MLB Network Studios
FLDA has been associated with MLB Network since the network’s inception. Located in MSNBc’s former studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, the network houses two native HD studios, named in honor of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson (Studio 3 and Studio 42, respectively), which total 15,200 square feet. FLDA has been awarded two Sports Emmy
Awards for its work with MLB Network, including one award as part of the production design team for ‘MLB Tonight’ and another award for outstanding technical team in studio, which is shared by FLDA’s Bruce Ferri and Mick Smith.
The two Major League Baseball Network studios were lit by lighting designer Bruce Ferri, Principal of Ferri Lighting Design & Associates (FLDA). Ferri is no stranger to sports television lighting and he was excited to work on this innovative project. “Sports broadcasting is an interesting challenge because they are giving fans the day’s news but also presenting it in a fast-paced, high energy format and the studio needs to be able to convey that energy and excitement. Also the space itself is used for multiple different setups and styles of shots so you really have to breakout of just the ’guy sitting at a desk look’ but at the same time the lighting can’t compete with the show, it has to enhance it.”
MLB Network (MLBN) is a specialty television channel dedicated to professional baseball. Major League Baseball primarily owns it along with minority ownership by Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner and Cox Communications. The channel’s headquarters and studios are located in MSNBC’s former studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. MLB Network launched in approximately 50 million homes as the largest network debut in cable history.
There are two studios, which are named in honor of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, Studio 3 and Studio 42, totaling 15,200 square feet. Every video display in both studios is fully native HD, as is all video produced at the studios. Lighting designer Ferri’s team included FLDA Partner Associate LD Mick Smith and Assistant LD Ben Pilat. The production design was handled by Lead Designer, Bryan Higgason of Jack Morton/PDG.
Studio 3 will be the primary home of the live nightly studio show, MLB Tonight. “The main studio is only used for the main anchor desk right now,” says Ferri. “It is called the Technology Studio and features a wall of monitors behind the anchor desk. It will have more show units using this space over time.” Studio 3 features a desk that can rotate to various stations and includes six distinct broadcast areas, including a balcony, stat center, and interview area. The ceiling is ringed by backlit logos of all 30 MLB teams.
In the Technology Studio it is all about control explains Ferri, “It is very precise keying to control any spill from the backgrounds. Since one background is a huge 30’ x 7’ rear-projection video wall and the other background is a sea of monitors, we need to be very controlled with the lighting. For the key lights in the Technology Studio, I used ETC Source Four ellipsoidals; the whole set was all lit with Source Fours. There is also a lot of Plexiglas and metal in the background so we wanted to control the reflections. The RP screen is designed to handle ambient light really well.”
The second studio, Studio 42, measures nearly 100’ x 100’ is referred to as the Demo Field and is in fact an open, half-scale baseball diamond. It is made of field turf; measuring 45’ from base to base and a pitcher’s mound 30’ from home plate that can be moved back for more realistic demonstrations. It is used as a demonstration center by MLBN’s on-air talent, many of whom are former players, as well as being an area for both formal and informal interviews. The studio also features a replica brick outfield wall, complete with padding, three different seating areas that can hold up to 173 people, and an out of town scoreboard that is loosely modeled after the scoreboard at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia which will be updated in real-time.
“Lighting in the Demo Field, was pretty much the opposite of the Technology Studio,” says Ferri. “For baseball demos, guys are running all over the place so we had to have a pretty broad field wash, yet we still needed to keep the backgrounds and the walls interesting. There were limited positions on the grid and the field literally goes from wall to wall, so we had to get creative as to how we were able to get an even lighting on the field for when they did the demonstrations. We worked with the set designer and designed stadium-like lighting trees that were able to hang in the shot and be actually functional. For the lights we used stubby 500W PAR64s. We felt that the stubby, silver PARs were more reminiscent of actual stadium lights. It was cool, without even thinking of lighting, Bryan had drawn in these little circles that were supposed to represent stadium lights. I saw that and thought that I can use them to help light the field. We have these trees on all four sides, because when they do demos they use a Steadicam and a jib so they can shoot everywhere.”
Ferri likes that the Studio 42, Demo Field is also versatile, “When we are not doing demos but informal interviews, by selectively peeling the field wash back, we have been able to create a lot of interest in the backgrounds. Because the studio is so large—100’ x 100’ —we get incredible amounts of depth. Someone commented to me ’a close-up with depth behind it, where do you find that anymore?’ Most of the walls are brick to evoke the feel of Camden Yards in Baltimore, so to make the backgrounds interesting, I used uplight a lot trying to mimic architectural lighting and on top of that I put a base wash of dark blue to light the shadows and on top of that I put patterns. There are lots of layers going on to make the backgrounds very interesting.”
Sportscaster Bob Costas is part of the talent at the MLB Network and conducts his interviews in Studio 42. “We have another look designed for those interviews, where it is not just a couple of guys hanging out, it is more formal when Bob is interviewing different sports personalities,” says Ferri. “That has a very different feeling, very moody. It is a real sexy look. When we launched the studio, Bob interviewed Yogi Berra and Don Larsen about the perfect game in the 1956 World Series. That was the first time we got to see that look and it has really great backgrounds. We were all very pleased.”