Big Ten Network ramps up production with new docs

Two new weekly shows are establishing the five-year-old, Chicago-based Big Ten Network as a regular producer of sports documentaries.

Operating out of offices in the old Montgomery Ward building at 618 W. Chicago, and equipped with a four-camera studio and 12 editing bays, BTN has really ramped up production with a quick filming/editing turnaround via the 10-week “The Journey: Big Ten Football 2012.”

Airing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, the half-hour “The Journey,” presented by Best Buy, features a behind-the-scenes look at current football players and coaches. Filming began Sept. 24, with the programs largely produced in-house under the supervision of Bill Friedman, coordinating BTN producer of original programming.

“It’s a tight time frame,” Friedman said. “It forces your hand on a lot of things. It can cause you some challenges logistically, but it also yields the best product.”

Friedman’s crew makes up a sizeable chunk of BTN’s 100 employees. They have 10 days each to turn around production into a finished product.

BTN staff:  Bill Friedman, Dan Lindberg, Julian Darnell, John CastellBehind the “The Journey” are staff producers Lindberg and Julian Darnell; associate producer Samantha Eisenberg and senior editors John Castelli and Gregg Juhlin, and freelancers Kevin Shaw, Matt Engel and Miguel Adad.

Shaw, Engel, Lindberg, Darnell and Eisenberg also shot footage.

“The Journey” also evolved from a previous program where each show focused on one school’s athletics.

 “Eventually, we came to the realization it’s a better play for our audience to expand it and incorporate all the schools in small amounts instead of one school totally,” Friedman said.  “Not just why athletes and coaches do what they do, but who they are.”

Hourlong “Big Ten Elite” is second new doc

New also to the 24/7 BTN schedule is the seven-week-long “Big Ten Elite,” airing at 7 p.m. Tuesdays.

The 60-minute “Big Ten Elite” gives viewers the complete story behind seven historically great football and basketball teams through new interviews, archival footage and vintage radio calls.

One show features the 1995 Northwestern Rose Bowl-bound team that lifted the football program out of more than two decades of doldrums.

Friedman pulled the majority of the “Big Ten Elite” shows together himself at the BTN headquarters between February and July, using footage shot by Orange Lion Productions of Connecticut.

Like “The Journey,” “Big Ten Elite” evolved from half-hour predecessor documentaries profiling the top athletes and coaches in conference history.

BTN also produced “Greatest Seasons,” celebrating all-time football and basketball teams. Even more documentaries are planned.  “We’ve established a bar of quality and expectations for our viewers,” Friedman said.

Both programs get a repeat weekly airing after BTN football broadcasts on Saturdays.

George Castle is a longtime Chicago-based sportswriter, author and radio talk-show host.