With less than two weeks before Republicans gather in Cleveland to nominate their candidate for president, the team assembled to broadcast the four-day convention has quickly worked to transform Quicken Loans Arena, known as "The Q," from basketball venue to GOP central.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers were still clawing their way back to an eventual NBA championship, the crew hired by the RNC was already prerigging the arena in preparation for the July 18-21 convention. No political party has ever had a candidate who knows the power of the medium—and uses it to his great advantage—quite like Donald Trump.
So what's it like to be in charge of the Trump Show? We caught up with the former head of NBC News' specials unit, Phil Alongi, who was tapped to oversee the TV production for the convention. It's the second consecutive go-around for Alongi, who was also executive producer of the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa.
Adweek: What's changed in four years, technologywise?
Phil Alongi: In Tampa, we had a lot of screens but at a very high resolution. Here we have two very large screens, which gets more complicated in processing the video and the graphics to make certain that the crispness comes through. So that's probably been the biggest challenge.
How many cameras will you have?
We're a subscriber to the network pool. But in addition to the network pool switched feed and [isolated cameras], I have probably in the area of eight to 10 cameras unilateral as well.
How's it been working with the Trump campaign? He had criticized the shape of the stage, saying it "didn't have the drama."
They've all been fine. I've done a lot of political events and worked with a lot of campaigns, and there's always a lot of give and take. And of course, we all understand what they're trying to achieve. But I've had no real issues that I need to complain about with them. So far, it's all gone well.
Have they come through to check in with you?
They have people on the ground, and there have been numerous conversations that we've had with the campaign in New York. And all those conversations have been very respectful in listening to us.
And is everything going to be kept in The Q, or will you have to scramble if the campaign decides to move the acceptance speech to the football stadium as Barack Obama did in Denver in 2008?
The convention is entirely at the Quicken Loans Arena.
How are you preparing for any drama that should ensue on the floor?
One of the reasons why they hired me in 2012 was because this is a news event, and they wanted to take a harder edge and a news approach. So I'm going to approach this the same way I would as if I was in the control room at NBC. We'll cover what's going on. Transparency is very important, and if events warrant, you'll see it on camera. It's a different world. It's not like stuff can happen and people aren't going to see it. Everyone pretty much here is a quote-unquote photojournalist. All you have to do is hold your phone up and next thing you know, you're putting it up on Snapchat, or you're putting it up on Google, or you're putting it on Facebook. So it makes no sense to say, "We're going to turn the camera around." So I've not been told to do anything different. We'll be directing our cameras to follow action wherever it takes place.
Because you worked at NBC, where Trump made his name in entertainment with The Apprentice, have you ever worked with him?
I actually had a very minor role in The Apprentice finale many years ago—Season 1. We did it in the SNL studio, and the executive producer for the live broadcast asked if I would go up to the control room and work with him since I knew the building. So it was a very minor role.
What's your day going to be like during the convention?
We'll be in at the crack of dawn, and generally we would stay until after the session is over just to make sure we have things working overnight. We want to make sure graphics are ready and make adjustments. It'll be a normal 16- to 18-hour day.