Honoring Yogi: YES Network Thinks on Its Feet During Day of Remembrance
It was a sad day in Yankeeland last Wednesday when news broke that Yogi Berra, beloved baseball icon and the greatest living New York Yankee, had died at the age of 90. Amid grief, the YES Network production team snapped into action to deliver five hours of live Yogi Berra Remembered coverage on the fly from its Stamford, CT, broadcast center as part of a full day of Yogi memorial coverage, which also included a Yogi-fueled edition of The Michael Kay Show that afternoon and plenty more Berra tributes during that evening’s Yankees-Blue Jays telecast.
“First and foremost, Yogi was baseball royalty,” says YES Network Coordinating Producer Jared Boshnack. “But you have to understand that Yogi was everything. Yogi was a veteran and a key figure on D-Day, Yogi was a pitchman for many commercials and companies after his playing career. Yogi was the coach and manager not only for the Yankees but also for the Mets and the Astros. There is no one that he didn’t touch; it was just a question of how we could put this puzzle together, because you have thousands of pieces.”
And YES Network’s commitment to remembering Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra didn’t end there: the network exclusively televised Berra’s funeral live today (simulcast on FS1).
‘It Gets Late Early Out Here’: A Late Night and Early Wake-Up Call
After the Yankees’ 10-inning 6-4 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, the YES Network production team left the Stamford broadcast center well after midnight. News of Berra’s passing hit the newswire and social media in the wee hours of the night, forcing Boshnack and his staff to begin plotting out plans Remembering Yogi Berra programming on short rest.
YES began the day by airing Berra editions of Yankeeography and CenterStage, with plans to go live from Stamford at noon ET. In the meantime, Boshnack went over plans for the day with YES Network President of Production and Programming John Filippelli (who was on the West Coast) at 8 a.m. ET, before contacting Director of Programming Marc LaPlace to ensure that they were all on the same page. He then reached out to studio talent Bob Lorenz, Jack Curry, and David Cone — each of whom was extremely close to Berra in his own way — to prepare them to anchor the Yogi Berra Remembered telecast. Woody Freiman, Vice President of Production and Programming, was also in Stamford that morning and throughout the day, providing valuable input.
YES Network VP of Broadcast Operations Mike Webb and Technical Manager Joe Schiavo (along with chief lieutenants Rob Brinkman and Robin Moore) played an integral role in preparing the coverage, ensuring that the production truck was up and running early in Toronto and in full communication with Stamford. Boshnack was also in constant contact with Senior Producer Bill Boland, who was already on hand in the YES Network truck in Toronto, to coordinate onsite interviews with Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, and Yankees coaches and players.
“I can’t stress enough that everybody manned their post. It was a day in which everyone said. ‘How can we help, what can we do,’” says Boshnack. “In Mike Webb’s case, I had told him I wanted to come on the air at noon, and he made sure to get our truck up and running early, no questions asked.”
Arriving in Stamford around 10 a.m., Boshnack had three preproduced long-form features loaded into YES’s on-air playout system (a profile of Yogi’s life, a piece on the innumerable “Yogi-isms,” and a 2009 segment chronicling Berra’s role in the World War II D-Day invasion on its 65th anniversary). He also confirmed that the graphics department had preloaded all its Berra elements (the graphics department created more than 60 pages’ worth of full-screen graphics for the day’s programming).
“Since Yogi was the greatest living Yankee, you know that you had to have a treasure trove of material,” says Boshnack. “But it was a question of how to structure it so it came out in a cohesive way. That is very hard in the moment; I don’t care who you are. You have to trust your instincts and know the people around you are doing the same. You also have to know that all the preparation and everything you’ve done leading up to that is going to put you in the right position.”
Boshnack also remained in close contact with Fox Sports Regional Networks VP Ron Gralnik throughout the day to provide other Fox RSNs with any Berra content they might need.
‘When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It’: Going Live on the Fly
By 11:30 a.m., the YES Network production team was nearly ready to go on the air, but one thing was clear: this would not be a typical YES Network studio show.
“At that point, there was literally no time to put together a structured format,” says Boshnack. “It’s just not going to be that kind of show. Instead, we knew it was going to be a show that really relies on the people around you to trust our instincts as live producers. So that’s what we did.”
Lorenz and Curry went on the air at noon with a short obituary piece before throwing to Kay live from Toronto for his memories of Berra. Cone joined the coverage at 12:30 to recount the 1999 perfect game he threw on Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium.
The remainder of the three-hour telecast featured phone interviews with a who’s who of Yankee legends, recounting tales of their days with Berra in 15-minute programming blocks. Talent and Production Supervisor Ashley Fugazy coordinated these appearances from the back bench in YES Network’s control room.
Live interviews during the three-hour block included Ron Guidry, Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center Director Dave Kaplan, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Don Larsen, Willie Randolph, Al Kaline, Tony Peña, David Wells, Bucky Dent, Mel Sottlemyre, Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, Goose Gossage, and Joe Girardi. In addition, Kay joined the show again live later in the day and recounted the emotional story of Berra’s stopping by his best friend Phil Rizzuto’s retirement home every day in his later years to play cards — just as they did when they were Yankee teammates decades earlier.
All the while, YES Network’s five edit suites were compiling photos of each guest with Berra for bumpers during each segment.
“You had every generation [represented]: Yogi’s generation, then you have the great ’60s Yankees teams, the great ’70s Yankees teams, Don Mattingly representing the ’80s and the ’90s teams. It was all encompassing.”
Other segments included a piece on Berra’s military service, his speech on Yogi Berra Day, a statement from President Obama, a statement from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, CenterStage and Yankeeography clips, a piece on Berra’s World Series accomplishments, and a photo montage of Berra with his wife, Carmen (who died last year). The final segment was produced on the fly and served as a recap of the day’s interviews, complete with audio clips of each guest.
“We know that we are the YES Network and that Yogi is Yankee family; we understand what that’s about,” says Boshnack. “In our history, we’ve covered [the deaths of] Bobby Murcer, Phil Rizzuto, George Steinbrenner, and Bob Shepherd — all with tremendous respect and passion. We have been through this before, so it wasn’t a road we hadn’t traveled down. But this was still unique.”
‘You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching’: The Michael Kay Show Takes Over
After the whirlwind three-hour Remembering Yogi Berra program, The Michael Kay Show took over at 3 p.m. for two hours. Not surprisingly, the show was wall-to-wall coverage of Berra, featuring several of the guests who had appeared earlier in the day. YES typically simulcasts at least three hours of the show (depending upon the day), but the network made a conscientious decision to only simulcast two hours (ending at 5 p.m. ET) in order to continue its live coverage from Stamford, since it had so much great fresh Yogi material. The two-hour Michael Kay Show block gave Boshnack and his team a much needed breather and a chance to regroup for the two-hour Yankees pregame block from 5 to 7 p.m. In addition, the production team continued to record interviews with Yankee icons for the evening show, most notably with Yankees President Randy Levine.
“Michael Kay stayed on the Yogi story, and he gave us the time to reset,” Boshnack says. “I knew I couldn’t put myself or the crew through that kind of show for another two hours. So, instead of looking at the next block of programming unscripted on the fly, I hunkered down and put together a script with the best of what we did earlier, as well as new live [segments].”
‘It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over’: Another Two Hours of Live Coverage
The Stamford studio came back on the air live at 5 p.m. with a Yogi Berra graphic (his face textured behind the Yankees lineup that evening), followed by a graphic of his Yankee résumé. Then came statements from owner Hal Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, and Derek Jeter.
The remainder of the two-hour block included several of the preproduced segments from the afternoon program and audio compilations of clips from earlier interviews. The pregame program also included pretaped interviews from Toronto with Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Brian McCann, Brian Cashman (from Tampa Bay), and Ken Singleton, as well as the earlier interview with Girardi.
“I knew we needed to start packaging things for a tighter show during [pregame],” says Boshnack. “So we used a lot of the same elements, but everything was tighter and more like a normal show.”
The show closed with a preview of that night’s game with lineups and pitching matchups followed by a final remembrance of Berra before segueing to the game telecast at 7 p.m.
‘It’s Like Déjà Vu All Over Again’: The Postgame Show
YES Network reran the same program immediately after the Yankees postgame, with the two segments of game previews replaced by new segments. This ran all night and into the following morning to complete a cavalcade of Yogi Berra programming over a 24-hour period.
“None of this would have been possible without the whole team,” says Boshnack. “Everyone was really involved and wanted to contribute. It truly starts from the top with [Filippelli] and trickles down from there. It’s very rewarding to everyone involved.”