By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Senior Producer
Editor’s note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and senior producer for the past 20 seasons. He has over 40 years of league experience and produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he will provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team heads to Super Bowl LVII.
It’s always sunny with Kevin Burkhardt. This sunshine permeates our entire team and makes my job as a producer much easier. When there’s positive energy emanating from above — and with Burkhardt and Greg Olsen, it’s more like a flood — the work atmosphere is pleasant and productive.
If analysts are the driving force behind sports broadcasts, play-by-play announcers are the conscience. They set the tone and provide the context. Each game has its own rhythms, ebbs and flows. Burkhardt navigates them all with a deft touch and an unflappable disposition. Our crew has been blessed for twenty years with Joe Buck at the helm. To use a baseball term, Joe is a five-tool player who’s on my Mount Rushmore of sportscasters.
At some point and with plenty of huge games to call in his future, Burkhardt is on his way to that pantheon.
Chemistry was a scary word to me in high school when I couldn’t tell an atomic number from a jersey number. The next D on my report card sent shivers down my spine for years to come. Now that’s a blessing. Chemistry fuels a production team at all levels. It starts in the cabin and cannot be faked. Advertisers can tick all the boxes, but if they’re placed next to the wrong person, they’ll never reach their potential.
Careers have been derailed by mismatches. John Madden was always quick to cite Pat Summerall for much of his success.
Olsen and Burkhardt have chemistry. This comfort is based on history, friendship and respect. Greg knows the football part of the equation but relies on Kevin’s experience for the TV part. When Olsen was a standout New Jersey footballer, KB called his games on local television. In a few weeks, they’ll share a booth calling the Super Bowl to over 100 million people.
Who is that voice in my ear?
Another key relationship is between the play-by-play caller and the producer.
Trust is the cement. And trust must be earned by the producer. Fortunately, Kevin and I hit it off quickly. All the education and experience in the world does not guarantee chemistry. But if you can get along with your colleagues, you have a chance.
We’re in constant communication during gameplay, driving the broadcast and balancing in-game action with the most compelling storylines.
An example of dialogue during a commercial break:
Zyontz: Hey, KB — let’s come out of the break with a recorded cover of Brady and mike evans. This sets up a conversation for you to talk about their struggles in the next segment.
The suggestion can also come from the stand:
Burkhardt: Z—off the break, can you give me pictures of the Dallas offensive line? I think Greg and I need to discuss all their hurts.
The back and forth is always smooth and fluid, adapting to game situations.
While we all have notes and talking points, the live action on the pitch dictates our direction. The process works much easier when the producer and the stand are on the same page. In this regard, I feel very lucky.
Cowboys and Commanders. It’s coming off your tongue, isn’t it?
While Dallas had a playoff spot to play in Week 18, Washington was finishing another disappointing season. As the playoffs approached, the focus of the broadcast was two-fold: to add context to what was wrong with the COs and to preview the Cowboys’ prospects in the weeks ahead.
A twist to this plot. Greg Olsen played for Washington head coach Ron Rivera for eight years at Carolina. They are good friends. Rivera is a highly respected figure, but has certainly made some errors in training and judgment this season.
How do you talk about a friend and warts and all? It is a delicate subject.
During our production meeting on Saturday night, Burkhardt kindly reminded Olsen to be careful not to make excuses for his former coach. And he didn’t.
As Kevin and Greg explained throughout the telecast, Washington’s problems date back 30 years and stem from the fact that he never found a franchise quarterback. With all the dark clouds surrounding their franchise, it looked like Commanders were heading for a disappointing end to a dark season.
The beauty of sport is that you never know. Who expected Washington’s rookie quarterback Sam Howell to surpass his Dallas counterpart Dak Prescott? How many people expected Dallas to lay a collective egg a week before the playoffs?
Where had the commanders hidden all the courage and energy they had deployed in the 26-6 stranglehold of their rivals?
This fast-paced, sloppy game could have challenged even the sunniest broadcasters. But Kevin didn’t get carried away by a bad game. It is not an easy task.
We now head to Minneapolis, where our season started, for a Wild Card game on Sunday between the vikings and the upstart New York Giants. The second season begins.
I can not wait !
Get more from the National Football League Follow your favorites for game insights, news and more