Sunday, June 17, 2007
TNT Dumps NASCAR For "Van Helsing" Movie
Make no mistake about it, Turner Network Television is an entertainment network. Basically just a bunch of file servers located in Turner's Atlanta facility, the network is a twenty-four hour computer-driven playback machine occasionally interrupted by a sports program. NASCAR fans certainly have that feeling after Sunday in Michigan.
TNT originates no regular NASCAR programming. They don't have any other NASCAR shows, and don't carry any other racing series. The NASCAR information on the TNT website takes up...two pages. NASCAR is not even in the TNT website forum under "sports on TNT."
Sunday at Michigan, there was a whole lot going on in the NEXTEL Cup race, and a whole lot going on in the sport. But, for TNT...that did not matter. What was going on for them was a vampire movie called "Van Helsing."
Carl Edwards talked a bit from Victory Lane after his back flip, and dedicated the win to his father. Finally, one of his crew members could shave the beard he had been growing until Carl won in the big series. It was a good story, and Carl made for just the type of winner that NASCAR needed to get itself back on track with the fans and the media after this week of chaos.
Luckily, Carl's interview still left well over fifteen minutes in the allotted time on TNT for NASCAR. This would give the pit reporters plenty of time to cover all the stories after the race, get all the good interviews with the happy and sad, and let TNT show off their new infield set and crew. Finally, fans were going to get some good post-race TV.
But first, the pit reporters got Martin Truex Jr. and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. for some quick comments. Then, Bill Weber closed out the race from the announce booth with a recap of the season standings and some good-natured kidding of Kyle Petty, who will race next week in Sonoma. Then, he "threw" down to the infield for the post-race show. Well, at least that's what NASCAR fans thought.
Infield host Marc Fein and analyst Larry McReynolds were atop the new multi-million dollar TNT infield set. The weather was great, the race was over, and the interviews were just waiting to be had. The best part was, it was Father's Day and seeing the drivers with their families was going to be fun.
Remember, this is the network that has one hour and thirty minutes of pre-race programming before every event. This is the network with two separate shows, TNT Live and Countdown to Green before the race. These two shows completely set the table for following-up on the stories presented pre-race with the same drivers and teams now that the race was over. Things could not be coming together better.
Fein and McReynolds chatted briefly about the race, with Larry Mac doing his usual thorough job of summing-up the event. Since Edwards, Junior, and Truex had been interviewed, this left the pit reporters forty drivers to choose from. As with almost every NASCAR event there were some great stories, but in this race, one stood out like a sore thumb.
There he was, standing on pit road with a smile on his face. After a strong sixth place finish, Kyle Busch was showing any potential employer that he still had what it took to run fast. But, more important than that, after a week of hearing how many cars he had crashed, how he was too hot-headed, and how he "never fit in" at Hendrick, he had just finished four hundred miles at Michigan without a scratch.
Shaking Kyle's hand was Casey Mears, who finished fourth and showed that his recent win was not a fluke, and that his season is on the rise. The big sigh of relief you heard was Jamie McMurray, who finished eighth. After a tough early season, a strong showing for both Crown Royal and Ford was exactly what he needed.
A little further down pit road was a tall guy with big hair and a tired look on his face. Michael Waltrip had finished a NEXTEL Cup race in tenth place in one of his own Toyotas. It seemed that the weight of the world was slowly lifting off his shoulders. He smiled brighter when David Reutimann stopped by to say he finished fifteenth. Both of these guys together was going to be one wild interview.
Back on the TNT "Thunderdome" rotating set, Marc Fein said something that sent a chill down the spine of TV viewers. He asked Larry McReynolds for his "final thoughts." Millions of NASCAR fans nationwide checked their watches. It was 5:15PM Eastern Time. There were fifteen minutes before TNT fired up their hard drive and went back to playing movies. At least, that what viewers thought.
Fein began to say goodbye, the music began to play, and the last words he said from Michigan were "thanks for watching NASCAR on TNT." Most NASCAR fans could not believe their ears when the Steppenwolf "Born To Be Wild" theme was then sung by the young man in serious need of some hair care products and a Lands End gift certificate. It was over, with fifteen minutes on the clock. TNT Sports has left the building.
There, on pit road and walking slowly toward the garage was NASCAR. The entire sport was there for the taking. Every driver, crew chief, owner, and front tire changer had just finished four hundred miles of what they love. Every wife, child, father, and human interest story was standing around shaking hands and beginning to organize the trip home. As they say in today's world, this was a "content rich" environment.
Basically, TNT did the mandatory interview with the winner, interviewed both DEI drivers, and then sprinted for the airplane. There was not a moment after the race where anyone except Larry McReynolds was "fired up" about what just went on during the race. If this had been an event that ran long on time, fans might understand. After a long rain delay like Pocono, leaving quickly is understood.
But, for a network like TNT who has only six NEXTEL Cup races in their entire schedule for the year, this was strange. When you add-in the fact that fifteen minutes remained in the scheduled time slot for this event, it becomes even stranger.
Finally, TNT had thumped all of us over the head with their NASCAR connection. They had Kyle Petty this season, and even talked him out of his own race car. They got Larry McReynolds to man the new infield set and "crew chief" the race. Finally, with much fanfare in the media, they rolled out their new "spin, lift, and turn" infield set on which they spent more than a million dollars.
How does all this fit with the network "running away" because they had fifteen minutes to fill? I wanted to hear from Michael Waltrip. I wanted to hear from Kyle Busch. I wanted to hear from Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, and the others. How did Bill Elliot finish eleventh? What happened to Jimmie Johnson? There were far more stories to tell than fifteen minutes would have allowed. But as a lifelong fan who loves the sport, I sure would have appreciated it if TNT had tried.
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