SVG Sit-Down: NESN’s All-Women Front Bench for Men’s Hockey East Championship Talks Career Paths, Production Philosophies, the Future

Key advice: learn all you can about every part of production

During NESN’s coverage of the Men’s Hockey East Tournament Semifinals and Final at TD Garden in Boston last weekend, the front bench was composed entirely of women. NESN Senior Producer Amy Johnson, NESN Coordinating Director Rose Mirakian, and Program Productions Inc. (PPI) Technical Director Michelle Schlickman produced the games for college hockey fans in New England and beyond.

This was not the first time the three have worked together in game production, having been at the front bench for a handful of Boston Bruins games and the Beanpot Championship for NESN in the past couple of years. While women-led live sports productions have become more common in the industry (including a recent ESPN NBA production and NBC Sports LPGA broadcast), the hope is that women at the front bench (and throughout the control room) will become ubiquitous.

Following last weekend’s games, SVG sat down with Johnson, Mirakian, and Schlickman to discuss how they got started in the industry, their live-production philosophies, advice they have for other women in the industry, and their hopes for the sports-production industry in the future.

NESN’s front bench for Men’s Hockey East Championship: (from left) NESN’s Amy Johnson and Rose Mirakian and PPI’s Michelle Schlickman

How did you get started in the sports-broadcasting industry, and what has your career trajectory been?
Amy Johnson:
I started working in production at the student TV station at Syracuse and interned with the Red Sox broadcast before my senior year. After a year in local news and as a sideline reporter in minor-league baseball, I started at NESN as a production assistant. Since then, I’ve been an associate producer, pre/postgame producer, and in-game graphics producer. Currently, I am a senior producer in remote, working primarily on Red Sox broadcasts and college hockey.

Rose Mirakian: I graduated from Emerson College with an interdisciplinary major in television and dance. I started as a receptionist at NESN in 1984. After my day shifts, I often stayed to observe the productions out of our NESN studio. I took many manuals home and read them to learn the switcher, graphics, and editing systems. I also learned about baseball and hockey as I was not a huge sports fan before I got to NESN. Within a couple of years, I was fulltime in production working Sox and Bruins pre/postgame shows. I was an editor, technical director, and did some producing as well. I started producing/directing college sports in 1986, [including] soccer, lacrosse, and hockey. I was the main producer/director for Hockey East from 1988 to ’96. In 1997, I produced and directed the Bruins home games, and, in 2000, NESN obtained all the Bruins games, and I’ve been directing the games ever since.

Michelle Schlickman: I was given a chance [when] I was working as a director/TD at WMUR in Manchester, NH. One day, I found out a cameraman had been freelancing in Boston, and I felt that was something I wanted to do. I was given Paul Goldman’s name from Greenline Group and spoke with him. Penny Starks, the crewer at the time had me sit in on a game with Rich Berlant, the away TD in Boston. He told me he was impressed how I handled myself on a DVE problem. He took the time to train me in the sports-TD philosophy because it was so much different from the news background I had. I owe my career to him. I both worked a full-time job and freelanced for quite a while, and I went full freelance in 2010. I’ve been very grateful how my career has gone. I’m continually learning as the job keeps changing, and I’m always trying to do better.

Is there one core philosophy or goal for each game production?
AJ: Put everyone on the crew, from the booth to the truck, in the best position to succeed. Then, when it’s first pitch or puck drop, we can all tell the stories of the game and cover the big moments at the highest level.

RM: Our broadcasts involve many talented people. We’re like an orchestra, and we all play important parts. We strive to perform in sync to produce the highest-quality broadcast. Our productions are successful because we’re all on the same page. Specifically, as a director, my goal is to execute the game plan and highlight the features of the game: speed, physicality, and especially emotion.

MS: My goal is to have a clean show.

What advice do you have for women coming up in the industry or looking to break into it?
Learn as much as you can about all aspects of production. It will make you better at any role you’re in and at any level you advance to. It will build your confidence in new situations, help you make connections with the rest of the crew, and you might find a role/position that you love that you hadn’t considered before. Then, be generous with that knowledge to those coming up after you.

RM: When I first started, I didn’t think about the fact that I was a woman. I worked hard and learned as much as possible. My advice would be to get involved with all aspects of production, find your niche, and develop it to its full potential. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try to learn from them. Ask questions and make yourself available for extra shifts. Enthusiasm and determination go far in this business.

MS: The first job won’t be the dream job. Meet people. It’s a cliché, but I got my job at WMUR because I knew someone who knew someone who worked there. Same can be said about getting into freelancing. Working in the stadiums is a great way to learn equipment and show flow. Never stop trying to learn, don’t settle. There is always a better way to do things.

What does it mean to you to work alongside each other and other women in a male-dominated field?
AJ: It’s always great to work with talented people and particularly to see talented women like Rose and Michelle thrive in these roles.

RM: I enjoy working with Amy and Michelle and other women in the field, but, first and foremost, Amy and Michelle are excellent at what they do. They are as good as, if not better than, some male producers and technical directors that I’ve worked with. I respect them for their efforts in reaching the pinnacle of their careers. We’ve all worked extremely hard — I would argue perhaps harder than our male colleagues — in attaining this level of success. Having said that, it was men who put me in this position to succeed, and I am grateful.

MS: Until recently, I never had given it much thought. I saw Amy work her way up to producer, and Rose has always been the Bruins director so it wasn’t much of a big deal for me. I did a college basketball game earlier this year, and a college student came in to just see how a game was put together. I watched her go to each department, ask questions, and pay attention to the whole game. Towards the end of the game, I told her, if she gave me five minutes, I would tell her all about being a TD. After my presentation, her biggest question was about being a woman in TV. I was pretty surprised by that. I never really thought about it.

What do you hope will be different for the next generation of female production leaders as you three help pave the way?
AJ: I hope there will be more women in all roles but especially in decision-making roles, roles that shape broadcasts and networks with fresh perspectives. I also hope that future generations help and support each other, and I hope they feel less like there are only one or two spots for a woman on a show. I hope that, for every open production role, there is a qualified and experienced woman in the running.

RM: There are still few women producers, directors, and technical directors in sports broadcasting. Many women have broken the glass ceiling, but the disparity is still there. The recent focus on diversity has helped women, but, honestly, the bottom line is that you still need tenacity and perseverance. If you believe in yourself, learn, and work hard, your efforts will be rewarded.

MS: Wouldn’t it be nice for it not to be a big deal when there are three females sitting on the front bench?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

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