Monday, July 2, 2007

TNT Promotes Itself And NASCAR Suffers

How many times in one TNT broadcast can you see Bill Engvall with his shirt off? How many times in one TNT broadcast can Engvall talk about being naked with Nancy Travis? How many times in one broadcast can Holly Hunter scare you, and Kyra Sedgwick just kind of creep you out? In TNT land, the answer is simple. As many times as they want.

From the start of the first of two pre-race shows on TNT from Loudon, New Hampshire, the story was not NASCAR. The story was not the fans, or the track, or the weather. The single biggest story was that TNT had only two more races after this one to promote every single thing shown on the network for the rest of the year. Time was winding down on this promotional season, and NASCAR was not going to interfere.

Engvall started the chaos in the pre-race by aimlessly wandering around the track and asking goofy questions that somehow related back to his new series on TBS. So, in addition to the promos for his show in the commercial breaks, fans got a pre-produced feature in NASCAR content time. Wonderful.

Also from TNT, lots of middle-aged NASCAR fans got to watch the cool rock band "Hinder" perform on the front stretch in the pre-race show. Nothing has a better fan reaction than screaming hard rock music for clean-cut families in baseball caps at noon on a Sunday. Most of them were still trying to tune their scanners. This reaction is also especially true when most of the fans are from New England. Needless to say, this party was somewhat less than hardy.

Coming off a total broadcast disaster in Sonoma, Bill Weber and company did not offer any apologies, or explanations. They actually had the gall to show highlights of the Sonoma race that were not even seen or explained on their own live telecast. This is the network that went off the air without even showing fans a final finishing order. I guess when the staff is so busy with planning the promotions, a small thing like the actual race broadcast can be overlooked.

TNT pulled itself out of the total basement with the return to the booth of Kyle Petty and the return to good health of Larry McReynolds. These two have been the heart-and-soul of every telecast, and that continued at Loudon. They are unaffected by the "inside jokes" of Weber, Dallenbach, and Snider. Petty and McReynolds have the uncanny ability to focus on racing, and leave the TNT sideshow behind.

The saving grace of the pre-race was an excellent feature on the Victory Junction Gang Camp. Finally, fans got to see campers having fun and being challenged to rise above the level of physical ability they had when they arrived. The Petty family provided the commentary and that is all race fans needed to get on-board this emotional train. I wish they had featured the computer lab sponsored by longtime NASCAR supporter Jay Adamczyk, who created

Just as Dallenbach was a good second voice to the late Benny Parsons, he is also a good partner for Kyle Petty. Dallenbach is an independent thinker, and responds well when challenged for his opinions. As the race turned into a boring no-pass affair, Dallenbach stayed focused and followed Petty's lead of trying to figure out the race strategy. Alone last week with Bill Weber, Dallenbach collapsed into a frustrated analyst who was not getting, or seeing, the information he needed to understand what was going on. On the big circle at Loudon, he just had to look out the window.

This TNT season has totally cemented the reputation of Larry McReynolds as an all-around NASCAR analyst. McReynolds is everywhere. He can show car details on the cut-a-way, update stats from his computer, or detail race strategy from listening to the scanner. He is basically a one man "think tank," and he is doing it all from the infield with a TV monitor and a calculator. In this telecast, the booth announcers felt free to call on him directly for all kinds of advice and information. He has clearly been the star of the TNT portion of the season.

The true test of a play-by-play announcer comes when things are just not exciting for the viewers. Guys like Mike Joy, Barney Hall, and Marty Reid can search around and find something to talk about that gets everyone energized once again about the event. This is not the strong point of Bill Weber. Often, in the follow-the-leader single groove action at Loudon, things were downright dull. Rather than "pump people up," Weber prefers to "wax poetic" about something obtuse. Only the strong voices of Petty and McReynolds served to keep this telecast on track.

TNT is in the process of promoting their "commercial free" telecast of the Pepsi 400 from Daytona next week. No one in their right mind believes for a minute that this telecast is going to be "commercial free," but rather that TNT has found a way to include more commercial content in a new form. They are calling it "wide open coverage."

The official word is TNT will "feature animated national sponsor messages, including original branded content and distinct sponsor vignettes." The scoop is they will use the lower third of the screen to fill it with sponsor messages and TNT promos, and use a "flying box" like the NASCAR on Fox gang used earlier this season to show replays. Only TNT will be showing commercial elements that have no time restraints. It should be interesting.

The only full screen commercials will be the ones inserted by your local cable or satellite company. That should be about three an hour. While this general approach sounds promising, the TNT track record this year with commercials and promos is dismal. With an existing score ticker and in-race graphics already on the TV screen, using the lower third for sponsor elements while actually showing some racing could be a challenge.

A big thanks from The Daly Planet to the TNT Director. He used a wideshot to show the cars coming to the finish line at Loudon, and inserted a live scoring graphic. Luckily, this approach caught the Kurt Busch incident and proved the need to watch the field cross the line. It was a very positive element for the telecast.

This race in Loudon allowed TNT's announce team to get back on track, while continuing to re-enforce the fan's belief that TNT is in NASCAR to promote itself, and not the sport. Come July 16th, the day after the Chicago Speedway race, TNT will once again flee NASCAR quickly, and then reflect on the amount of broadcast promotion they were able to do between that pesky racing stuff. For most fans, it will be good riddance.

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


Joe from Philly said...

Nice article. As usual.

I didn't watch the race for real but went to my DVR last night and did a FF thru it just to get a flavor of the race and see the end. I had to laugh at the end as it seemed they listened to what this site has been saying. And as you mentioned, with what happened to Busch, it's a good thing they did. Thanks for your efforts here. I'd like to think they made a difference!

Even with that as a plus, TNT continues to be bad. I'm considering not watching the Daytona race because I fear they'll do with their 'third of the screen' commercials what they do with their coming back from break commercials. Which is, show the animations while giving you a total BS view of the race facility or an in car of the paid sponsor's car.

Basically, I'd rather them go to a commercial so I can hit my 30 second skip button and get back to the race instead of being teased ;-)

bevo said...

Trust me, the Pepsi 400 telecast will be a train wreck of epic proportions. We'll be lucky to see any of the race with all of the graphics TNT will be throwing on the screen.

By the way the best way to get even with TNT is to not watch any of these shows once they start.

Anonymous said...

Bevo voiced the same concerns that I have.

Also will they STRETCH the tv screen to give it a distorted look for the ENTIRE RACE the way some stations due for constant BAD WEATHER WATCHES.

This is just TERRIBLE if they screw up the LOOK OF night on my tv.

and the constant POP UP ANIMATION on the screen is a pet peeve on ANY STATION but especially during sports.

We shall see.


Anonymous said...

After following racing since I was a working registered nurse at Pocono Raceway in 1975 I have finally at the age of 67 found away to continue to enjoy NASCAR
I turn on the race, mute the TV and then turn on the radio and listen to a great play by play call that usually includes many drivers instead of just the top 5

Anonymous said...

Re: TNT, the pre race show is so bad that I can't watch it, so I can't comment on that. However, I feel like the actual race coverage at New Hampshire was much better than Sonoma. It's almost as if they read your comments after the last race. The post race info was much improved.

I wonder if the track broadcast team resents the intrusion of the heavy handed TNT home office execs.

Vince said...

Although I would say TNT's coverage of the Loudon race was better than the Sonoma race, there's only one way to go when you hit rock bottom.

As for the pre-race show, I never watch them anymore. They have gotten so bad I can't stand it.

Thanks to the director in the production truck for showing us a wide shot of the finish. But he was out to lunch several times during the broadcast when the guys in the booth or in the pits were talking about one thing and the cameras were showing us something completely different. Example, Matt in the pits trying to show us the busted air hose and air gun that got ran over by one of the cars that had just pitted. But all we saw was cars on the track going round and round. I could tell Matt was getting pretty frustrated. Wake up guys in the production truck!! Or maybe they didn't even have a camera IN the pits. I don't remember seeing any live shots from behind the pit wall after the race started.

I also have a DVR and I'm going to record this weekends Daytona race and then start watching it about an hour after it starts. So I can FF though all the pre-race garbage and TNT's self promos during the race.

The girl in the mini skirt promoting TNT's Launch Hour or what ever it is called, was just plain sleezy and annoying. Come on TNT, get some class.

I don't have a big wide screen TV, so if TNT takes up a third of my screen with their commercials this weekend, I'm afraid I won't be able to see much of the race. But we'll see.

And thank god to Wally and Kyle for being in the booth to keep Weber under control. I have an idea for the Wally's World ride along segment. Put Weber in the car with Wally and tell Wally to go for it!!

David said...

I believe you nailed it for Loudon. I can't for the life of me understand why NASCAR put themselves in this box other then their bedfellowship with Turner on which can't even report it's own announcements, penalties, etc. first.

Larry and Kyle by far are carrying this show and with the right lead person (Alan Bestwick) Wally could be a valuable piece of the puzzle. 2 more weeks, like the previous comments I hope to God they don't ruin Daytona for me because I sure don't have a widescreen tv for their precious commercials.

Anonymous said...

Well, there you go. TNT has learned nothing and has no intention of making changes. That's fine. They can promo all they want, I FFWD through all of that crap anyway. Same with the repeated commercials.

Hey NASCAR, this is some partner you've got here. People are choosing the radio, TIVO, or just bailing out completely.

Anonymous said...

RaceDay on Speed + DirecTV Hotpass + Victory Lane on Speed...need I say more? Coverage that rocks!! You can listen to the scanner during commercials and there is always a screenshot of the track. The commentators are always focused on the race and it is well worth the extra money!

Dan said...

Just another comment about the pre-race show. Does TNT not realize that they are TV and not radio? They talk and talk when there are driver intros, a pit road full of colorful cars and tons of other visual excitement that are part of the race experience to put on TV. Why not show that instead of constantly talking about how much the clouds are going to affect the track. Sheesh!!

Steve L said...

They sure didn't stop that stupid music. Reminded me of playing the early NASCAR games on playstation. At least with the games you could turn off the music...
I usually can't wait for Daytona but I must say I actually dread this weekends race.

Tripp said...

I take exception to the comment that the race was a "no pass affair". I guess that must have been the way TNT showed it, then they missed the action on the track.

I did not see the telecast... I was at Loudon, and there were passes all through the field all through the race. I watched JPM get passed a lot and watched him try to pass back. I watched Stewart pass and get passed. I watched Jr., Jeff and a bunch of people dice for P2-P6. There was a lot of racing going on for at least 3/4 of the race. If TNT didn't show it, they did the viewers a disservice.

Too bad I'll be back home for Daytona.