I arrived late… To be honest, you could say that everything about this assignment was, is and has been delayed. On top of that, not one producer from the show has responded to my numerous requests for an interview and ALL of the crew has asked that I not use any of their names for fear of retribution from obtaining further production work. Television production is a small world and if you don’t play by their rules, you won’t get hired for new productions. Many of the personalities I am dealing with here are the same larger than life egos I worshiped in the boxing racket as a youth. I guess I’m finding myself struck by the realization that their fears, concerns and motivations day to day aren’t that much different than any of those that the rest of us face during our own recurrent rat race. It seems to me that this crew appears to be driven by the same survival instinct to hustle and protect what’s theirs as I am.
What started out as a simple profile piece about a Boxing reality show has turned into a totally un-cooperative excursion that included, in one instance, my being asked to drive a family back home from Las Vegas to New York City, which I did… and that was the fun part of this trip!
The show is called “Knockout” and this is my story of my experience embedded with the production crew for this Reality TV event. After 34 unreturned phone calls, 11 un-answered emails and 5 text messages, I arrive in Las Vegas and it’s raining. I get to the hotel. A crew member asks me to drive with him to the location at Floyd Mayweather Sr.’s training facility. His Gym is a large shed off of Paradise Blvd. It’s Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. He calls Steve Marcano, the show’s Executive Producer and Creator, as we’re driving:
Crew Member: “Steve, it’s me. I’m on my way… I have Brett here from Latino Rebels…” silence as he listens… “sure…”
He hands me the phone as I drive.
Steve Marcano: “Hey, just show up and do whatever…”
Me: “Are you going to be there?”
Steve Marcano: “Yeah, but it’s media day so just make yourself available…”
Me: (Sarcastically)”Sure, so I can be interviewed by myself…”
Steve Marcano: “See you…” [Click] … Silence
I hand the phone back while GPS orders us to take the next right turn. We arrive. The gym is buried in a subdivision on a street behind the strip. It looks like the only hold out of an industrial storage area surrounded by 70’s style desert housing built all around it; right up to the property line. I make note that the shed appears to be about 50 x 200 feet in size. As we pull up, a group of men are exiting the building and heading to their vehicles. My friend, who has also asked to remain nameless, calls out: “Steve!” They shake hands as I walk over… “Go right in,” he says. I introduce myself. I ask him when he wants to sit for his interview. “Whenever…” is his noncommittal response. He then proceeds to get into the car and they drive off. What I didn’t know at the time was that these were to be the last words that Marcano would speak to me during my trip.
Let me give you a little background on what’s going on. I was introduced to Mr. Marcano by a mutual friend via a phone call a short while back. I was interested in doing a piece for the website Latino Rebels. We are a website and grass-roots community that has come on strong over the last 2 years to become a destination site for Latino issues and information. We tackle stories that cover the gamut of issues that interest and affect Latinos that mainstream media most often ignores. Boxing is a big draw in the Latino community and I thought it would be a good angle that could give our readers a perspective inside a world whose internal workings are often shielded away the outside world. The producer wanted a puff exposure piece; I insisted on total access to do a profile about the many personalities and egos involved in the show and larger boxing world and experience. He agreed to my wishes and here we are… here and ready to create something different from the standard, typical press rampage that most often accompanies the launch of a new show.
Knockout was conceived by Steve Marcano and produced with his partner Emilio Ferrari. It’s a reality show concept where young fighters are trained by 3 Pro trainers: Reuben Guerrero, Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Yoel Judah. The series focuses on 9 young fighters in 3 different weight classes, training them for a professional “bout” coinciding with the series finale. Besides the 3 pro trainers, the show has some serious boxing cameos made by four division world champions Robert Guerrero and Nonito Donaire, five time world champion Zab Judah, newly crowned IBF welterweight champion Shawn Porter, former Muhammad Ali business manager Gene Kilroy and undefeated blue chip prospects Jessie Vargas and Andy Ruíz have taped special appearances on the show. On paper, at least, the supporting case and lineup gives the impression of packing a hefty punch, both literally and bad-temperedly.
And if that alone doesn’t indicate a strong probability of explosive action in the ring, there is a fierce, ugly rivalry between Mayweather, Sr. & Guerrero (check out the video clip below of them challenging each other to their own match). There is a lot of video footage of the boiling bad blood between these dudes. This is just a small sample of many such incidents during production. We’re talking Jerry Springer quality footage here, both with and without the boxing gloves!
The series premiered on NUVO TV on April 9, 2014. Jennifer López is one of the owners of the network. Boxing is ingrained in Latino culture. Case in point, Mexico has produced over 100 champions; Puerto Rico over 60. Latinos demand all or nothing from a fighter we take into our hearts… Panama still has not forgiven Roberto Durán for his “No Más’ quit against Sugar Ray Leonard.
To say that anticipation for this show is high is an understatement! Boxing is a sport of survival where the margin for error is very small and we Latinos are precisely that: Survivalists born out of the picaresque need to be crafty, tough and fierce regardless of the foe thrown at us in the ring of life! This is a sport that resonates with many of us because, well, we fight to survive every day. We fight for ourselves. We fight for our families.
In the event of this story though, the tale takes a turn next; not a turn for the better…
I spent four days in Vegas waiting around. No scheduled appointments happened as planned, no asks to tag along on the last of the shoots. Each time I inquired about observing the elements of the show or getting an interview I was met with a “we’ll do it later…” or ”hang a round here for a while and we’ll get to it” toned response.
During all of this frustrating and unplanned down time, I spoke to all of the boxers and most of the crew. These conversations literally took place in the lobby, outside the hotel or in hotel hallways. Those involved with the production had been shooting for a month and were tired. The shoot had been grueling. Many shoot locations, on the fly segments, poor organization and late hours.
When you shoot a show like this, there is no such thing as a ten hour work day. You use multiple crews working round the clock and it’s mandatory that they be mobile and agile. After all, this is Las Vegas, so nightlife and getting to know the contestants is part of the story as well. Many of the crew liked the idea of the program. The consensus being that this was going to be a different type of reality show. “With a normal show you have actors and they know their lines and the blocking of each scene to tell the story. With Boxers and these trainers, simply put, you don’t have that luxury. These guys all have egos and trying to get them to do what you want or even expect is like herding cats…”
“Just getting these guys together requires a massive amount of energy and testosterone,” says Emilio Ferrari executive producer. And he is right. There is ego everywhere around this show. It permeates ever fiber of the production. From the Exec’s and cast on down to the PA’s, this production has created a truly hierarchical atmosphere. They group together, each occupying their respective corners, just as they are used to doing in the ring, each group staying true to the allegiance of those belonging to their respective cliques. Production, administration, talent, trainers… and I would see this repeated constantly over a four day period in the hotel lobby. Communication between groups was fast and then on the run… I spent hours eavesdropping on the crew.
The trainers themselves chose those fighters each felt they could best work with and get the most out of within the allotted, short amount of time and prepare each of them them for the matches. These boxers come from all over. Some are already professionals including Ricardo Mayorga at 40 years of age. Mayorga is a three (3) time world champion who is back in the ring after a 3 year stint with on the MMA circuit. “I’m glad to be back…” he uttered in relief as he eased back into the familiar confines of the boxing ring.
You need to understand too that, television is an animal that never fills its appetite nor does it seem to satiate that of the consumers that devour its output in an age where cable and satellite TV providers are considered to be slouching if they only offer their users a thousand channels of programming, 24 hours a day. The levels of network production are structured. You have the big 5 networks, namely: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW. Smaller networks include: Premium cable HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz. Basic cable FX, USA, TNT, TBS, AMC, Bravo, among others. Add to that the productions from companies like: Netflix and Amazon, etc. Add all of these together and you have a lot of series production and I haven’t even touched the growing genre of web-based series’.
The Production process can be defined as a “hurry-up-wait-then race” to complete your show prior to receiving network approval and then racing to meet air deadlines. It’s expensive and, no matter how much you plan (and you plan everything countless times), you never end up with what you thought your show was going to be initially. Producing a television series is an exercise in pretending you have control but really it’s practically an anarchistic, pure chaos proposition. The networks are trying to produce a product that people will watch and advertisers will pay for. The public hungers for and demands entertainment. When a network “green-lights” a production they are committing a lot of dollars on the hope that people will support the show. It’s a gambling addict’s dream! This dichotomy is heightened when pulling together a TV series show and even more still with reality series style of programming.
Reality series programming is just crazy. You have multiple personalities assembled upon the premise of a competition and an unpredictable series of challenges in forced situations that you make every attempt to display that they appear as natural, real-life situations. Often times, what you are left with is a scenario where any resemblance to reality is purely a coincidence. The producers have to show each contestant’s personality so the audience can decide how they cast each in a role as either a “good guy” of a “bad guy.” The producers manipulate this to connect the emotions of the viewers to the individual contestants, thus keeping viewers tuning in to watch each progressive episode. And you only have a limited amount of time for this in each episode, all while moving the series forward to its conclusion.
Production of a reality series isn’t like any other production. You can schedule the events and challenges but you can’t schedule how they will unfold on camera. You can’t control the information you’re accumulating as the ammunition to create each episode, so you shape and mold this information in post production by editing the best pieces you’ve collected to create that program’s brand of “reality.” And don’t forget that these contestants aren’t actors. They don’t have scripted lines or blocking places to reach in order to create drama, either real or manufactured and they don’t have a written story to tell. This isn’t an intended soap-opera style drama like “Dallas” or an organic, timed comedy like “How I met your Mother.” This series is 12 to 15 people fighting, (literally) for attention and a grand prize. In the case of Knockout, the grand prize has not yet been announced as of time of the publishing of this article.
I heard that the budget for the show was $300k total, which breaks down to $50k per half hour episode with 6 episodes guaranteed. You know, this isn’t a huge budget but is still a lot of money by the standards and norms of broadcast cable network production. I met over 26 people involved in the show from Producers, Talent and crew. I didn’t get to look at a show budget so I don’t know how much people were paid individually, but I did hear that salaries were low, the work hours very long and many of the crew members had not been paid. I cannot corroborate this but I heard it from several different sources directly.
I saw and lived the chaos of these professionals, during my time on set, trying to finish the last weekend of the month-long production. The crew was tired. They had been working many full days and nights following the fighters & trainers all over Las Vegas. The home base was at Mayweather’s Gym and a community house where they would gather around a dining room table to share information, but these crews were everywhere Vegas would allow their cameras to inhabit… Casinos, dance clubs, strip clubs, 711 style convenience stores, late night taco joints… everywhere. My only witness to the production in action took place on the day I arrived at the Gym, referenced at the beginning of this article. They were doing wrap around tag shots of the fighters introducing themselves in 20 seconds or less.
Now I readily admit that my limited exposure to the production makes this article seem lop-sided. This is made even more odd by the fact that I had cleared the topic with the producers long before I arrived. And I must reinforce to you how difficult it is to create and produce series television. This isn’t a home made YouTube video. Emilio Ferrari is a seasoned professional. He has many film and television credits under his belt.
There is a hierarchy in television. Network is King, Executive Producer is Queen; all the way down to production assistants as serfs and hand maidens. The barrier to entry is low because you are a slave until you’ve paid your dues. And you make connections to build your resume and begun building a television production career. That’s the reality of how television production works.
But why should any of this matter to you, the reader? Face it, we live in a reality TV driven environment which is intensified to asphyxiating levels by new technologies and social medias. We have an unprecedented ability in today’s technological age to peer into the lives of those personalities we choose to follow AND make famous! Some of these personalities choose to push a constant feed of glimpses into their lives, where you, the consumer have to willfully make an effort to turn this carousel of imagery off if you are to have a life of your own. It’s can become exponentially overwhelming as it’s made to be that way. Created to form a world where nothing is shocking and even less is private.
As the authors of this piece, we find ourselves troubled and even insulted by a perceived lack of respect the participants in this reality program have toward you, the consumer of their product and an overt assumption that by showing up and turning cameras on, that you would fall rank and file into the premise of what is being sold here. This doesn’t resonate with us. This isn’t what we love about the sport of boxing nor is it what resonates with the Latino community in our opinion. What resonates with us is the battle, fight and survival embodied by the champions we were raised to love because their fight and perseverance so represented the very battle many of us face day in and day out.
What we have been given access to during this process represents a disingenuous form of theater and that is not a shade of picaresque that we feel will be bought by those this program aims to reach. A week and a half ago, Manny Pacquiao returned to the ring against Timothy Bradley, which is a bout that was necessitated by a controversial split-decision awarded to Bradley back in 2012. Most serious and causal boxing fans considered that result to be nothing short of robbery as the stats pointed to a Pacquiao victory as the Filipino star landed 253 punches to Bradley’s 149 but was somehow, inexplicably judged to have lost that fight. On Saturday, April 12, 2014, Manny handily defeated Bradley in their rematch in a unanimous decision for the WBO welterweight title; further putting him firmly back in control and on the fighting map again.
This bout and result, of course, revived talks of the fight that the world most wants to see, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, Jr. But this fight continues, as it has for years now, to remain a universe away from becoming a reality because Mayweather refuses to work with Top Rank CEO, promoter Bob Arum, who represents Pacquiao. Mayweather holds the cards. We get that, but there is a feeling that we don’t believe occured during the age of the fighters that we came to love for a spirit and animal fight that echoed what we battle in the ring of life regularly. We poured through the list of the great fighters and all of us have names of those who impacted us etched across our hearts and souls. They may be Latino, they may not be. That doesn’t always matter to us. They were and remain fighters that we identify with and the producers of the Knockout series don’t care or feel to have lost sight of that. They need to produce and showcase trainers and fighters that we would like to sit in a bar, grab a beer with and talk about that ring that we all battle within regularly.
This is what the public needs from you, the producers of Knockout. Until you produce this, we will likely not identify with nor affiliate with the product you have arrogantly thrown together and tossed in our faces. Remember your roots and where you came from. Those of us who are still there and persist through a current age of rampant controversial and corrupt decisions won’t connect with you otherwise. We’ll be watching but likely not for long unless you course correct and unless fix this.
Addendum: The show premiered on NUVO TV on April 9, 2014 and will continue to air on Wednesdays at 10 Eastern, 9 Central. The networks website still doesn’t list a grand prize for the competition.
About the Authors: This article was produced in collaboration between accomplished Content Creator, Brand Builder and Entertainment Executive, Brett Nemeroff as well as Chief Technology Rebelde, Tony Vargas. Brett & Tony have also been pleased to welcome young writer and newcomer to the Latino Rebels family, Anissa M. Vargas, to this collaboration. We LITERALLY couldn’t have done this without you, Ani!