting he was drunk but not apologizing.
The comments on Twitter by Fritz, a regular personality on Buzz Sports Radio morning-drive show “The Sports Shop” and co-host for the CBC’s “Topics and Takes” podcast, were brave and admirable considering many women on the receiving end of such unwanted harassment would probably not want to make those experiences public.
Later that evening after Fritz’s post, Brant Wilkerson-New posted a lengthy apology on Twitter and Instagram, admitting that he was the culprit. In the note, he said it was time to face his drinking problem and suggested that he had blacked out.
Fritz didn’t want to comment beyond her social-media posts other than to say that she was doing OK.
Wilkerson-New had been the publisher of HeelsMaven and doing excellent work there since August. He last posted on the site after UNC’s Jan. 3 basketball press conference. He said that he and TheMaven management came to an agreement that it was best for both parties to move on.
“They’ve been nothing but supportive in my need to focus on my recovery, which is absolutely the best plan,” Wilkerson-New said in a message. “I’m disappointed that my actions caused any distraction for the folks out there working to produce awesome work.”
Wilkerson-New, who has also been very public about battles with depression, said he’ll begin a course of treatment and will work with a therapist to determine the best course.
“Alcoholism is a symptom of deeper scars, and before I can begin to understand the root of the behavior, I have to get past alcohol so that I can correct what led to me saying those things,” he said. “On top of the shame and embarrassment I felt in making people feel the way that I did with my behavior, having to also explain my actions to my mom and wife, and also apologize to them, was the lowest moment of my life.”
He added that he deserves what happened to him, blames nobody but himself and that he has a great support system of family and friends.
Scott Kennedy, the general manager of sports at TheMaven, said that they are evaluating candidates to become the next HeelsMaven publisher and hope to decide soon.
For the past 3 decades I've had the incredible privilege to cover multiple schools, athletes, coaches & moments. But in my new adventure, the focus shifts to my alma mater @NCState. I'm joining @PackAthletics to share their stories on multiple platforms! https://t.co/y85FE9Tdw2
— Jeff Gravley (@JGravleySPORTS) January 6, 2020
Gravley heads to N.C. State; Lea to fill WRAL vacancy
Jeff Gravley, who ended a 35-year career as a television sportscaster last month, has taken the newly created role as Director of Content Strategy for N.C. State Athletics. Filling that vacancy on the WRAL sports staff, starting March 4, will be Chris Lea, who has been a sports anchor and reporter for more than four years at WXII in the Triad.
Gravley, who began at WRAL as an intern in 1985, will be responsible for producing original content with the school’s creative team and will also work at a variety of special events. Gravley is a 1985 N.C. State graduate and was a walk-on pitcher for the baseball team.
Before N.C. State’s victory Wednesday over Notre Dame, he interviewed Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts.
— NC State Men's Bball (@PackMensBball) January 8, 2020
Lea, who did traffic reports for WXII for three years before becoming an anchor, is a UNCG graduate who worked at the News & Record of Greensboro as an editorial assistant and writer for 2.5 years while in college. The Southwest Guilford High graduate, who grew up a Duke fan, has also worked as an on-air personality for WJMH (102 JAMZ) in the Triad for years.
— Chris Lea – WXII (@ChrisLeaTV) January 3, 2020
Lea will be the first black sportscaster at one of Capitol Broadcasting Company’s TV stations since Dwayne Ballen (who was also a sports anchor at WTVD from 1985–94) was at WRAZ in the early 2000s. Stuart Scott worked at WRAL for three years until 1990 but was a news reporter.
The last previous black sportscaster at a Triangle over-the-air station was Jeff Jones, who left WNCN in July for KVUE in Austin, Texas. J.B. Ricks, a weekend anchor, has been part of the Spectrum News Central North Carolina sports staff since 2011.
Other black sportscasters at Triangle stations over the years have included Dave Branch at WTVD in the mid-1990s and Carlos McCormick at WLFL in the late 1990s.
Payne host for postgame shows after UNC home games
Former WRAL.com reporter Marilyn Payne, who joined USA Today Sports Media Group as a digital host/reporter in May, is the host for a Go Heels Productions streaming postgame TV show after home UNC men’s basketball games.
Payne, who also was a sideline reporter for two NCHSAA state championship football games for Sinclair among other assignments, does the show from UNC’s new Media and Communications Center. The shows have included game highlights, press conference coverage, UNC trivia, video from classic games and, after victories, discussions about the team with goheels.com columnist and “Carolina Insider” podcast co-host Adam Lucas.
In addition to streaming on Facebook (and available on demand there later), the show is shown on the huge screen outside of UNC’s media center, which is next to the Smith Center.
McCreary joins WNCN
Only 21 days passed between the day that AP laid off Raleigh-based sports writer Joedy McCreary and he started his new job as a data journalist at WNCN on Jan. 2.
He’ll be looking into public records to find interesting, long-form stories and offer context to reporters from other journalists. On his first day, he wrote stories on the TV station’s website about the health issues residents of Durham’s McDougald Terrace have endured.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
On ESPN.com, Andrea Adelson wrote about how former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus and former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson were the college athletes who set in motion the graduate-transfer trend. She also looked back at exactly how Wilson ended up transferring from N.C. State to Wisconsin.
As Jeff Mills wrote in the News & Record of Greensboro, a traffic stop in Conway, S.C., may have ended Jah-Maine Martin’s football career despite a situation out of his control. But he got a second chance at North Carolina A&T. His school-record rushing-touchdown total led the Aggies to another MEAC title and a Celebration Bowl victory.
Andrew Carter went to the Asheville area and talked to some of UNC coach Roy Williams’ old friends and colleagues in the wake of him catching Dean Smith for career college victories. In The N&O and Herald-Sun, Carter wrote about the challenges Williams faced and the coaching colleague who advised him not to take a low-paying job on the UNC staff.
In The Athletic, Brendan Marks talked to players on Smith’s final team about the legendary coach’s final victory and how it felt when they found out the day before the first day of practice the next season that he was retiring. Smith had to be convinced that a retirement press conference and not just a press release was needed.
In the News & Record, Ed Hardin wrote about NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, who passed away last month. As he sees it, Junior was one of us.
Former Broughton High and Kansas star Devonte Graham wanted to do something nice for his mom since he was making big money playing for the Charlotte Hornets. In The Athletic, Rod Boone writes that, after a deliberative process, his mom ended up with a new house.
Jonathan Alexander wrote in The N&O and H-S about UNC defensive coordinator Jay Bateman’s son CJ, who has made plenty of progress since being diagnosed with autism.
In the Riverfront Times, a progressive weekly newspaper in St. Louis, Eric Berger wrote about former UNC defensive lineman Nathan Hobgood-Chittick, whose football career produced a Super Bowl title but also came at a price. After he died at 42 in 2017, an autopsy determined he had stage 2 CTE.
Bob Holliday wrote a story for WRAL.com about Gravley’s time at WRAL that includes some interesting stories.