HOUSTON—There are many highlight packages throughout sports, but few (if any) have taken on the cultural resonance of the “One Shining Moment” tournament highlights package at the end of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament each year. There’s a reason that package gets a regular post here each year; it encompasses so much of sports in general, and that tournament in particular, and what you can do with the right combination of highlights and music.
There’s a new producer for that segment this year. That would be CBS Sports’ Ellis Williams, who’s been working at that company as an associate producer, associate director, producer, and director since 2018. Oh, and Monday just happens to be his birthday. Williams spoke to AA Sunday on how he feels on getting tabbed for this particular birthday assignment, starting with his connection to the music of “One Shining Moment” singer Luther Vandross.
“It means a lot to me,” Williams said. “I want to start with Luther Vandross. One of my fondest memories as a young boy was being picked up by my grandfather and the music that he would play. That became a foundational tool of my outlook on life. And Luther Vandross was in that set list. And when I think about “Never Too Much,” “A House Is Not a Home,” “Give Me the Reason,” Luther Vandross and what he’s meant to me, I’ve been in proximity with this figure for so long that to work with such a seminal record, that is the culmination of the sports landscape that I’m so privileged to participate in. It’s a very powerful experience for me that brings so many elements of my lived experience together.”
Williams said the vocals there from Vandross, and the arrangement of the music, are key to elevating “One Shining Moment” into a must-watch package each year.
“I think it works so well because you have the voice of a dynamic figure coupled with an arrangement that lends itself well to sports storytelling. We need these spaces to be able bring in our broadcast, to be able to bring in emotion, to be able to bring in fanfare and tie it all together to tell one particular story. And I think when you have those lyrics, coupled with our sound-ups, coupled with our broadcasting, and coupled with the fans who call so many of these teams their favorite, it really lends itself to great television. ”
Each year, there’s an incredible amount of work that goes into picking what will be shown in “One Shining Moment.” Williams said he received a lot of help there, but he also has his own research-intensive approach that fits well with this.
“It is a lot of screening. I had a lot of people who made themselves available to me, because it’s my first time doing it. …And I was able to come in with my own unique entry point. I’m a really big proponent of research. My mentor [CBS Sports vice president of production and senior creative director] Pete Radovich, Pete had us prepare bibles for games and some of the feature work that we had done. And that level of research has been such a foundational tool that has influenced so many other elements of my storytelling guide. It was easy for me to take this research component and watch games, watch the broadcasts, go back into our own library databases and find angles to really tell the story. It became a really great project about the find.”
Williams compared picking clips for “One Shining Moment” to record heads’ practice of crate-digging.
“I don’t know if you’re interested in music, but crate-digging is such a unique experience when you’re doing it in a contemporary framework. For me, the crate-digging was sifting through highlights with Austin Smith, my BA, and Pat Ball, a phenomenal editor who’s on this project, and a number of other people, from our features unit to our tape ADs, people who want to push this in the same direction to make a really dynamic project. It’s just great to see the representation of so many people coming together for one dynamic thing.”
He said it also involves a lot of thinking about what images match what parts of the song.
“You’re looking for the music to enhance the actual images of the tournament. You want your shooting star to be a really dynamic player, you want the other sound-up moments from Luther’s lyrics to really coincide with examples that are visible during the tournament. And some of it’s not just ‘What did you see,’ it’s what everybody saw. I think it’s about a balance of the laughs, the joy, the pain, the triumphs, and the failures, that really brings them all together and tells the big story of what it means, particularly in these crazy three weeks of sports broadcasting.”
Williams said his five years at CBS (which included a selection to Sports Business Journal‘s “30 under 30” listing in 2020) so far have been a great run. He said that’s also taught him about shifting from a digital focus to a broadcast and cable one.
“It’s been an incredible experience. I came from a digital landscape, I started at Turner Sports with Bleacher Report, and that process of working in a digital landscape gave me an opportunity to tell stories that maybe traditionally weren’t told, or were unique. The goal was to get eyes and grow a viral audience and reach people. Going into a broadcast landscape, I was really able to open up storytelling, to get into finding things that were relevant to our actual broadcast, and to making the broadcast better.”
He said he wants to focus on making the stories the company tells even stronger, and bringing in angles that might have been missed before.
“My time at CBS has always been about making us better, getting to the next steps of storytelling. I continue to push the envelope on what we believe to be a story and how we tell those stories, from a myriad of different entry points, from diversity to inclusion to equity dynamics. All of those layers of being and existence are equally important in understanding how sports influences our world.”
Producing “One Shining Moment” might seem like a lot of pressure from the outside given the intense focus on it. And that’s maybe especially true when producing it for the first time. But Williams said the support from his colleagues at CBS and their tournament broadcasting partners at Warner Bros. Discovery helps with that.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure going into it. There are lots of people who are supportive, and are all pushing in the same direction to champion this particular project. This is not something that lives on an island, it’s something that lives throughout the company. It’s something that lives throughout both companies. Talk about shot technique; we can sit in edits, Pat and I and Austin, and talk about ‘What was the best moment from this game?’, and if we have our feature team, or a WBD ally, someone who was on the broadcast working, those are equal partners who have a stake in making this piece as great as it can be.”
Williams also credits the executives who got him in contact with the broadcast teams early on.
“So a lot of our early work, Steve Karasik (CBS Sports VP of remote production), who worked alongside Harold Bryant (CBS Sports executive producer and EVP, production) and Emilie Deutsch (CBS Sports VP, original programming and features) to give me this opportunity, he’s been following through with it as well. He gave me the opportunity to sit in on their meetings for March Madness, to introduce myself to our team in a more informal setting, to say ‘Hey, it’s okay to reach out.'”
Williams said this chance to produce “One Shining Moment” is a great opportunity for him, and it’s a moment he’s eager to share with his watching family.
“I’m an Ithaca College graduate. I started in television and radio with a Bachelor’s of Science. And I am just really thankful for the opportunity. I have a lot of family members who will be sitting and watching and waiting for this moment. It’s an opportunity to be heard. And I want to give some credence to the people who helped support me. My mother insisted on me getting a job fresh out of college; I told her I was a producer, at 22, with no producing experience! I get to laugh with her now on bringing that visualization of my life full circle, and getting to share that with her, my father, and my siblings.”
Awful Announcing’s on-the-ground Houston coverage of the 2023 NCAA Tournament is sponsored by a media trip from Marriott Bonvoy.
[Photo from a 2020 Ithaca.edu feature on Williams]