Saturday, September 8, 2007
SPEED Channel's Three Hours Of "NASCAR RaceDay"
Back on July 15th, The Daly Planet published a column about the RaceDay program on the SPEED Channel. The idea was that SPEED had hit on a combination for a NASCAR pre-race show that the actual networks showing the races had not found.
Simply by putting everything under the sun into RaceDay, SPEED was able to expand it to two hours in length. Then, when the program continued to remain strong, the network made one of their biggest programming decisions in their history.
SPEED decided to change the time of the show and schedule it so that the final hour of RaceDay overlapped with NASCAR Countdown. The Countdown show is the pre-race program for both ESPN and ABC.
After multiple problems establishing a host, the ESPN family decided on an in-house selection. They pulled Monday Night Football sideline reporter Suzy Kolber over to NASCAR Countdown. The results have been mediocre at best.
This weakness was quickly exploited by SPEED. The network poured a lot of additional resources into this program, and it began to show. SPEED already had an established host in John Roberts, and a trusted reporter in Wendy Venturini. What the network needed to do was get Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace focused on their roles in the show.
Both Spencer and Wallace have "grown-up" on SPEED in their TV experience, and now it was time for the network to turn them loose. This unlikely pair has become cult celebrities among NASCAR fans, and are enjoying much greater popularity on the TV side of the business then they ever did as drivers.
Along the way, both Spencer and Wallace have stuck their collective feet in their collective mouths, but that was also part of their role. No one has said that these two will be performing brain surgery anytime soon, so the expectation of their role is some veteran perspective and then some good old-fashioned fun.
After the first couple of weeks overlapping ESPN's coverage, SPEED found that ESPN did not respond with any additional features or resources, they just kept to the entertainment-style formula that ESPN seems to be forced into this year.
SPEED mixes the outlandish with the honest. They work the outrageous comments right alongside the serious interviews and news items. This fluid movement between the over-the-top commentary of Spencer flowing right into a serious "Real Deal" segment with Venturini makes this program work. Viewers never know what is coming next, but they want to see it when it does.
This Saturday, as ABC took over the NEXTEL Cup television for the rest of the season, SPEED again stepped-up to the plate. This time, they swung for the fences. It was the final race before The Chase, it was at night, it was in Richmond. SPEED decided it was time for a special three hour version of RaceDay.
This extravaganza played up against a thirty minute abbreviated version of ABC's NASCAR Countdown that experienced big problems. Few of the top NASCAR stories were mentioned, ESPN's fascination with Dale Earnhardt Junior continued, and a rock band performance was inserted into the shortened twenty-two minutes of pre-race show. This was the worst NASCAR Countdown of the season by far.
SPEED, on the other hand, brought-in their Trackside team to bolster the announcing corp and establish a second on-location set at the track. Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond, and Larry McReynolds bring a tremendous amount of NASCAR credibility to the airwaves, and their appearance in this special RaceDay worked well.
The one common thread noticed by viewers watching SPEED's NASCAR coverage is that no one takes anything too seriously. Certainly, hard news and personal stories of struggle are covered honestly, but there is always the feeling that fun is lurking right around the corner. Even the good natured teasing between the regular RaceDay and Trackside crews on this show was just fun.
In the end, SPEED had pulled-off a live pre-race program that was longer than many of the Busch races. Fans who like the Wal-Mart approach to TV while they are waiting for the actual race continue to be attracted to RaceDay. There is always something for everyone, there is plenty of time to enjoy it, and when its over...you think it might be fun to do again soon.
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