Saturday, September 1, 2007
Technical Woes Continue To Chase ESPN
After a stellar performance from a TV engineering standpoint this season, ESPN's NASCAR efforts are hitting some speedbumps in the parking lot. Friday's NASCAR Now featured reporter Terry Blount speaking about the news on Joe Gibbs racing and Toyota. Well, he spoke for a little while.
Twice in his on-camera report, color bars appeared on the video from the track, and eventually the network lost Blount's audio as well. Show host Erik Kuselias said it was so hot in California, even the TV equipment was melting. All this while SPEED was originating twelve hours of live coverage from the same location.
After the network lost its entire race feed from Bristol last Friday night, you would think things like this might be high on the agenda to fix. Several viewers emailed The Daly Planet about other glitches like a missing Kyle Petty interview teased twice by Kuselias. No explanation was offered about why Kyle went missing.
ESPN just seems to love NASCAR violence, as it proved earlier this season in California. NASCAR Now replayed David Reutimann's crash over fifteen times in thirty minutes the day after it happened. In any other sport, an unconscious or injured athlete would be shielded from the type of tabloid exploitation ESPN has become infamous for in their first NASCAR season back in TV land.
With the series returning to California, ESPN dug out the footage once again so we could all see Reutimann in the car not moving. Then, the network forced normally reliable reporter Shannon Spake to make a complete fool out of herself on national television. Apparently, since ESPN is signing the paychecks, she had no choice.
"Last time this series visited this track, we can all remember images of your horrific accident in Turn 3. How often do you think about that?" asked Spake dramatically. Reutimann got a look on his face that TV viewers have come to know as the "ESPN reporters are idiots" look. Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and many other drivers have worked hard this season on perfecting this half-hearted smile mixed with the "I am going to remember this one" look.
"Not until somebody brings it up." was his response. Even though Reutimann clearly said no, it was not enough for ESPN. They want an answer that fits their agenda. So, Spake continued on with "do you think about it when you get onto the racetrack?" Reutimann said simply "no." He should have said, what part of no don't you understand?
Friday's show continued with the "human TV content generator" Tim Cowlishaw from Fontana looking once again like he had a very long night in adult beverage land. Kuselias then hosted an interview with Ricky Rudd that had the driver taking deep breaths and answering the kind of questions that would be asked by a local station TV reporter about his past and his future. What a shame.
The Friday version of ESPN's NASCAR Now is the "kick-off" show for each NASCAR weekend. Now, it can be compared to ESPN's College Gameday "kick-off" show for college football season. For NASCAR, an acknowledged racing illiterate host standing in front of a video wall in Bristol, CT. For college football, an entire remote TV crew and custom-made set on-site in Virginia with hundreds of live fans screaming and cheering.
The treatment of NASCAR this season by ESPN, except for the live racing itself, has been second class and they know it. ESPN certainly knows how to produce live events, and certainly knows how to write press releases saying how great things are. Now that college football season is underway, and the NFL season is on the verge of starting, NASCAR may shortly find itself relegated to an even more "back-burner" position on the ESPN stove.
Next week, ABC Sports is showing the Oregon vs. Michigan live college football game before the NEXTEL Cup race from Richmond, VA on Saturday night. Should this game run long, both ESPN and ESPN2 are already showing live college football. With nowhere to go, NASCAR will race for the fans in the stands, on the radio, and on the pay-per-view TV packages.
Beginning September 22nd, live college football precedes the Busch Races on Saturday afternoons on ESPN2. This will continue for the rest of the season. NASCAR is discovering that this is not Fox Sports, not TNT, and not even the old NBC days. This is ESPN, and NASCAR is just another sport sandwiched in between established events that have been on the network for many years.
As rain-outs, red flags, and even lots of caution periods begin to show live racing's problems with TV coverage, it should be interesting. There will be a lot of decisions to make over the next couple of months for ESPN and ABC on-the-air. Maybe with a little more heat on the burner, NASCAR can get moved to the front of the ESPN stove.
In closing Friday's edition of NASCAR Now, ESPN took it upon themselves to show Reutimann's crash once again. There he was, possibly hurt and unconscious in High Definition. This time, it was in a music video. Nice touch.
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