ESPN’s Jimmy Platt shares what to expect when he takes over as director of ‘Monday Night Football’
Jason Witten is back playing in the NFL. Booger McFarland is moving from the sidelines to the booth alongside Joe Tessitore.
But the biggest change at “Monday Night Football” this season will take place in the production truck, where Jimmy Platt takes over as director for Chip Dean. Dean had occupied ESPN’s NFL director’s chair for the previous 18 seasons, working on “Sunday Night Football” from 2001 to 2005 and “Monday Night Football” from 2006 to last season.
Don’t expect huge changes in how “Monday Night Football” looks on screen — there are only so many ways to produce an NFL game. Dean’s longtime partner Jay Rothman will continue as the series’ producer.
But each director brings his own stamp to NFL games. There are subtle differences in how Drew Esocoff directs “Sunday Night Football,” Mike Arnold directs on CBS and Rich Russo directs on Fox.
When I asked Platt what viewers should expect from his stewardship of “Monday Night Football,” he responded by saying that he wants them to feel “comfortable.”
“Sometimes you feel like you’re getting hit over the head, and there’s too much stuff going on — too many camera cuts and too much movement,” he said. “My approach has always been the same: Don’t overdo it. Always try to stay on the shot that matters the most and wait for it. At some point, if you can wait for it and be patient, the impact that one shot is going to have is just going to carry a lot.”
As an example, Platt pointed to a “Sunday Night Baseball” game from Wrigley Field that he directed on May 5.
Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was taken out of the game in the sixth inning after the Cubs took a three-run lead. When reliever John Gant let in another run two batters later, Platt went to a tight shot of Wainwright sitting in the dugout.
The pitcher’s face showed no emotion at first. But Platt stuck with it.
“I just stayed on it a little longer than most people would have,” he said. “I waited because I thought he was going to give me something.”
Eventually, Wainwright dropped his head, seeming to acknowledge that the game was lost. For Platt, that image told the story of the game, which the Cubs ended up winning 13-5.
“Just staying with that shot a little bit longer than most showed his body language and told the story of, ultimately, how the game ended up — with the Cardinals losing,” Jimmy said. “It wasn’t much. But in an early season baseball game, you don’t get a lot of those emotional moments because the teams still have 120 more games to play.”
Platt said he relies on a gut feel in those instances.
“When you let that resonate with the person at home, they get an emotional connection to it,” he said. “It’s a mindset I’ve developed. Just be patient, and don’t rush to get to something else. Those other shots are still going to be there. But if you don’t capture this one moment, then you’ve missed it.”
Beyond staying patient with shots, Platt said he wants to keep the production simple.
“When you first come into a project of this scope, the worst thing you can do is try to get way too far ahead of yourself,” he said.
Though he’s new to the NFL, Platt has a lot of experience in college football, directing games on ESPN and ABC over the past five years. He hopes to bring some of that experience to “Monday Night Football.”
“I come from the college game, where the traditions and the fan bases are a lot more rabid than the NFL,” he said. “I want to capture those little moments, whether it’s some sort of tradition or just when the crowd is really into it, and make sure that the viewer at home is getting a sense of sitting in the stadium at this moment.”
How will the viewer see that?
“I like to use the medium-wide to even sometimes ultra-wide shot where you see the crowd and you see the guys coming to the line,” he said. “Then you scale it from there where you start wide then narrow your focus down to maybe the quarterback coming under center or a defensive face right up to the snap.”
The two weeks since he was officially named the “Monday Night Football” director have been a whirlwind, Platt said.
“I don’t know if it’ll finally sink in until I hear Hank Williams play on game one,” he said. “It’s humbling. It’s exciting.”