Charlie Yook has overseen NFL Network’s draft production since 2014, but he has been a Bears fan for much longer.
At the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia, Yook was watching the proceedings from where he always does, in the production truck. The Bears had traded with the 49ers to move up from the third overall pick to the second. Yook wondered aloud what general manager Ryan Pace was doing, but he tempered his consternation, saying, “As long as it’s not Mitch Trubisky, I’ll be fine.”
A perk of working behind the scenes is knowing teams’ selections before they’re announced. The production crew sets up the graphics and videos for each player to present to the audience. So when the producer sitting in front of Yook learned the Bears’ pick, he uttered, “Uh, oh,” turned around and said, “The pick is in. You’re not gonna like it.
“Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, North Carolina.”
Yook whipped down his headset and broke a monitor.
“And then two seconds afterwards, I was like, ‘All right, everyone, get back to this, let’s concentrate. And can someone fix my monitor, please?’ ” Yook said. “I used a lot more colorful language, though.”
Yook meant no offense to Trubisky, whom he called a “great kid” and said would be fine with the Bills, his new team. Yook just didn’t want him playing for the Bears. Five years later, he’ll get his wish.
But Yook’s biggest wish this year was to return the draft to its proper place, in front of a live audience with a roster of hosts, analysts and reporters performing on stage, albeit while adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols. Round 1 begins at 7 tonight.
“We didn’t get the opportunity to do this last year,” said Yook, who grew up in Glenview and is now NFL Network’s vice president of production. “We really didn’t know if we were gonna put this event on in Cleveland until early March. So we’re really stoked to be doing this one.”
Yook, who graduated from Glenbrook South in 1992, was always a sports nut, but he didn’t develop an interest in TV production until he attended Miami University. As a journalism major, he took a class senior year that gave him hands-on experience in a TV newsroom. Every student performed every job – producer, director, camera, anchor, etc. – and he was hooked.
“We all have that moment we realize, OK, this is something real,” Yook said. “That completely solidified what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
His first gig after college was an internship at now-defunct cable news channel CLTV, which he thoroughly enjoyed.
“Basically, I went to the United Center to get postgame sound for Bulls and Blackhawks games,” Yook said. “Pretty fun when you’re 22 years old, eat for free and get sound.”
After three years at CBS Sports in New York, Yook headed to Los Angeles – “At age 25, it was time to move to L.A.,” he said – and became a production assistant for the film “Memento.” Thinking he belonged in sports TV, he took an entry-level position at Fox Sports Net in 2001. Five years later, he became a producer at NFL Network, which was about to broadcast its first NFL draft.
“My focus was this event we’re at right now,” Yook said. “It was the college football crossover with the league, how do we make the combine bigger, the draft bigger. So the early portions of that, I was a part of. And here we are 15 years later.”
ESPN pioneered draft coverage, airing its first “annual player selection meeting” in 1980. So Yook and NFL Network had a lot of catching up to do. But the network has acquitted itself more than capable of handling the gargantuan production, assembling a quality cast that stars Rich Eisen, who’s hosting his 17th draft, and Daniel Jeremiah, who’s in his third year as lead draft analyst.
“The best way you can differentiate [from ESPN] is with the talent,” Yook said. “It’s really up to the viewers who you want. The second part is our analysis tapes. They do their X’s-O’s football tapes a little differently than we do ours. We got a firsthand experience last year because we actually had to come together like the Avengers for the draft. It was a great opportunity for all of us. We’re all friends.
“Let’s face it, they’ve got a bigger platform, they’ve got more audience reach. We’re not the Little Engine That Could at NFL Network, but we just wanna make sure that when people see us, they’re like, ‘I didn’t know that they do that, and they do it on a pretty high level,’ which we feel we do.”
And they do it with a diverse crew. Yook rattled off the NFL teams represented in the production truck. In the front row are fans of the Eagles, Cowboys, Rams and Steelers. The next row has Yook, a Washington fan and a Chargers fan. A 49ers fan is behind them.
“A lot of us have to take emotion out of this,” Yook said.
Easier said than done.