Sunday, June 24, 2007
"NASCAR On TNT" Still Tough To Swallow
Things were happening on RaceDay over on SPEED. The fans were surrounding the SPEED stage and into everything that was going on. It looked like the party at Sonoma was in full swing. Then, TNT took to the air...and the party was over.
In the NASCAR on TNT Live! program, host Marc Fein spent his third week trying to stare down Bill Weber, who firmly believes he should be hosting this show. Fein sat on the spinning stage with Weber and Wally Dallenbach. This week, with Kyle Petty racing, Larry McReynolds joined the panel.
Once again, even though Weber hosts the next pre-race show...there he was on the set. TNT had two hosts, and the discomfort was again obvious. Fein is a smooth professional announcer who is not NASCAR-savvy. Weber just stares at him, oblivious to the camera. Dallenbach and Larry Mac fulfill designated roles, but Weber does not.
Fein was forced to include Weber in the panel discussions, as if Weber had put on his "expert" hat and was letting Fein hold his "anchor" hat. This could not have been more uncomfortable. Anytime Weber answered a question from Fein, he stared directly at him while hunched over the counter and leaning forward. There was such a weird dynamic in place, it rivaled NASCAR Countdown on ESPN2.
The absence of Kyle Petty was felt deeply. Even though Kyle appeared pre-race, the dynamic of Weber alone with Dallenbach was not working. Moving Larry McReynolds to the booth would have been a positive step for this broadcast. He often interrupted from the infield with information that Weber and Dallenbach should have been providing. TNT needs a crew chief in the booth.
Marty Snider has been having a tough time this season being back on TV. Last week, he continually interrupted Dale Junior and Rick Hendrick during an interview he was conducting. This week, he used a trip to Sonoma's wine country to make fun of both drivers and the TNT announcers. This TNT "inside joke" business is ridiculous. When Snider sat down with Junior Johnson this week, Junior barely got a full sentence out. Dale Carnegie is calling Snider's name, with an emphasis on...listening.
Weber returned to the anchor position for the Countdown to Green, and used so many puns in his opening, it made even the most veteran fans cringe. Enough already, we know you can write and use big words. How about some information? Thankfully, Kyle Petty checked in live from the track and summed up the news of the day.
The TNT set is barren, and even more so when Weber is alone or with Dallenbach. Weber introduced a profile of Juan Pablo Montoya, which featured profanity that was beeped out, but clearly could be understood. This should have been removed by TNT, and was left in on purpose. An amateur move. A classy guy like Matt Yocum, who was voicing over the feature, should not have to be associated with that type of content.
To be fair, TNT was saddled with a consistently boring race on a race track that NASCAR should not visit. These big COT cars were horrible on the road course, and even worse on TV. With only Weber and Dallenbach in the booth, Larry Mac feeling under the weather, and no support from Marc Fein except his deep voice, this broadcast was in trouble from the word "go."
Other networks would search for a story, maybe feature the "foot cam," or focus on using the in-car cameras extensively because of the shifting and endless driver concentration. TNT did not, and this lead to a lot of "dead air" where no one was talking. Often times, Weber would yell out the name of the pit road reporter when a car came into the pits. That was incredibly annoying, and the pit reporters thought so.
As if things could not get worse, the race turned into nothing more than a gas war. No one was "really" racing, no one was pushing the limit, and no one was doing anything but putting NASCAR fans to sleep nationwide. The TNT crew got its only spark of life from Kyle Petty, and its only knowledge from Larry McReynolds. The rest of the bunch had long since lapsed into in-fighting and disorder.
By the end of the race, the on-air crew had stopped communicating. The pit road reporters has just had it. Kyle Petty was nowhere to be found. Larry Mac's voice was gone, and we were left with Dallenbach and Weber. Time-and-time again, Weber said that Montoya could not make it on gas. But, he never explained why Montoya was racing so hard for the lead if he was about to run out of gas. It made no sense.
Montoya, of course, did not run out of fuel. Weber was wrong, the pit reporter was wrong, what they had told viewers as "fact" was wrong. Somehow, strangely, it did not make a difference. TNT never showed the top ten cars finish. They went to commercial while first time winner Montoya made his victory lap. They never told us who ran out of gas, and wrapped-up a confusing race with a confusing close.
There are only three more races in the TNT package. With Kyle Petty returning next week for the New Hampshire race, things have to get better. When Larry Mac has his full voice, and Kyle Petty adds the spark in the booth, the coverage is very different. Perhaps TNT might consider adding McReynolds in the booth, and moving Dallenbach to the infield stage with Marc Fein. This would put one driver and one crew chief in the booth, and one driver available in the infield as needed.
This TNT effort so far has proven to be a clash of egos, and really has moved the fans to DirecTV, Pay-Per-View, and online broadcasts. Hopefully, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds can help this network get back on track next week. With all due respect, Sonoma was a poor effort in all areas, and TNT knows it.
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