Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weber And Dallenbach Struggle To Fit In On TNT

As the rain delay at Pocono continued, it seemed somehow appropriate that Bill Weber was perched high, alone, and slightly damp in the new TNT infield set. Looking like something out of "Thunderdome," the infield anchor's desk was suspended in the air with no one visible except Weber. He was the odd man out.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the booth two drivers stood side-by-side, looked at each other, and tried to figure out how this was going to work. Kyle Petty was the new kid on the block, and alongside him was Wally Dallenbach...rudely chewing his gum while on camera. They both filled the same role, and represented the same viewpoint on the telecast. There were two...where there needed to be only one.

Kyle was a veteran who had just stepped-out of his NEXTEL Cup ride to work for TNT. Dallenbach had a short and un-impressive stint "playing" in NASCAR after a mediocre career in both open-wheel and sports car series. He is not the most popular former driver among the NASCAR gang.

At the same time, down in the infield and standing by the cut-a-way car was the man who should have been in the broadcast booth. Larry McReynolds is tremendous in his NASCAR knowledge and perhaps has no equal in his intensity. Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds in the booth would have been a home run for TNT.

As it worked out, McReynolds informed the booth of the winning strategy being tried by Jeff Gordon's team. McReynolds acted as the crew chief "analyst" on this show and traded fast-paced quips with Kyle Petty like they had been working together for years. And, he did it all from the infield.

With the NASCAR on Fox gang wrapping-up their coverage, it was tough to transition from the professional play-by-play skills of Mike Joy to the converted feature reporter Bill Weber. There was a mean-spirited nature to the NASCAR coverage on NBC Sports and now TNT with Weber at the helm.

He and Dallenbach trade insults, the pit reporters "dig" at the booth announcers, and Weber always sees the glass as half empty. Rather than the professional demeanor of Barney Hall, Rick Allen, Mike Joy, or Marty Reid, Weber takes everything very personally and seems to be upset in some way a lot of the time.

Dr. Jerry Punch is involved in the same type of struggle on the ESPN Busch Series races. Neither Punch nor Weber started out to be who they now are. Punch was a great pit reporter, and relished that role. Weber started out on Inside Winston Cup Racing with Ned Jarrett as the feature reporter. Weber has outstanding writing skills and thinks of himself as a journalist. This is his strong point, but play-by-play on live NASCAR races is not.

Marc Fein was the wildcard on the TNT telecast. Brought in as the new preview show host and the infield studio anchor during the telecast, Fein got solid reviews. A TV sports veteran, he brings the enthusiasm of a veteran without being caught-up in trying to show his personal knowledge of the sport. Fein was the bright spot of this telecast, and may get to expand his role after the production problems that arose during the first rain delay. TNT had some issues, and they revolved around Bill Weber.

Rain at a NASCAR race always demands flexibility and good humor. These are not the strong points for Weber. Even so, the TNT producer left Weber alone as the anchor on the infield set for more than an hour. Weber tried to direct traffic, but Petty and Dallenbach needed him in the booth, and Marc Fein should have been given the assignment of filling time from the infield set with Larry McReynolds and the pit reporters. Fein has the sense of fun that would allow Marty Snider to "spin" the new set and show off its flexibility. Weber just sat there mortified, and without a smile on his face. Wrong guy to have fun with on national TV.

Once the race started, the telecast took on a strange dynamic. Weber and Dallenbach have one type of relationship with each other, and Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds have their own working style. The "NBC style" of insulting each other and making inside jokes did not fly with Petty and McReynolds. They provided the commentary during the race, and often would wind up speaking directly with each other because they actually knew what was going on. Weber and Dallenbach looked, and sounded, like two guys who had been away from the sport for a while.

Through a boring race, Petty and McReynolds kept the intensity high, even as Dallenbach and Weber returned to their inside jokes and insults. Pit reporter Marty Snider is often caught up in this locker room humor, and it makes his credibility fall by the wayside. Matt Yocum, Ralph Sheheen, and newcomer Lindsay Czarniak refused to "join the NBC club" and instead concentrated on their pit reporting activities.

Czarniak was solid during the event, and just needs more actual race reporting to get herself up-to-speed. Like Wendy Venturini on SPEED and Krista Voda on Fox Sports, she is fearless and aggressive. Just what TNT needed for this short season.

As the race reached its key moment, Larry McReynolds and Kyle Petty were clearly the knowledgeable parties on the telecast with regard to race strategy. McReynolds hit the nail on the head with Gordon's team, and it proved to be the winning formula. Without the late Benny Pasons, Weber and Dallenbach were exposed as part-time NASCAR announcers who were just along for the ride. It was Petty, McReynolds, and the pit road announcers who carried this long broadcast through the two rain delays and all the way to the finish.

Give TNT credit, the new set is fun, the pictures were great, and the directing was first class. The entire telecast was solid from a technical and engineering standpoint. When they can have some fun with the infield set, it will be a great new show element that may top the Hollywood Hotel. In the meantime, they have some attitude adjustment to do with the gum-chewing analyst and the angry host.

With five races to go, TNT is going to find itself working alongside ESPN and staring at the network that will take-over when they are done. ESPN will be doing the Busch races during the TNT run, and then step into the big time. No doubt ESPN will be looking at both the good and bad aspects of the TNT experience and trying to put those lessons to good use.

After this first race for TNT, there are a lot of notes to take and a lot of things to do differently. This broadcast missed the good nature of the late Benny Parsons, but showed the determination of both Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds to keep the information flowing, despite the obstacles. Petty was a standout, and his time working previous races and on SPEED's Tradin' Paint has made him at ease on TV.

Before we know it, these six races will be over, and TNT will return to its bread-and-butter of entertainment programming. Perhaps, before that happens, this group of TV professionals will re-organize themselves into a cohesive unit that can allow TNT to put its best foot forward for both the sport...and the fans.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


SophiaZ123 said...

I must say, I enjoyed Kyle Petty in the booth and his interview with the Silver Fox. Kyle is a class act. And you are so right that he GETS IT that the show is not about him but he quietly shares his knowledge of the sport. Too bad we only have him for 6 races.

Now I just wish I knew when Trading Paint was always on to watch THAT show. Either they play time slot roulette or I can just never REMEMBER.

How does Weber keep his job? Does he have pictures on SOMEBODY high up in NASCAR? :-) I mean honestly, I do not know anybody that enjoys him on TV. Talk about A Grumpy Humpty Dumpty. His dramatics are a major buzzkill.

Kyle was good and I sure missed the old late, great Benny Parsons. Sure he might have gotten a little befuddled in the booth the last couple of years, but he was THE REAL DEAL and the last of the voices of the golden era of NASCAR. R.I.P sweet Benny!

Oh, I was SHOCKED to see Larry Mac here but I thought him a good fit as well but let's get rid of Weber and put Larry in the booth.

If they can throw out ALLEN BESTWICK all the time, why the heck can't they get rid of Weber? Sorry, but that guy is like a piece of gum on your shoe that keeps annoying you but you just can't scrape it all off!

Vince said...

Hey John, I have to disagree with you on a few things this time. First off, I was very disappointed to see Larry Mac on TNT. Although I think Larry is extremely knowledgable of the sport, his voice just grates on my nerves. But I do think having him down in the pits or by the cut away car is the best place for him. At least he's not in the booth yapping away through the whole broadcast with DW!

Secondly I like Wally. Yes he does rub some of the drivers the wrong way and to me that is a good thing. Some of them need to be rubbed the wrong way. Especially all the "young guns" with the huge egos. I think Wally's main problem is being paired with Bill Webber. Wally just plain doesn't like Bill. Bill is miscast. He's best doing what he did before he got anointed to the lead analyst position. Let him do special features and/or the pre-race show.

And finally I have to disagree with you about Marc Fein. First off, who the hell is he?? None of us NASCAR fans know him from Adam. I think his personality is just a notch below Erik K. of NascarNow. Another words, he's borderline obnoxious and caustic.

I have failed to see for years why all the networks think we need a "Hollywood Hotel" or what ever that contraption was that TNT rolled out with Bill Webber sitting in it. Just have the booth reporters and pit reporters. We don't want all the other crap. Network execs, go back and watch some of the old races on ESPN Classic and maybe you'll get the idea.

As for the rain delay, it was a good time for me to take a nap, so I did! Hope I didn't miss any thing "important"!

Overall, I thought it was a good first effort by TNT. It was especially refreshing after having to suffer though Fox and their sorry coverage the first half of the year. We'll see how it goes this week in Michigan. Hopefully no more rain delays!

TCBritt said...

NASCAR on TNT was a joke last year and looks like more of the same this year, i cant stand marty snider and bill weber, they are back and forth at each other with these snide comments that are suppose to be cute, but no one on this side of the camera lens finds them to be, matt yocum kyle petty and larry mac are great, ill give the new additions a few races before passing judgement on them, after FOX's coverage of the season is over, it is quite depressing to see TNT and ABC half-ass there coverage, FOX and SPEED(which is owned by FOX) are the only networks serious about NASCAR coverage on TV, the saving grace is that we still get all the prerace and behind the scenes shows on SPEED throughout the whole year

Anonymous said...
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Richard in NC said...

I am a GE shareholder, but I quit listening to NBC when they replaced Allen B. with the thoroughly obnoxious Bill Weber. Why has NASCAR allowed the networks to trample on Allen B. and continue to use Weber? I think you will find that NASCAR ratings began to decline very soon after Weber took Allen's place. Sorry I cannot listen to Kyle & Larry Mc, but TNT pictures with MRN sound makes for a good race.

Anonymous said...

Wally Dallenbach is an idiot and is mean-spirited. I want to puke every time "Wally's World" comes on. What a jerk. I don't particularly care for Bill Weber, either, but I think without Wally's snide comments he might be decent. Kyle Petty was a nice change, but he needs to lay off saying "Oh my God" over and over. Thank goodness for Matt Yocum, he is a true professional in the pits. Bottom line - bring back Allen Bestwick!!

Anonymous said...

Lots of different opinions here...sort of fun to get and think about everyones opinion and why they like or dislike a certain announcer or team of announcers.
I must admit as a long time Nascar fan(40 yrs of Sundays lost from the 60's and 70's of holding my transistor radio a certain way to try to pick up garbled race coverage to the explosion of coverage now that I'm truely grateful for)I was always annoyed by Allen Bestwick, I think basically because if you were a die hard fan a lot of his statements were made like he was a casual fan and didn't know what was going on and I always wanted announcers that thoroughly knew the sport. I was glad at the time when Weber replaced him because I felt he was way more knowledgable. I have to admit I sort of like Wally too, but the team of announcers just didn't work. Maybe if they move one of the drivers to the infield with Larry Mac, and cut to them for some interjections of opinion during the race instead of the free for all that was constantly going on. If I had to put together a team out of what TNT did, I would go with Bill Weber for pre race...he doesn't seem to play well with others...Mike Joy calling the race with Kyle and Larry in the booth and find someone for the cut away car. While I don't need the cut away car deal, I can see where it really benefits newer audiences. I thought Kyle was rock solid in the both, was well spoken and actually surprised me with his performance. Thats my 2 cents

Robert said...

Hey, how obvious is the bias in this article. The authors less then balanced take on the Bill Weber, and Wally Dallenbach vs. Larry Mc Reynolds and Kyle Petty. Larry Mc's back ground is still as a crew chief, and historically drivers and experienced journalists have made up broadcast crews for car races. Larry Mc is great at what he's doing, and I hope he continues doing all the things he's been doing and more. And what has Dr Larry Punch got to do with this? Is another favorite of the author?
Kyle was brought in to fill the gap left by Benny's passing, and that's all. He's really good on television and it's refreshing to hear his no bull take on things in a sport he's intimately familiar with. Wally hasn't raced in a while and maybe he didn't have a stellar career. But, he is part of the racing community and knows what he's talking about. He's also smart and has a quick whit. I've been waiting since the season start for this crew to return.
Most of the things the author of this article was criticizing Bill Weber about, and trying to use against him are the things that make Mr Weber so good. He is obvious a learned journalist, his copy is very well written and delivered. He obviously has intimate knowledge of the subject, and enjoys his job. He is serious, that seems to be his nature, but he is far from humorless. I hope he stays with TNT a long and they can wrest control from ESPN and broadcast the Busch races as well.
The Fox team does a great job and I like them as well.
The team that should be being criticized is the ESPN crew that features Rusty Wallace. They do a sub par job in my opinion. They don't seem to know how to keep the patter going during the race, they frequently repeat (more then once) what each have said, discuss inane subjects, and spend a lot of time following Rusty's family members on the track. Mike wallace is sometimes worth keeping track of, Steven should only focused on after he has usual wreck during the race..
I hope that Wally and Bill, Kyle will be around for a long time, I'm sure they will blend together well they're all class gentlemen.

echas3 said...

TNT's Director made a poor choice of going to commercial just as the 24 teams strategy played out. Other than that, I agree that Weber is a liability and that TNT should give Wally the boot, too.

SallyB said...

Bill Weber THINKS of himself as a journalist...does any one else? His 'thought's are usually ponderous, pretentions, and portentious, trying to be profound. I don't care if he ever 'looks it up' again! He needs to be long gone.

Anonymous said...

I noticed two major "faux pases" in yesterday's race cover. First, for the first half of the race, TNT managed to spell the name of the reigning champion WRONG; they spelled it JIMMY, when it is most definitely JIMMIE Johnson. Secondly, I believed it was Weber that refered to the driver of the #18 Chevy, as Bobby Labonte. Perhaps he didn't get the memo TWO years ago when Bobby when to Petty and Gibbs put J.J Yeley in the Interstate Battery car.

I think that TNT owes it to the fans to at least do their homework before they try to broadcast a big league race.

Rob said...

How about the fact that the Hinder/NASCAR guitar promo MISSPELT Kyle Petty's name as "Kile?"

I'm willing to bet my money that John Roberts would make a great NASCAR play-by-play announcer. He has established the unbiased position real well since the days of NASCAR This Morning now NASCAR Raceday/NASCAR Victory Lane and given a year of racing coverage with the networks, he'd be awesome. Even Rick Allen of Speed would be good.

It's a contrast from the days of Wally and BP to the Wally with Kyle times. Wally and Kyle seem to agree a lot with each other, which may help or hurt the broadcasts. Again, I think the new prerace host, Marc Fein, was pretty good and as long as he does his homework learning NASCAR and making his position known that yes, he may not know the sport but he's willing to show what he's learned, this guy's going to be a good part of the TNT races.

Why not bring Eli Gold back in fact? I know many of the fans who watched TNN pre-Gold days say he's not as good as Mike Joy, but I thought he was a fairly good announcer.

Anonymous said...

Bill Weber,is the worst why do the TNT and NBC not see this..
Wally needs to go as well!!!!

SophiaZ123 said...

sally I SO agree as do many, on your weber comments!

To Robert, I have to admit, out of hundreds of articles on message boards and blogs, yours is the FIRST one from an alleged NASCAR fan that was POSITIVE on Bill Weber!?!?!?

Wow. I do not know how the man keeps his job.

Anonymous said...

Bring back Alan Bestwick, get rid of Weber. I WON'T watch pre race with Weber.

Anonymous said...

Kyle was a pro and i thought TNT's coverage was great but am i the only one who notices that the only driver Larry mac can talk about is the 24....i get so sick of least TNT isn't as biased as FOX....