Behind the Scenes with FOX’s NFL crew: Why Greg Olsen is a natural in booth
By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Lead Producer
Editor’s Note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and the lead producer for the last 20 seasons. He has more than 40 years of experience covering the league and has produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he will provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team makes its journey toward Super Bowl LVII.
It has been a fascinating season for the FOX NFL A Team.
Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen have smoothly and successfully succeeded the iconic broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That was no easy challenge.
Most of this crew has been together for 20 years at many levels on both the production and technical sides. It’s a tight-knit group, which added two new lead voices for the 2022 season.
A sweeping change like that doesn’t happen often in sports television. But there’s one huge caveat to this tsunami.
That caveat wears No. 12 for the Tampa Bay Bucs and is named Tom Brady. When his storied NFL career is over and he so chooses, Brady will become the lead analyst on our games — a job Greg Olsen is doing quite well at the moment.
The waiting game
Our team just covered Brady for the fourth time this season, but it was our first meeting back in September that set the tone. Olsen is funny, self-aware and very smart.
He smartly diffused what some feared would be an awkward situation when the present and future No. 1 analysts met via video call.
Almost immediately, Greg told Tom, “This TV thing sucks, don’t even worry about it. I’ll handle it.” The tone was set; hearty laughter followed.
On their call this week before Sunday’s Panthers-Bucs game, Brady mentioned he and some teammates had compiled a list of the all-time best tight ends, and Olsen made the cut. Greg, wanting to appreciate the moment, asked Brady to repeat it. A nice moment, but the elephant in the room remains.
No one knows whether Brady will play beyond this season, us included. Heck, it’s possible Brady himself doesn’t know. Should Brady make the jump to broadcasting in 2023, I firmly believe he will excel. Would you bet against the greatest quarterback of all time?
Right now, he’s clearly focused on football. Internally, we try not to speculate about the future.
Olsen himself has no qualms about his odd situation. He acknowledges that adding Tom Brady to the FOX NFL stable is a coup for the company. It’s one he’s prepared for.
Stepping up in class
Olsen has far exceeded even my lofty expectations this season. I knew of his energy and confidence, but I had never met him until this offseason.
Aside from being a blast to be around, this guy lives and breathes football. His enthusiasm fills a room. The excited delivery heard during the broadcast is the exact same tone we hear in our production meetings every Saturday night.
Olsen is unusual for an analyst. He rarely speaks in clichés and explains the game in understandable language. Another great quality is his ability to see the big picture. Many analysts tend to overanalyze. They go from play to play and beat you over the head with minutiae. Olsen stays ahead of the game and offers context to what is unfolding.
There is an ongoing quest for greater concision. In fact, during the first commercial break each week, Greg will say, “Z , the broadcast doesn’t officially start until you tell me to slow down and tighten things up.”
It’s good advice, if I may say so myself!
With that in mind, the group decided to screen a bit of our broadcast from last week between the Eagles and Cowboys. Just Olsen, Burkhardt, director Rich Russo and myself, watching the tape over a bowl of chips and guacamole.
This is very different than the film study Olsen was used to as a player. In that world, an evaluation is much more cut and dry. You either made a play or you didn’t. You blocked the guy in front of you or you didn’t. The play was either a win or a loss.
Television is much more subjective. There’s not necessarily a right or a wrong; there’s a lot of gray area.
There are a few basic principles for commentators. One of which is to avoid overtalking. Broadcasts need some clean air — allowing the pictures and the sound of the crowd to carry the moment.
A few minutes into our review, Greg noticed an example where he was long-winded, adding an extra thought when perhaps it wasn’t needed. He noticed himself; I didn’t have to say a word.
Our self-scouting turned out to be a helpful exercise. I noticed times in which we went to replays when none were needed. Over-replaying is the truck version of overtalking — best to avoid.
Despite the concerns about overtalking, there were many examples where Burkhardt and Olsen remained silent, allowing Russo’s pictures to tell the story.
When we were done, the verdict was unanimous: The session was helpful, and our time was well-spent.
NFC South Showdown
Games often don’t go according to form. The Bucs offense and Brady had been in a disjointed funk. Olsen’s old team, Carolina, had rushed for more than 300 yards in its previous game. Although this matchup had major playoff implications for both clubs, we weren’t expecting a work of art. The Panthers would pound the ball. The Bucs would hopefully keep it close and allow Brady to pull off some late magic.
Olsen had a different take. At our production meeting Saturday night and again at Sunday morning’s talk with the camera crew, he described a wide-open game in which both teams would take more chances. He envisioned Brady slinging the ball around the yard, and that is precisely what happened.
Current quarterback and future TV analyst Tom Brady won his 19th division title. Former tight end and current TV analyst Greg Olsen had the game nailed.
In two weeks, Olsen and Brady could potentially meet again when Tampa likely hosts the NFC East champion in a wild-card game. For now, Week 18 beckons. And the Super Bowl is only 42 days away!
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