A Night at SBS for the Giro d’Italia

Make yourself comfortable, this is a long one.


If you need Ritalin to sit still, an overview of the sea of words below. I thought I would ask Mike Tomalaris if I could do a behind the scenes look at how SBS brings us the Giro. To his credit, he said yes. Below is the story in full.

I would like to say thanks to Mike, Cath (The producer of the Giro coverage) and everyone else at SBS who made me feel welcome and were extremely friendly and helpful.

As I sat in my office chair last Thursday night, reclining back during an ad break, I started to wonder, what actually goes on behind the scenes at Cycling Central? Who is pulling the strings? Who schedules these damn ads?

One of the advantages of having the brain of a five year old is that it makes me inquisitive. There is always another question. Why? How? When? Where? Who? What?

The ads finished and TrollDJ was back with some disco music over the top of some recent footage. At some point during the next stint, between me blasting away on Twitter, I scribbled on my notepad “speak to Tomo about behind the scenes”.

Friday morning, I sent Mike Tomalaris a DM on Twitter. “Hey mike, if you have 5 minutes today, I have an idea I would love to run by you. norbs” I added my phone number, not expecting it to come to much.

That night, I am laying on the couch watching some highlights and the phone rings. Urgghh, someone doesn’t know about my 8PM phone curfew. “Hello”
“Hey norbs, it is Mike Tomalaris”, that snapped me out of my funk. It isn’t often you talk to a TV personality on the phone. The conversation is usually one sided and coming out of the TV.

We had a chat for a few minutes and Mike said it would be fine for me to do a behind the scenes blog post about how they bring us the coverage. Whoohoo.

Now to the logistics. It is a 220km trip from my place to the SBS studios in Artarmon. Might be a good time to catch up with some people in Sydney. I knew @kimbo would be keen for a beer and feed, so I pinged her on twitter and arrnaged to meet her at 6PM for a feed.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and the traffic into Sydney was an ache in the nether regions. Finally, I got to Surry Hills and had a most excellent Japanese meal and chat with Kimbo. Then it was off to Artarmon.

I fired up the GPS and away I went. There were quite a few anxious moments when the GPS lady had me swing across 8 lanes of traffic after the Harbour bridge, but I finally arrived at SBS. To this point in time, only a few people knew what was going on. Time to let the cat out of the bag.

Mike let me in and I was introduced to Matt Keenan, Dave McKenzie, Henk Volgels and Catherine Whelan. I asked what I could and couldn’t do and was pretty much left to my own devices.

It is 9pm and things are starting to get moving. Cath gets intro package ready, the first surprise of the night. It is done a couple of hours before the show by a single person. I can’t even work iMovie, and there she is swinging video around on the screen like a magician. Cath gives me a quick run down and gets to it. The boys are researching. Henk is actually watching AFL. Matt is watching the start of the race. Dave is on cycling news catching up on the latest news. Mike is checking the run sheet for show. Things are super relaxed. I am probably the most nervous person in the place.

Some chat breaks out about the break away for tonight. Will they stay away. What big names are in the 20 man group. Adam Hansen is in the mix, so the hope is he can do something.

Mike gets a message that the online stream has dropped, and disappears on the phone. It wont be the first time tonight that I see the other side of how things work. It would normally be me sending the message via Twitter, asking what the hell has happened to the feed, provided to me free remember, and when is it coming back. It also started a trend for the night that when ever something went wrong, Twitter would be awash with posts like “norbs kicked out a cord”. Bloody comedians, they are everywhere.

Not long after that, it is off to makeup for Mike and Henk. There is the normal banter, as you would expect from blokes about to have makeup put on. Henk goes first because his takes the longest, etc etc.

Dave McKenzie

I get a few photos in the make up room, which from a photographers point of view is quite challenging. light sources everywhere, as well as mirrors. I get introduced to Andrew, the studio floor manager. He would be telling me where I could and couldn’t go during the broadcast. He thinks it is a good idea to check out the sound and commentary area. I meet Warwick in the sound area and check out the tiny commentary room. Matt is already in there preparing.


It seems odd to me that the commentators have a tiny screen jammed into the corner, but the studio guys have a screen just shy of an iMax theatre.
From there Andrew takes me down to the control room. Lots of smiles and everyone is relaxed. A room filled with monitors, switches and buttons.


From here, we headed to the studio. I have never been in a TV studio before. It was everything I hoped for and more. The 5 year old in me when crazy. So many things to see. It was very hard containing myself and not asking “what does that do?” “What is that for?” “Can I sit here?” I spent a fair bit of time talking cameras and camera lenses with the camera operators. I was taking photos and the on air guys were having a slight touch up to the make up.


Then it was a quick rehearsal.


Wow, this was getting very real now. Only 10 minutes to air. Andrew suggested the best place to be would be the control room. As it turns out, he was right.

The Cycling Central music fired up and the intro package was on. I was excited. The intro finished, Mike is on TV and things started happening too fast for me to take in. The director, Dave, was calling numbers that I assumed corresponded to cameras. The lady doing the switching was doing it all easy. I was freaking out. All this stuff just happens when you watch TV. But there are people behind it all. I know that sounds like the bleeding obvious, but it really hits you when you see it all happening.


It is so frantic, and I was so worried I might distract them, I edged out of the room slowly, so as not to draw attention. I head to the sound area to see what is happening there. A “No Entry – On Air” sign is on. oh oh. I stick my head in and Warwick waves me in.
I watch the rest of the intro package in there, with Matt Keenan just behind me. Still pouring over articles and race books. Time for a sneaky selfie from Tomo. Check the monitors, you can see Tomo taking the photo and Henk and Dave getting in it too.


Dave gets a leave pass from Mike and heads to the commentary position. I always get a mental picture of Dave running down a maze of corridors to a commentary box. In actual fact he walks down one.


I watched a few minutes of the beginning of the actual race coverage before heading back to the studio to see what happens in there during the race itself. I wandered in and Mike and Henk were both staring at their phones. Everyone else was relaxed, sitting around, watching the race and their phones.

All of a sudden, it was just like sitting at home. Listening to the chatter of the commentators with the added bonus of hearing Henk analysing the race was great. Henk doesn’t leave you guessing as to what his thoughts are, and has also got some comedic timing.

The studio can talk to all other areas, and during ad breaks, there is some great banter between the commentary team and the studio. Thoughts on how the riders are looking. Taking apart a riders pedaling style. It is times like this that, for a numpty like myself, these guys show why they are on TV. I learnt so much, just by sitting and listening. Every now and then I would wander off to the control room or the sound area, just to see what was happening.


At one point in the control room, I saw Mike on the monitor lift his head and say “anyone seen norbs?”. For a split second I thought he said it on air. My heart jumped. Then Cath flicked a switch and told him I was with them. I asked her to let Henk know I had Cherry Ripes. Henk had used the term so often it had become a Twitter hashtag. I headed back to the studio and busted out the Cherry Ripes. There was a few chuckles and Mike and Henk took photos for Twitter.


It wasn’t long before Henk cracked and ripped the wrapper off one of the Cherry Ripes.


Then there was the horrible incident with the moto slamming into a marshall. That caused a lot of discussion in an ad break. We saw the replay in the studio a few times, it was nasty.

Once they were on the final climb, I headed back to the commentary box. I wanted to watch Matt and Dave call the last few kilometres. They didn’t disappoint. Seeing them both get so animated was terrific. Matt is like an Encyclopedia of all things pro cycling. He seems to be able to pick the riders so quickly. Dave seems to be a few hundred metres ahead of the race, but even he seemed surprised at the end when Battaglin surged at the end for a perfectly timed win.


I headed back to the studio to see what people were saying there. The lights were up and they were ready to go back to air. A few touch ups with the make up, Dave reappeared and they were on air again. Wrapping up the stage and taking people through the leaderboard and the next stage. They had to fill some time at the end, and it is interesting to see Tomo adjusting on live TV.

And just like that, it was done. Nearly three hours had gone like a snap of the fingers. It had been thoroughly entertaining. I had learnt so much. Seen so many things a normal punter doesn’t. I understand the privileged position I was in, and have Mike to thank for making it happen.

I said my farewells and headed to the car, in a slight sensory overload. It was a long trip home, broken up by a car in front being T-boned. A fight spilling onto the road in front of me. And the sight of a very attractive young lady doing a great technicolour yawn in the forecourt of a service station. Add to that two nap stops and i rolled in the front door at 5:15am. Exhausted.

None of this would have been possible without the help of the people below. To them I say thank you for answering my questions and making me feel welcome.

HOST : Michael Tomalaris
GUEST : Henk Vogels
COMMENTATORS : Matt Keenan & David McKenzie
PRODUCER : Catherine Whelan
DIRECTOR : Dave Everett
PROD MANAGER : Leni Marcus
PA/AUTOCUE : Karen Martin
DA/CHYRON : Olivia Kourkoumelis
AUDIO DIRECTOR : Warwick Saville
AUDIO ASSIST : Nick Pursehouse
TD : Johannes Sudbrink
LIGHTING : Ben Viney
VM : Biljana Ivanisic
EVS : Dave Ryan
FLOOR MANAGER : Andrew Anicic
MAKE UP : Hannah Sinkinson
CAMERA : Henry Schydlo
CAMERA : Chris Fraser

Below is a gallery of all the photos I took. You can also view them in a larger format here.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Thanks for reading. If you have questions, fire away, I will do my best to answer them.

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5 Responses to A Night at SBS for the Giro d’Italia

  1. Notso Swift says:

    Long one but a good one, Norbs

  2. thomasrdotorg says:

    Excellent insights Norbs!

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  4. TV Time Tommy says:

    Quality Norbs. Really insightful, and makes you appreciate the complexity behind something that, from my position on the lounge, looks pretty straightforward.

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