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 This "B-roll," the footage used to cover commentary, was often so out of date and irrelevant it was laughable.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.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping-by and leaving your opinion.

25 comments:

SophiaZ123 said...

John

Your comment about Melissa Rivers was sooo correct. I thought WTH??? And Mario cashed in last year with his alleged NASCAR cookbook.

Tonights show stank. The splicing of wrecks, and sadly for many of us, hearing the late great Benny Parson's voice, we damn knew it was not from THIS years talladega.

And when Sauter wrecked and did not respond...then the commercial break...only to find out he 'doesn't feel like talking on the radio, just getting out of the car.' Not sure how that was edited and chopped up but I would think letting your CC know you are ok is VITAL.

I about fell off the bed when the old JJ wreck came out of nowhere.

This ABC show REEKED of the ESPN Tabloid/hype and drama.

Oh, and honestly, they could have glossed over the party atmosphere at Talladege in about 15 minutes instead of showing us all the drunk trashy people flashing themselves. geez.

I was looking forward to tonights episode since I heard Jeff Burton's voice and Tony Stewart at the beginning. I thought they would be in it more.

I am not saying Sauter does not deserve all the time he is getting but to the "casual fan" he would probably not draw in the new folks if that is who this was aimed at.

Just who IS this show aimed at????

:-)

Tripp said...

Whoa John. Take a deep breath and step away from the laptop. One might view your review of this episode as trying to "manufacture drama", as you accused the shows producers.

Yes, this episode fell short of last week's effort, which was truly enjoyable on a myriad of levels. That was Bristol which usually oozes drama. Talledega, well it can be exciting, or it can be like this year's spring race. Drivers frustrated by the draft... typical. The big one... expected. A failed green/white/checker finish... boring. ABC only had so much to work with, which was not a lot.

So faced with terrabytes of digital video footage from a race that was far from the most exciting of the year, they did what they could. Pluck out the best stories they could and let the video play them out.

Too bad for ABC that there weren't any good stories surrounding their drivers. This show couldn't have been as interesting as last week's because the stories weren't as compelling. So they dealt with what they had.

The "Big One". Yes, the Jimmy Johnson footage was old, but it showed a very hard looking hit and Jimmy walking away. That graphically illustrated the point about safety that the fans were speaking to. Is there a problem with that?

Talledega is not always an interesting race, but it's always an event and the "redneck Mardi Gras" in between all the campers and hot tubs is a big part of it. Did they manufacture the drama by handing out beads to intoxicated females or pay the guy to wear Joe Nemecheck's tire? They used what they had. A Jimmy Buffett concert party on moonshine. The old guy's comments on the morning after were rather cute though.

Oh and those fans speaking in studio were just that. Fans. Some of them were famous or near-famous but they were speaking as fans. Their names were not Chyroned under their faces to separate them from those festooned in their favorite driver's colors. They were speaking as fans. Who they are was irrelevant.

There is no doubt that the content of this installment was not up to the level of the other two. Could they have told the Talledega story better. Possibly. But the sky is not falling. Viewers got a view of Talledega and some of the action that goes on there.

Lighten up a little. As Dave Moody says, perhaps you need a bran muffin.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Tripp,

As Tony Stewart might say...did you watch this show?

You're saying because the race was boring ABC gets to make things up in a documentary? I don't get it.

Jimmie Johnson's wreck was for shock value, there was no safer barrier and no point. Same with Kyle Busch's roll-over. This was sensationalism at its height.

Read the ABC press release on this show, its a documentary. Last week, it was. This week, it was the lowest form of TV, tugging at the heartstrings by suggesting the loving husband or boyfriend was hurt in a wreck, when in fact...that was not the reality.

I have no problems with the alleged fans, but the celebrities this week? Please. This was MTV and VH1 combined with E Entertainment.

Face-it, they swung at this pitch, and missed.

Anonymous said...

Insulting.

Just like ESPN's race coverage, somoene's decided that the race as it happens is not "exciting" enough and needs to be "enhanced" by creating non-existent reality.

I guarantee you, there were plenty of stories, real ones, to be told at Talladega...unless you went into it hoping for a big crash because that would make the story you wanted to tell.

Insulting.

Anonymous said...

Editor:

This entire series stinks. I haven't watched more than ten minutes of any of the episodes. The truth of the matter is neither ABC nor ESPN have the slightest idea about NASCAR, NASCAR fans, NASCAR racing, etc., and its obvious. I hope their learning curve SPEEDs up!

MBeard

Anonymous said...

I have to say if NASCAR is trying to attract new fans, and by that I mean white collar fans with plenty of disposable income, they blew it with this episode. The episode made viewers think all fans are white trash, which they are not. Stuff like this only scares a new or casual fan from going to races. It was even more evident when the trash was interlaced with the professional and calm Drivers.

Joe from Philly said...

I watched the final 3 segments of this. first time I've bothered. It will be the last time. As you said so eloquently, it was pure fluff and pseudo drama.



One thing I did take from the show though is that Johnny Sauter surely outkicked his coverage with that girlfriend of his ;-)

Anonymous said...

I watched the first episode of this garbage, and wanted to jump off a cliff. Where did they find these fake "hillbilly" fans and who gave them their nascar shirts and hats to wear? Don't they know it is totally illegal to wear Ford and Chevy clothes? This show is complete garbage. For the sake of all true NASCAR fans, please boycott this ridiculous show.

Tripp said...

There were two issues with the review. What was not factual, and what is wrong with highlighting the very real concerns of wives and girlfriends over their loved one's safety?

The Jimmie Johnson wreck did actually happen at a NASCAR sanctioned event. No, Watkins Glen didn't have SAFER barriers. And yes it was sensational. Crashes that cause driver injury and death often are. Anyone who saw Greg Moore lose his life eight years ago in the CHAMP Car race in Fontana know that. To ignore family's concerns over the "Big One" at Talledega would be a very significant omission. The women's concern was real. One can niggle over how ABC framed the story but did ABC broadcast falsehoods? No.

As for the famous fans, if memory serves, three of the four also appeared on previous shows without incident. What invalidates Melissa Rivers' comments as a fan? One may dislike her but one doesn't have to be liked to be credible.

Episode 3 fell short of episode 2 on nearly all fronts and it was clear that ABC struggled trying to tell the stories. How much disappointment over this weeks offering resulted from ABC setting the expectations so high because last week's show was so good? Hard to say. Whether too much spin or sensationalization was used is a matter of opinion.

These comments were never a justification for ABC making things up. They were simply disagreeing with your contention that they actually did that.

Anonymous said...

Well, I will admit I have this show on TIVO. I have watched all three episodes. The life and death drama was a little much. The JJ incident from yester-year was a reach, but overall I guess I enjoy it because it is NASCAR. Johnny Sauter has become a driver I will now have a rooting interest for. I like his intensity and drive. Anyway, this definitely was not the show you would want your non-nascar friends and family to see as an orientation to the sport. Loose the human engine noises at the beginning - 4 year olds do that not adult NASCAR fans. John, I agree with most of what you say, but I think you might be getting too technical with this show. ABC should do better, but to the typical NASCAR fan I don't think it is that bad.

SophiaZ123 said...

OOps!

Meant to say they could've glossed over Talladega party in 15 or 30 seconds...not minutes.

JRHot said...

One of those "fans" used to be on the soap "As the World Turns" years ago. when I saw him, I turned the station again. Just like I have done every week when this joke of a show started.
I can't believe Brain Fart France or HELLton let those shots in of the females flashing. That is behaviour detrimental to the sport.

haus20 said...

If nothing else, at least the drivers on the show can gain some fans. JPM and Jeff Burton do get a fair amount of coverage on a normal weekend, but Johnny Sauter does not get much media coverage on the weekend - not that he deserves it based on his on track performance. Now you actually get to see a side of thes guys that you normally would not get to see if the show hadn't happened. Well, you would have if "7 days" was still on speed.

Anonymous said...

This was a good example as to why I never bother watching specials about the sport anymore. Much like the actual racing coverage we see now, its all manufactured hype with the overuse of the word drama.

Anonymous said...

This show made it seem that all female Nascar fans are drunks with no self respect.
I wish ABC/ESPN would have taken a better look in the stands to see that the sterotypical "redneck " NASCAR fan is a dying breed. It's pretty sad when the most knowledgable fan shown is a little boy of probably 6!
Save us all from ABC/ESPN, can't wait til FOX is back next season

Anonymous said...

Where are the college-educated fans who also attend races and don't get drunk in the process, like me and my friends and thousands of others?

Oh, wait--that doesn't fit the "story" ABC wants to tell.

Anonymous said...

After watching parts of all 3 shows (couldn't stand to watch the whole thing) I now understand that ABC/ESPN have no idea what a real NASCAR fan even looks like. The "fans" on these shows are all reading a script.
I also now realize that ABC/ESPN is in love with Montoya. He is getting more air time in both the races and this show than drivers who have spent their whole life in the sport. I'm not a Sauter fan but I would rather see him and his struggles with a lower level team than anything about Montoya.
I will not watch any more of these shows.

Anonymous said...

Well, you would have if "7 days" was still on speed.

Show wins an award for excellence and then it's cancelled. As usual.

Anonymous said...

If Nascar wants to be family friendly the show Nascar in Primetime blew that idea. I am from Alabama and it made me sick to see so much white trash flashing themselves for plastic beads. I have real pearls and no flashing to get them. Trashy people give Nascar a bad image.

Daly Planet Editor said...

If you don't think Melissa Rivers and Mario Batali were reading scripts, I got a bridge I would like to sell you.

If any of those fans get outed as actors also reading a script, things will definitely be taking a new turn for the worse.

Thanks again for all the great comments!

JD

I. M. Anonymous said...

Oh, I dunno, I kinda liked this show bettr when it was on Speed, back in the day when it was actually meant for true NASCAR fans.

Anonymous said...
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SamofCarolina said...

I didn't think it was that bad. I mean, it was a little drama..but hey..maybe it will get some more fans to watch NASCAR.
Looking forward to next week's.

zwaapyjr said...

I'm not crazy about the show, but I don't object to ABC trying to "sell" NASCAR. My guess is that they're trying to keep enough reality in the show to reel in some existing fans, but also include enough in the way of dramatic storylines to capture the interest of folks unfamiliar with the sport. Odds are an over-dramatic mid-week NASCAR show isn't going to make a fan stop being a fan, but it just might make some new folks tune in on Sunday.

ABC's got one hell of an investment to recoup, so I can't hold the tactics against 'em.

What I really don't like is that they're marketing it as something akin to documentary. Not only is that dishonest, but I can't see how it helps their cause.

crabber1967 said...

I, sadly, missed the first two shows. I say sadly from the positive comments above. I watched the entire 3rd episode and was shocked that NASCAR would let the 'flashing' sequences be used. [And we know that NASCAR has say-so on all things NASCAR]. This show perpetuated the "redneck High Holy Days" crap that NASCAR wants to forget, and in this case they are right; this showed everything bad that WON'T attract more fans.

NASCAR have shown they want new fans and don't care for the old fans {California on Labor Day??? ...a recurring nightmare; I'm just glad they installed lights, or we may have lost Darlington altogether, GEE how about Darlington at night on Labor Day weekend?? Naw, makes too much sense, might attract the fans who built the sport.}
Where was Dr.Punch from ESPN? He was there when ESPN first had NASCAR, and he could have told them how it really was/is. I won't make the effort to watch any more of this mess.