Super Bowl Ref Was Ready for His Close-Up

Seattle Seahawk fans watching head referee Bill Leavy on TV may have cursed his calls during Super Bowl XL. But even they might have taken note of his firm foundation and clear, dynamic delivery from the diaphragm.

That’s because the 11-year veteran official sought the expertise of the legendary consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates to hone his broadcast chops.

In the age of the instant replay, referees have found themselves increasingly in the camera’s crosshairs. After sitting next to a Magid executive on a plane two years ago, Leavy called in a team of communications trainers who specialize in helping preachers, CEOs and other TV neophytes to “refine their edge,” as Magid VP and team leader Pete Seyfer puts it.

“The NFL is very conscious of the stadium crowd and the TV audience,” Seyfer says. “Officials want to sound good and present well.”

At Magid’s Iowa headquarters, the team cleared out a large conference room to simulate a football field. With cameras positioned at either end, approximating the placement of the sideline camera, Leavy ran from one side of the room to the other to deliver field rulings. Magid executives then went to the video, analyzing Leavy’s vocal dynamics, physical presence and his “foundation”—that is, how gracefully he ran down the field, stopped, planted his feet and turned to the camera.

On Super Sunday, the team watched closely to see how well Leavy hit his marks and projected his calls, including his controversial ruling on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s rushing touchdown.

“He did a terrific job communicating and delivering,” Seyfer says, “even if Seattle fans might not agree.”

Was Leavy happy with the results? We tried to ask but the league doesn’t allow referees to talk to the media.

Cry for the Camera

The owners of a New Jersey restaurant, who know from sausage, got an up-close look at the producers who grind hapless folks into delicious reality television—and they’re pretty disgusted.

“There was not an ounce of human kindness in these people,” says Francis Schott, part-owner of Stage Left in New Brunswick, which served as the scene of the bitter climactic episode of Lifetime TV’s upcoming Face the Family.

A blend of Meet the Parents and Wife Swap, the show takes an engaged couple, splits them up and dispatches them to spend five days with their future in-laws, which, incidentally, they have never met. On the sixth day, the families meet for dinner to pick through the detritus of their shattered lives.

The young lovers in question, as it turned out, needed little prodding to reveal their volatility, but Schott and his partner Mark Pascal were shocked at the degree to which the producers nudged the family into conflict. Georgia Pelardis, the bride-to-be, had discovered during the week that her fiancé, Rob Elia, might be cheating on her. But the producers discouraged her from confronting him off-camera.

“No, no, no, it will be better for you to hold this in until the television show, until the big meeting in front of both families and the cameras,” Schott says a producer told Pelardis.

Pelardis had discussed it with Elia’s parents. No one, however, told Elia. At the moment of truth, the private dining room at Stage Left erupted.

“She leaves crying; he looks like a bus just ran him over,” Pascal says. “Her parents are screaming; his parents are screaming.”

One big-hearted producer comforted Pelardis, saying, “It’s going to be OK. Cry for the camera, cry for the camera.”

Pelardis’ mother, Kiki, pulled off her mike and demanded that the cameras be turned off. But the crew left one camera running.

Schott says the production crew was very candid about the process. Too bad. Schott and Pascal also happen to host The Restaurant Guys, a talk show on local station WCTC(AM), and they sliced and diced the producers on the air, slamming them as “predatory.”

Gay Rosenthal, owner of the production company behind Face the Family, which premieres March 12, defends her team, denying that they were underhanded. The couple clearly had emotional issues to begin with, she says, and the show only served to help the two express them.

“Everyone involved was a winner,” she says.