Wednesday, August 29, 2007
"NASCAR in Primetime" Blows An Engine
Melissa Rivers on-camera can bring a NASCAR show to a screaming halt faster than the best Raybestos brakes. Chef Mario Batali can take the focus off a backmarker like Johnny Sauter quicker than instant pudding. Kelly Clarkson's perky face removes any intensity from a Jeff Burton super-speedway crash.
Mixed-in with a very interesting bunch of "fans" who curiously appear to be saying exactly the right words, this strange blend of NASCAR and entertainment is this week's NASCAR in Primetime on ABC.
Far from the curiosity of the original episode, and light years away from the promise of last week's show, ABC unleashed an hour that was deep in the type of phony entertainment drama that makes NASCAR fans cringe. What could cause ABC to get sucked into this hype? One word: Talladega.
The track is absolutely a blast. Its a great party, and almost any NASCAR fan knows its also Earnhardt country. The race is great on TV, and even better in person. But, its just a good sporting event, and not the type of life and death "super-drama" that ABC made it out to be.
This is the first program in this limited five episode series that was absolutely off-track. It smacked of entertainment executives making the editing decisions, rather than the solid ABC News and documentary crew that shot the original footage.
When a program goes through the editing process, the production team has a big decision to make. The question is whether they are going to truly represent reality, or use the resources and TV technology available to create their own. In this show, ABC clearly decided to create their own. What a bad mistake for this promising series that ABC continues to say is "documentary" in nature.
ABC used footage for shock value that was years old. This "B-roll," the footage used to cover commentary, was often so out of date and irrelevant it was laughable. All semblance of a documentary feel was gone with Jimmie Johnson "suddenly" crashing into the wall at Watkins Glen in his Busch Series driver's suit. That was seven years ago. The editing decisions in this program doomed it from the start.
Episode two of this series was wonderful, and certainly brought a lot of fans back for this week's show. Unfortunately, it was completely different. Gone was the slice-of-life feel, and in its place was the hyped drama of "is he hurt or dead in the car after the accident?" That was complete with swelling dramatic music...and then a commercial break.
As you may know, I am sometimes a guest on Dave Moody's Sirius Satellite Radio show called Sirius Speedway. I say that because a lot of the on-track commentary in this program was lifted from Dave's radio work at Talladega during the NEXTEL Cup race. Often, the pictures seemed to be edited to his words. Unfortunately, his words were chopped-up, stretched-out, and turned into a melodrama worthy of the "ABC Soap Block." It was tough to take.
NASCAR has been racing live on TV for a long time. The sport came of age on ESPN in the 1980's. Today, almost every lap of even the practice and qualifying sessions is broadcast live to an audience that just can't get enough of NASCAR. Americans have been exposed to the thrill of racing at Talladega twice a year for decades.
Unfortunately, this episode of NASCAR in Primetime chose to ignore all that. They were there to create drama, and it was going to be of the highest order. It did not matter that the drama ultimately consisted of Juan Montoya rubbing the wall, Jeff Burton getting caught-up in a wreck, and Johnny Sauter getting turned on the last lap.
Jeff's wife Kim Burton is great, and her words about risk were true, but they did not match the drama on the track. It had to be created. Poor Johnny Sauter's girlfriend was shown as if she was reacting to both the team radio and the action on the track. It did not help the ABC cause that she had earplugs and no headset on, or that she could not see the backstretch from her viewpoint. The drama needed to be created, and it was.
Ultimately, I was looking for more slice-of-life documentary and less "who might be hurt" on the track hype. Maybe, because last week's episode was so good, this was just a bigger letdown than normal. The fans on the bus were fun, but we have seen that story before many times. Montoya's wife seems nice, and seems to understand his ego just like she did in the last episode.
Veteran NASCAR fans have to get a kick out of not what ABC edited-in, but what the network edited-out. If there was ever a show that could have made a statement about the beer can throwing at the finish and on the cool down lap, it could have been this one. With all those cameras on-hand, that would have been tough to miss. Unless, of course, that didn't fit in the "reality" script.
Two more episodes of this series air on Wednesday nights at 9PM Eastern until this summer special is done.
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