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 Jayski.com.
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.
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