Have you seen Shaquille O’Neal singing 'Get Ready' on TNT? Or sportscaster Ernie Johnson hanging out with a computer-generated Johnny Depp to promote a Pirates of the Caribbean movie during an NBA game? Or heard Bruce Springsteen playing as video of postseason baseball rolls?
They’re products of the out-of-the box thinking of Craig Barry, who was promoted to senior VP of production and executive creative director at Turner Sports in June.
“I know when it’s a project that Craig and his people are working on, I don’t even question it anymore,” Johnson says. “If creative wants to do this, OK. Things like that would never occur to me, but those kinds of ideas just come to him on a regular basis, and he pulls them off and makes them work.”
Johnson remembers when both of them were new at Turner more than 20 years ago. Barry brought a California-cool attitude to Atlanta and a resemblance to Goodfellas star Ray Liotta. “He wasn’t your typical sports guy,” Johnson says. “He didn’t want to immerse himself in sports stats. He wanted to create.”
Barry grew up in Los Angeles. His father, W. Russell Barry, was in the TV business—general manager of KCBS-TV, president of 20th Century Fox Television and president of Turner Program Services—and he was passionate about watching television and “always kind of knew I was going to be in and around this business.”
After Barry graduated from Menlo College, a small school where he could play tennis, his dad helped him get a job as a production assistant with Turner Sports. Barry says he grew up a Dodgers and Lakers fan, but wasn’t a fanatic:
“I think sports is great television. It’s emotional. It’s dramatic. It’s competitive. That was really the selling factor for me.”
Barry has been with Turner his entire career, but his path wasn’t smooth. Early on, he was compiling stats in the production truck at a Kentucky football game. At one point, Barry fell asleep and instead of waking him up, the Turner technicians alerted the executive producer, who not-so-jokingly offered him a pillow and then yanked him from the truck.
“I thought that was it for me,” he recalls. Banned from the road by the EP, Barry instead hooked on with the guys who ran Turner’s studio shows and worked his way up to directing. After one particularly bad show, he was told his directing duties were done.
“I consistently put a lot of pressure on myself and I put a lot of pressure on the people around me, and I’m not sure it was the greatest work environment,” Barry says. “It taught me such an important lesson in my career—that you’re only as good as the people around you and how important it is to try to create an environment where they want to work.”
At the time, Turner was working with CBS to cover the 1998 Nagano Games. Barry was assigned to the International Broadcast Center and wound up in charge of post-production. “I spent a lot of time creating elements to extend story lines and to really give the shows I worked on an extra special signature,” Barry says. When he returned to the States, he decided to keep his head down, his mouth shut and work as hard as he could on his new creative assignment.
He did well enough that his Turner supervisors let him direct again. But a couple of years later, Turner Sports COO Lenny Daniels told him he had to choose between creative and directing. “I knew I was better at the creative stuff, so I made a decision to put aside directing,” Barry says. As creative director, Barry started out as a one-man band. Later, Turner started the Creative Services Sports Unit to handle graphics, music, post-production, marketing promotion, ad sales support and branded content. Over the next eight years, the CSSU grew to 75 people; it now handles projects for Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NCAA in addition to Turner’s programs and platforms.
In June, Barry was asked to take responsibility for production as well.
“He’s unbelievably creative,” Daniels says. “He works harder than anyone I know. He just keeps going till he gets it the right way. The entire look and feel of our NBA telecast has Craig’s hand all over it.”
This year’s NBA telecasts will feature more players miked, additional slo-mo cameras and Charles Barkley going on the road to big games.
On top of that, Daniels believes Barry is wellequipped to propel Turner Sports through a multiplatform era. “He lives his life like this,” Daniels says. “He’s on every device. He watches every show. He’s going to bring that kind of content that people and viewers are going to want to see to those devices.”
Barry isn’t married and adds, “I don’t have children. We make decisions in our lives, and mine was dedicated to my career for better or for worse.” But he has maintained a relationship with Turner.
“I see other people in the business and I see them looking over their shoulder,” he says. “I see them constantly competing for their job or their territory. It’s just not like that here.” His goal is for “everybody who works here to have a voice and a seat at the table and feel like there’s a wide open line of conversation to listen to new ideas, new innovative executions, and really nothing’s off-limits.”
And while other networks may have more sports or higher-profile events, Barry thinks Turner Sports stands tall. “As far as presentation, I think we’re best in class,” Barry says. “The employees that work at this company, their passion is demonstrated on-screen every time we come on the air.”
E-mail comments to email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette
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