ESPN's 'The Jump' will return to the air on Monday. Here's how Rachel Nichols and the show's team will broadcast live entirely from their homes.

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A clip from a recent rehearsal of "The Jump."

The Jump/ESPN

  • ESPN's "The Jump" will return to air beginning Monday, April 13, resuming its afternoon time slot from 3-3:30 p.m. ET.
  • The network's leading NBA show ordinarily operates out of ESPN's studio in Los Angeles, but the state of California's shelter-in-place order has made it impossible to do so.
  • Now, "The Jump" will broadcast live from its talents' in-home studios using software on a remote tablet instead of a control room.
  • Insider spoke with "The Jump" host Rachel Nichols and ESPN VP of Production Mike Shiffman about the ins and outs of creating the show without access to a studio.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

After more than two weeks off the air, ESPN's "The Jump" will broadcast live in its afternoon time slot from 3-3:30 p.m. ET every weekday.

The network's leading NBA show, which ordinarily operates out of ESPN's studios in Los Angeles, was forced to shut down its regular production schedule when Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the state to stay home or at their place of residence.

Without access to a studio or control room and with all cast and crew members isolated in their respective homes, it was impossible for "The Jump" to continue as a live show with the high-level production value fans know and love.

That is, until now.

A staffer's at-home setup for "The Jump."

"The Jump" Producer Danny Corrales

Thanks to special software, iPad cameras, adjusted WiFi speeds, volume control, and "incredible ingenuity," the "Live from Home" team — which comprises ESPN's Remote Ops, Production, Production Ops, Creative Services, Transmission, Network Engineering, and Media Engineering teams — were able to pull off the spectacular feat of creating a live daily show from their living rooms and basements.

"I am in such debt to the people who worked so incredibly hard on the technical side to make what I believe is still magic — there might be some elves involved, it is Disney after all," 'The Jump" host Rachel Nichols told Insider. "I can't believe that they were able to figure out a way to produce an entire television show with everybody at home, not a single person in our television facility."

"The fact that we are going to be able to go back on the air on linear television is amazing," she added.

Despite the urgency with which the team worked to bring "The Jump" back to live TV five days per week, the process of getting to that point was far from seamless. Just over a month ago, the show was still fulfilling its role as the ABC Saturday night pregame show.

Rachel Nichols and "The Jump" were on site at the Warriors game in San Francisco days before the NBA shut down

Nichols and company typically travel to the location of whatever Saturday-night game ABC has rights to for their broadcast. However, the Saturday, March 7 matchup between Golden State and the Philadelphia 76ers came with a unique array of questions.

The Warriors were scheduled to host the game at the Chase Center, their brand-new arena located in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. However, the City by the Bay had just become the first in the country with a recommended limit on public gatherings.

The Chase Center in San Francisco.

Eric Risberg/AP Images

"That recommendation was made on the Friday before the game and we were broadcasting live from the court on Saturday in San Francisco," Nichols said. "There had already been the beginnings of discussions of 'Do we have games with no fans?' We really didn't know if we were going to show up to the game on Saturday night, and maybe earlier in the day the NBA or the Warriors would have decided 'Hey, we're going to follow this recommendation and there will be no fans in the building.'"

The "twin storyline" of the evening, as Nichols referred to it, was that Golden State megastar Stephen Curry planned to sit out the game because he was feeling sick. With the country just beginning to teem with anxiety due to the increasing threat of the coronavirus pandemic, fans and reporters alike wondered if the two-time NBA MVP's illness could be the illness.

The chatter surrounding Curry's condition grew loud enough to force a statement from the Warriors communications staff. As it turned out, the sharpshooting point guard had tested positive for Influenza A, or a "seasonal flu."

Still, tensions were high enough to render the moment a "smack in the face" for Nichols.

"That was the biggest jolt to me at the beginning," Nichols said. "Wait, I'm going to work tonight in an arena — which is what I do for a living — and we don't know if fans are going to be there and one of the teams is having to issue a statement about whether one of the players has a potentially deadly virus. So that was the first 'Wow, this is a different animal' moment."

Then, the NBA world stopped, and the rest of the world would follow soon after.

"The Jump" returned to its regular weekly slot that Monday, but as the COVID-19 situation around the globe grew in intensity, the state of the NBA season began to shift. By Wednesday, what was once considered a far-fetched idea had become foregone conclusion; the league would soon start playing games without fans.

"There was a conference call with the NBA's board of governors that was supposed to decide whether they were just going to start playing without fans," Nichols said. "They had that conference call on a Wednesday. We were thinking that was the direction they were going to go."

But by Wednesday night, everything changed.

Rudy Gobert.

Rick Bowmer/AP Images

Just minutes before the Utah Jazz game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was scheduled to tip-off, Jazz big man Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. With more than 20% of the league's players forced into quarantine due to recent contact with the reigning defensive player of the year, the NBA was left with little choice but to suspend its season.

"The dominos came that quickly," Nichols recalled. "From everything being seemingly fine on Thursday, to Saturday night having the 'Are we going to have fans and is Steph Curry possibly infected with a deadly virus?' to 'Okay, the whole NBA probably isn't going to have fans,' to, four hours later, 'There's no NBA anymore right now.'"

"As all of those dominos fell in a four-day period and directly affected us at 'The Jump' so much because we were broadcasting throughout all of that, that was the biggest eye-opener of 'Wow, things are changing,'" she added.

Still, Nichols and the rest of "The Jump" crew had no real conception of just how much things would change. The team planned to continue broadcasting as usual from their studio in Los Angeles. Just because the NBA had stopped didn't necessarily mean they would have to, and they intended to do everything within their power to fill the hour.

Even as social distancing measures came into effect, "The Jump" crew adapted.

"The Jump" studio in Los Angeles.

ESPN Images

"Literally, our crew took a tape measure out, put us six or seven feet apart, and we sat around our table and did our show that way," Nichols said. "We made a few other changes in the studio so that everybody was touching their own stuff and that nobody was getting near each other."

"That worked until the California governor issued a shelter in place," she added. "And so that next domino fell."

Once California was placed under lockdown, "The Jump" crew had little choice but to cease production

Unless deemed essential workers, individuals were forced to stay in their homes and places of residence starting Thursday, March 19. ESPN executives decided to close down the company's Los Angeles studio to condense the network's operations and function with as minimal an in-studio staff as possible.

For "The Jump," that meant no more access to the studio or control room.

For most broadcasts, that would mean no more show.

"The Jump" in studio.

ESPN

"We started with a lot of very smart technical people brainstorming on how we can produce 'The Jump' with everyone from home," ESPN VP of Production Mike Shiffman told Insider. "A lot of shows right now have the talent on from home, but this is inclusive of the producer, the director, the control room people being from home, too."

While everybody who works for "The Jump" was trying to determine how to recreate its typical live broadcast from the comfort — or confinement — of their homes, the NBA was still churning out the news.

"While all of that technical production stuff was happening, there kept being a crazy amount of NBA news," Nichols said. "There might be a thought of, 'Oh, well the NBA shuts down, what is there to talk about anyway?' It turned out that there was some sort of news almost every day, and some sort of need for a place to have those discussions."

And given the workhorse mentality that characterizes Rachel Nichols, that meant the show was still operating despite its limited capacity.

"We've been producing segments for our digital platforms throughout this whole time," Nichols said. "We've been trying to be there even though we haven't been on the air. We've still been trying to be a hub. We've been doing our regular style of segments with Scottie Pippen, Richard Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Brian Windhorst, and some of our talent ... That's been nice that the thread was never completely cut."

From the logistics of rebooting a league during a pandemic to the "fun stuff" like watching LeBron James streaming on Instagram Live, Trae Young posting on Twitter, or other stars posting clips to TikTok, Nichols and "The Jump" staff felt there was enough content to fill their regular hour-long linear television slot. They just needed to figure out how.

LeBron James.

Kelvin Kuo/AP Images

"I wonder if we were not in an age of social media how easy or hard a daily show with no NBA season would be to pull off," Nichols said. "But in some ways, we're trained for this because of when 'The Jump' shifted a few years ago from being a show that just ran during the NBA season to being a show that also ran throughout the summer. We're used to August and September when there isn't really a lot of NBA news and no basketball, but these players are still personalities and present to a lot of fans who want to know what's going on with them and want to know what they're doing. Fortunately, the gift of social media lets us in on that."

"The Jump" began building back to full capacity through "a lot of trial and error"

"That set off the scramble of 'How do we do this?' And the key really turned out to be the control room," Nichols said. "We can all broadcast from home, and you've seen network news anchors broadcasting from home and many of our other anchors on ESPN are broadcasting from home, but you generally have needed a control room in a studio to integrate all that and integrate the graphics and B-roll and everything else to make that work."

"We have the ability to edit video remotely from people's houses," Shiffman added. "They basically file transfer it to get it into the system. We can build graphics from people's homes, and then what's basically replacing a full control room is a touch-screen technology."

That's where Ty Frison comes in.

Frison is the coordinating director for the show, and of the "many MVPs on this project," he tops the list.

Ty Frison operates "The Jump" from his home.

ESPN Staff

Frison has touch-screen software in his house that allows him to manually control the video, audio, B-roll, and graphics. In essence, one man is operating a makeshift control room for an entire live production. And he's doing it from an iPad while sitting on his couch.

"He's a very special guy, and that iPad and couch are very special to me, too," Nichols joked.

Still, there were other issues to work out, one of which was how to maintain the conversational nature of the show when the talent couldn't be together in person.

"One of the things about 'The Jump' I always say is it should feel like you're sitting around in your living room with your friends talking about basketball, but what if one of your friends was Tracy McGrady?" Nichols said. "That was the defining ethos of the show, and that's a little bit harder to do if everyone's on a delay, and you can't see each other."

Lagging video or audio would disrupt the entire flow, so the technical staff was tasked with making sure everyone was moving at the same speed — literally.

"Obviously, WiFi plays a huge role here, in terms of the talents' home cameras," Shiffman said. "Not just the video quality, but the audio. Their ability to hear each other in real-time is clearly key for a show that's conversation-based. Our tech group was able to match their WiFi up to make it possible."

The talent also had to find a way to assemble in-home studios. In Nichols' case, one staffer was able to help get her setup in order before the shelter-in-place order was mandated.

"We were starting to set this up before the shelter-in-place went through, and there wasn't the same set of instructions of 'everybody stay in their homes and don't let anyone in,'" Nichols said. "Fortunately, ESPN is able to operate this with an impressively skeleton crew; it's one person who came into my house, and she was amazing and got my whole set up up and running. It's tremendous the skillset that all the people involved that had to make this happen — it's kind of bonkers."

TJ at Home

ESPN Staff

Then there was the issue of actually filming the show without camera crews on site. Nichols said that the talents' replacement cameras are just iPads fixed to a stand six feet in front of them. And while it seems like a simple setup, some unforeseen technical difficulties arose along the way — like when Kendrick Perkins' camera suddenly went out without warning.

"Why did his camera go out? Oh my god, did we lose the signal? Where is it? What happened? Did something happen with his camera? Did something happen in his house?" Nichols recalled asking. "No, the battery ran out. We just had to learn that those iPads have to be 100% charged at the start of each show because if they're even 50% charged, you're going to run out of battery by the end of the show."

"It's that level of trial and error," she added. "How could anyone have known? We haven't ever tried to do an entire TV show like this before... It was definitely baby steps of crawling before you can walk."

And so they tried, and they errored. They started with one interview; Rachel spoke with Kevin Love, and they shared the conversation on social media. Once that worked, they set their mind to filming a segment that would fit in one block between commercials. They eventually got that right and moved on to stringing multiple segments together. Soon, they began incorporating all the different moving parts.

Now, "The Jump" is ready to return to the airwaves

"We've had rehearsals that I would've felt 100% confident through watching at home that you would have no idea it's being produced in a different way," Shiffman said. "The quality is just the quality you would expect on linear TV if we had full production capabilities in Los Angeles."

Nichols agreed.

"It got to the point where the last few rehearsals we did if we had put them straight onto television, I really don't think anybody watching at home would have known we were using a different system than we had always been using before."

Rachel Nichols, Michael B. Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Paul Pierce talk prior to an NBA game.

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

It's an incredible feat given that its only been a few short weeks since the world stopped, and the crew was ousted from its studio.

"When I look back at what we've accomplished as a collective group, and a group that came together very quickly, it will be up there in my top tier of accomplishments, memories, and things we've been able to do in my time at ESPN," Shiffman said. 

Nichols said she takes solace in seeing "people rising to the occasion so consistently" all across the country.

"Obviously, the biggest example of that is our medical and frontline healthcare workers, but I see it all the time in all these other little ways," Nichols said. "And I see it at the place I work in such an impressive and tremendous way.

"All the stuff that you were used to doing, you're trying to relearn how to do from scratch in this brand new way, and I think that's true for everyone in all their jobs right now," she added. "Everyone in America is dealing with that right now, and we're just another group of people who's dealing with it."

"But we'll be showing you all of our mistakes and accomplishments on television," she added with a chuckle.

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