For 33 seasons, an NFL prime-time package has had Fred Gaudelli in the producer's chair and Al Michaels announcing from the booth.
One of those eras comes to an end Saturday night when Gaudelli produces his last NFL game — NBC's coverage of the AFC wild-card round game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 62-year old said he had seen 2022 as his final season in the production truck for awhile since this marked the end of the current broadcast contracts with the NFL. The league's 11-year deals with NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN start next season.
“When I signed an extension in 2016, it took me to the end of this season where I knew that might be it,” Gaudelli said. “I pretty much made up my mind last year that this was definitely going to be the last season. It's just a long time.”
Gaudelli began producing NFL games in 1990. He was at the helm of ESPN's “Sunday Night Football” for 11 years before moving into the ABC “Monday Night Football” truck in 2001. When NBC acquired the Sunday night rights, one of the first moves NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol made was hiring Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff.
Gaudelli was the producer of “Sunday Night Football” from 2006 until last season, when he became the executive producer. Gaudelli though still had one more prime-time package to launch behind the controls for Amazon Prime Video's first year of “Thursday Night Football."
Gaudelli has worked with only three play-by-play announcers and five analysts; he started with Mike Patrick at ESPN but since 2001 his announcer has mainly been Michaels.
“No producer has ever done it better than Fred,” Michaels said. "And he capped it off by launching ‘Thursday Night Football’ on Prime Video from scratch and in one year turned it into the equal of any sports presentation on television.”
Esocoff, who has worked with Gaudelli for nearly 40 years at ESPN and NBC, called him the single biggest influence on his career. He added that Gaudelli's crew was always prepared and “the results speak for themselves.”
Gaudelli, who said he was most influenced by Ebersol and John Madden, joked that when he started, teams used to huddle before a punt. He also remarked on other changes, like the development of quarterbacks and the game being played at a faster pace.
“Peyton Manning made the two-minute drill an offense. He operated from the line of scrimmage at all times, and that changed the way you had to cover the game,” Gaudelli said. “You had to really be cognizant in terms of when you were doing replays or anything that was going to take you off the field for a second.”
In terms of advances through technology, Gaudelli said broadcasting in high definition was definitely the biggest along with super slo-mo cameras and TV's role in determining key moments through instant replay.
“Television is almost the eighth official. I mean, we’re helping officiate the games, and I don’t think anybody’s ever really wanted that role and responsibility. But it came and everybody had to embrace it,” Gaudelli said. “I guess it’s made the game fair. I think the NFL has learned a lot and taken off some of the responsibility off TV.”
Even though Gaudelli won't be in the truck for games, he will still have a key role in NBC and Prime Video's coverage as executive producer for “Sunday Night Football” and with Prime Video. That transition started this season when Gaudelli was elevated to executive producer for “Sunday Night Football” this season while Rob Hyland took over in the truck.
Gaudelli's influence is also still felt at ESPN, where the last two “Monday Night Football” producers — Jay Rothman and Phil Dean — worked under Gaudelli.
“His passion for the game, his preparation, his innovative nature, and creative flair have been his hallmarks,” said Tim Corrigan, ESPN's vice president of production for NBA coverage. “The game and proper documentation has always been the priority. Fred excelled at making the NFL more interesting, visually appealing and entertaining for the viewer. Fred’s best qualities are as a friend and mentor to me and countless others in the industry.”
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