Sunday, June 17, 2007
TNT's "Theatre-In-The-Round" Is A Work In Progress
Slowly spinning its middle-aged cargo above the Michigan International Speedway, the TNT "revolving set" delivered a couple of guys who were still trying to figure out how to relate to each other, what all this spinning was about, and who the heck is Marc Fein?
TNT began its second week of the NASCAR "mini-season" still sorting out the dynamics of a this year's network line-up. The new race "pre-preview" show is called "NASCAR on TNT Live!" and is a one hour show similar to RaceDay on SPEED. The TNT effort relies on a new host named Marc Fein to direct traffic. Fein is a TNT "in-house announcer" and is new to NASCAR. This fact does not sit well with Bill Weber, who hosts the Countdown To Green actual pre-race show which comes next and is used to being "the man."
As the Michigan version of TNT Live began, there was a strange group of people assembled on the set. Along with analysts Wally Dallenbach Jr. and Kyle Petty, there were two hosts. Show host Marc Fein was seated alongside "Countdown to Green" host and race announcer Bill Weber. Instead of Weber, it should have been Larry McReynolds on the set. His presence was sorely missing in the discussion that followed.
Fein immediately put Weber on the spot for his prediction that Earnhardt Junior would go to a "dark horse" team, instead of a big operation like Hendrick Motorsports. Weber was not happy with that, and was clearly uncomfortable with being on the receiving end of questions from "the host." With Weber being front and center for the next pre-race show, and then the entire race, maybe he could have let Fein have the spotlight for this program.
Its also tough for Wally Dallenbach to "hang in" with this new group. He begins a lot of his statements with "just like Kyle said" and then re-hashes what Petty has already explained. Like ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBC found out very early, one driver and one crew chief is all you need. With Petty being a current driver, he is clearly more up-to-date on the events concerning NASCAR this season, and with his outspoken nature it is tough to define the new role for Dallenbach.
Fein then cleared the set, and spoke one-on-one with Larry McReynolds in the next segment. This left Kyle Petty out of an important discussion, and he should have been there. McReynolds talked about gas mileage, the big track, and drivers moving their "racing lines" around during the event. Petty should have been present for the entire segment, and if it had been McReynolds, Petty, and Dallenbach the entire time,
things would have been consistent. That is one key element this one hour show is lacking...consistency.
McReynolds and Fein continued in the next segment while TNT rolled more of Marty Snider's interview with Junior and Rick Hendrick. Where was Kyle Petty? There was more than an hour to race time, and Kyle was not on the set for this high-profile topic. That made two segments of quality on-camera time Kyle missed, both of which contained topics that begged for his comments and expertise.
Suddenly, Bill Weber returned and Marc Fein disappeared. One host was gone, and another host was back. No one ever said why. Weber introduced a great tribute to Benny Parsons, and this pre-produced feature is exactly the type of thing at which Bill Weber excels. There is perhaps no one better at writing a scripted feature involving NASCAR content than Weber. He cut his teeth early-on as the reporter for Inside Winston Cup Racing alongside host Ned Jarrett back in the 1990's.
Just as suddenly, Marc Fein was back and hosting the show once again. After even more of Snider's taped interview with Junior, Fein led into one of the most annoying elements of this program bar none. TNT has decided to turn the track description and Wally's World hot laps into a moving promo for TNT entertainment shows.
Of course, both the pre-race and race itself are shamelessly loaded with even more promos for exactly the same shows. Now, instead of learning the racing lines, the problem corners, and the issues with things like the pit road entrance, viewers are treated to an actor screaming with Dallenbach about a TNT series over the roar of the engine.
This ended the TNT Live program, and Marc Fein then sent things over once again to Bill Weber for TNT's Countdown to Green, their next pre-race show. Talk about confusing. There was Weber on the same set, with the same graphics, talking about the exact same things and playing back the exact same interview we had just seen. Are you sensing a theme here?
Weber once again wished everyone happy Father's Day just like Fein. He read the same Earnhardt Junior story and used the same interviews. Then, Weber brought on Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach to talk again about the same Junior issue on the same infield set without McReynolds. Then, just like the earlier show, they went to break.
Incredibly, when Weber came out of commercial Petty and Dallenbach were gone, and who should be there but Larry McReynolds. Its enough to make a viewer dizzy. After one very brief comment on Junior, McReynolds was silenced by another driver feature. This one was on Martin Truex Jr. and his father, and again proved to be very well done. After a good follow-up on-camera with Martin, the final show element was a chat with polesitter JJ Yeley and then things were done.
There is no doubt that TNT intends for this ninety minutes of pre-race TV programming to be interesting and informative. There is no doubt they have some talented people in place with lots of good experience. Unfortunately, there is also no doubt from watching the final product that there are not open lines of communication between the different "camps" in the TNT compound. TV egos tend to create teams, and those teams never get along.
After two weeks, its time to have a meeting and address the overall on-air presentation of this long live program block. It was not fun, there were no laughs, the two hosts clearly did not get along, and the team spirit was missing. It might have made the egos in the TNT compound feel just fine, but for viewers it was a bumpy and disjointed ride through a landscape of non-smiling announcers and constantly changing faces.
One emailer to The Daly Planet referred to it as The TNT Passive Aggressive Pre-Race Show. Control issues anyone?
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