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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 17 2013

'GameDay' setup no small feat

FARGO – It’s a team that covers teams. And like the good college football programs, ESPN’s “College GameDay” pregame football show follows a similar pattern of success when the lights aren’t on.

They all get along.

It probably best explains how a show that started in 1987 is still not only surviving, but thriving.

“They have great chemistry on the set,” said Lee Fitting, the show’s producer. “There’s no screaming or hollering at each other. It’s passionate college football talk. That chemistry is something you can’t create and we’ve been lucky enough to have a group of guys to where that comes naturally.”

That chemistry – mainly Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard – will be arriving in Fargo on Thursday afternoon, Fitting said. Some on-air segments will begin Friday, and Fitting said fans will start seeing activity late in the morning, around 10 or 11.

The show will air 8-11 a.m. Saturday on Broadway around the intersection of Third Avenue North. North Dakota State hosts Delaware State later that day at 2:30 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

The behind-the-scenes crew and production personnel and equipment is enormous, consisting of several trucks and buses. Last week, the network took 85 people, 10 trucks, a 35-foot TV stage, two video walls and five sponsor tents to College Station, Texas, for the Texas A&M and Alabama game.

Fitting corrected one Fargo radio host this week when he was asked about bringing a small army.

“No, it’s a large army,” he said.

If Fitting is a general, then the broadcasting crew is eager front-line soldiers, because they don’t waver in their commitment, he said.

“It’s because of the guys on the air and their passion to the sport,” Fitting said.

It hasn’t happened overnight. Taking former athletes or coaches and turning them into productive television analysts doesn’t always work. Ex-players have come and gone in other shows on other networks.

Corso has been with “GameDay” since its inception in 1987. Fowler joined in 1990. Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State, came aboard in 1996 and Howard, a Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan in 1991, made it a foursome in 2005.

“It took Kirk a number of years to get where he’s at,” Fitting said. “It took Desmond three or four years, and he’s still getting better by the week. We’ve been lucky.”

Improvement comes mainly in being more concise with comments and opinions, he said.

“Not wasting words and being more efficient and strong in having opinions,” Fitting said, “and not being wishy-washy and not worrying about hurting a team’s or coach’s feelings.”

The show generates almost 2 million viewers on a typical Saturday. It’s unprecedented exposure for a Division I FCS school like NDSU.

“I believe it will help redefine our institution, gaining that kind of exposure,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “While we have a game to play, we appreciate the added exposure that ‘GameDay’ offers. It’s unique. There are only 12 on a Saturday, and it’s a pretty special event for NDSU.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia