Grambling State University was getting national attention last week with two special televised segments about the institution.
Yahoo! aired two online segments on Oct. 8 and the CBS Sports Network aired a 30-minute television show, The Road to Saturday, two days later.
This concept is not new. The production house that does the work for Yahoo! and CBS, the Holden Production Group in Dallas, has produced shows about Texas Tech, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Southern Methodist University.
Grambling State is the fourth stop during the company’s fall college road tour, and the first historically Black university they’ve covered.
Producer Ashton Campbell and photography director Robert Howell spent Oct. 3-4 interviewing coach Doug Williams, other coaches and football players, as well as members of the university’s royal court, cheer squad representatives, Orchesis Dance Company members and members of the marching band.
They worked into the night each day and returned to Dallas Friday to start production.
On Saturday, they spent much of the day at the Texas Cotton Bowl, doing additional interviews and shooting as Grambling State took on Prairie View A&M University at the decades-old State Fair Classic.
Prairie View won, 37-14. It was the first win of the season for Prairie View as the team went to 1-5. Grambling slipped to 0-5.
Though this annual battle has been going on for years, this is the first time a worldwide audience was able to learn about Grambling State’s history, legacies and traditions.
“The average football fan in California or Idaho probably doesn’t know anything about Grambling,” segment producer Ashton Campbell said during an interview on campus in between interviews he was doing. “So our job is basically show what goes on behind the scenes and to show the preparation leading up to the game on Saturday.” He said his goal is to enlighten and inform the audience.
For photography director Robert Howell, traveling from school to school each week is a “mystery adventure.”
“The funny part is that we don’t know where we’re going next week. We’re hanging on the seat of our pants,” laughed Howell. “(We) can’t wait to get the phone call on where we’re headed next week.”
Will Sutton, the university’s public relations and communications director, said there was a lot of excitement on campus about the film crew visit and anticipation about all the national attention.
Though the university has been featured by HBO, ESPN and other networks in the past, the idea of an online show and a television show focused on much of what goes into preparing for a big weekend football game is exciting.
“This all came together pretty quickly, and Coach Williams and his team of coaches and players were quite accommodating,” said Sutton.
“Then we pulled in the marching band, the cheer squad, the dance team, the royal court and others. Plus, some students helped film some of the footage, and others covered the activity.”
Mickey Holden, the show’s executive producer, said in a telephone interview that he wanted the show to let the audience know about Grambling’s rich history, legendary coach Eddie Robinson and how this event is bigger than football. He happened to see the Grambling head football coach and thought he’d give the concept a shot.
“I saw Doug Williams at a dinner in Dallas a few months back and I mentioned to him that I would love to showcase Grambling and the richness of their legacy,” said Holden, who owns the production company.
“We worked with Yahoo! to create a visual experience, and Ashton and Robert are skilled storytellers, so putting these two guys together was a no-brainer.”
Mic’d up at practice, Williams was comfortable as he did what he normally does: watching exercises, plays, players and coaches, then lending his wisdom.
The film crew put a mic on Larry Pannell, director of the World Famed Tiger Marching Band, as he called musicians over one by one and shouted feedback from atop a ladder.
About 8 a.m. that Thursday, Campbell and Howell were roaming Eddie Robinson Stadium, shooting an empty stadium from different angles. Seats. Field. Sidelines. End zone. Scoreboard. These shots were filler, or B roll, to help with the show’s backdrop.
In addition, the crew got some video from the university’s television center to consider using.
Taping the preparations of Grambling’s football team and dancers were priority, but it was great exposure to the aspiring journalists behind the scenes. No matter how many wins or losses the team has, Grambling’s name will live on.