Friday, November 30, 2007
Friday night at 9PM Eastern Time, ESPN Classic plays host to the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Banquet from New York City.
At 8:30PM, also on Classic, the Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon will have highlights shown from the Thursday function that awards the Rookie of the Year and other sponsor-driven awards.
This Banquet has changed networks as the NASCAR TV contracts have changed, and this will be the first year on ESPN Classic. The program will re-air at Midnight Eastern, 9PM Pacific for the West Coast.
The evening will be hosted by Dr. Jerry Punch, with Kelly Clarkson as the musical guest and David Spade as the comic entertainment.
This function has changed from a rather informal and often entertaining end-of-season blow-out to a fully charged high-dollar sponsor-driven TV show. In the past several years, the drivers have read their acceptance speeches from a TV style Teleprompter.
This page will serve to host your comments about the Banquet on ESPN, and you may add your TV-related opinion before, during, or after the program. Please read the rules on the right side of the main page about posting, and then feel free to add your opinion to this on-going Internet discussion at The Daly Planet.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Last year, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Banquet aired live on TNT and had an edited replay on the NBC Broadcast Network. That was then...this is now.
The 2007 Banquet will be aired live as well, on what has become a network all too familiar to NASCAR fans...ESPN Classic.
The live Banquet program will be aired Friday from 9PM Eastern Time to Midnight on ESPN Classic, and then re-aired immediately on ESPN2. That would be 9PM Pacific Time.
The Banquet and the supposed "media hub-bub" around it in NYC were the subject of an earlier Daly Planet column which can be read by clicking here.
Prior to the Banquet telecast, ESPN Classic will air at 8:30PM highlights of the Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon. Held the day before the Banquet, this function presents the Rookie of the Year and many other NASCAR and sponsor awards.
Dr. Jerry Punch, a man with a very long personal history with NASCAR, will be the Master of Ceremonies for the Cup Banquet. Along with ESPN, this is Punch's first year back on the NASCAR scene after a long absence working on other assignments for ESPN and ABC. He has always been a good friend of the sport.
Singer Kelly Clarkson will be the musical performer. She was featured in a concert before the Daytona 500 this season, and also cut a promo seen frequently during the race telecasts.
One interesting note is that actor and comic David Spade will be performing as well. Spade is currently featured on a primetime CBS TV series. CBS does not air any NASCAR-related programming, but Spade is very open about the fact that he is a hardcore NASCAR fan and an avid viewer of the races. Over the past several seasons, this "comic" assignment at the Cup Banquet has been a tricky one.
The Banquet itself has been a hot topic, and for good reason. Bruton Smith is suggesting Las Vegas as a fun alternative to the "alien" environment of NYC for most folks. The NYC expenses are very high for both the teams and the media. Other than the locals, it is almost prohibitive for the fans. In the age of the Internet and other means of instant global media exposure, Las Vegas definitely has a good case to plead.
But, NASCAR remembers why it came to NYC in the first place, and seemingly wants to wait until the NASCAR Hall of Fame complex is built in Charlotte to "maybe" consider moving the Banquet. With lots of financial commitments on the line by several parties, having all three national series banquets in Charlotte would put a lot of money in the Greater Charlotte area's pockets.
On the TV side, earlier this season The Daly Planet wrote about ESPN Classic. The reason was simple. In January of this year, ESPN stopped creating original programming for this network. Essentially, ESPN Classic was banished to re-airing things ESPN already owned and nothing more.
The website Wikipedia documents June of 2007 as the final ending of all original shows on ESPN Classic. It calls the fate of the network itself...uncertain.
When we wrote about it a while back, there was little doubt in our minds that one big "NASCAR on ESPN" problem already existed. The scheduling commitments of both ESPN and ESPN2 were already huge, and we felt that live NASCAR programming was simply not going to fit on-the-air when it was supposed to be shown.
We suggested being proactive, changing the name of ESPN Classic to ESPN3 and making a commitment to NASCAR programming whenever it needed to be shown live. This would include pre-race shows and races scheduled to air when ESPN2 had live events running long.
It would also include post-race broadcasts that would allow live coverage and interviews when ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC had other programming commitments. In other words, when the "big boys" had to leave by contractual obligation, the NASCAR fans would still have a place to go for the stories of the race to be told. Well, it was an interesting idea.
After the laughter faded, ESPN had few problems early-on because they only carried the Busch Series races live. Then, all of a sudden, the final seventeen races of the NEXTEL Cup Series landed on ESPN and ABC at the same time the college football season began. Needless to say, all hell broke loose.
The chaos is documented in a Daly Planet column of October 28th entitled "ESPN Pushes NASCAR To The Back Burner." You can click on that title for a direct link to the column. Please make sure and view some of the reader comments for the true flavor of that special moment in time.
ESPN mutilated the final three months of both the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series like no TV network had ever done before. Practices for both series were routinely not televised. This included sessions of Cup practice for the "Chase" races. NEXTEL Cup "Happy Hour" was joined in progress for "Chase" races because of football.
The NASCAR Countdown show for the Busch Series races was usually either switched to ESPN Classic or lost entirely to college football. On ESPN2, Countdown was routinely scheduled three hours after a noon football game began. As we all know, a live game takes three and one half hours or more. It was often more.
ESPN will never live down the Memphis fiasco, where they actually pulled live NASCAR off the air during the Invocation before the race. While the people at the track might have been praying for a safe race, viewers nationwide were praying for someone in Bristol, Connecticut to get a clue.
The NASCAR fans prayers were actually answered, as one good tackle allowed the football game to suddenly end and the race to magically appear again just before the first lap. The Iowa Hawkeyes now have a special place in NASCAR folklore.
On the ABC side of things, fans flooded The Daly Planet with reports of ABC stations covering the pre-race show of "Chase" races with local news. Other stations simply left races that ran past 6PM and began their local news broadcast as if nothing had happened. It was, quite simply, a mess.
It was quickly apparent that the supposed "synergy" between ESPN and their over-the-air broadcast cousins at ABC was not exactly what it was cracked-up to be. Some local stations were even running news updates during caution flag periods.
The final straw for many was ABC being forced to leave the air at 6PM without any post-race interviews of the "Chase" drivers or the other drivers involved in the story of the race. Several times, Jerry Punch assured viewers that tuning to ESPN would get them the additional interviews he knew they wanted.
Instead, what fans got was more of an overwhelming feeling from the on-air announcers on ESPN shows from SportsCenter to PTI that NASCAR was "beneath" them. ESPN News did the absolute worst job of integrating regular NASCAR coverage into its news line-up.
That network was simply dominated by college and pro football during the critical Saturdays and Sundays of the "Chase." To ESPN News, NASCAR did not exist as a priority, even as the races played-out on ABC and the company spent tens of millions of dollars to produce the events.
Now, after all of the chaos of this first ESPN season, we have the NEXTEL Cup Banquet. Airing Friday on ESPN at 9PM we find live NBA Basketball. Over on ESPN2, believe it or not, we find live college football on a Friday night.
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Banquet is getting bumped to ESPN Classic because Fresno State is playing New Mexico State starting at 5PM Pacific Time on a Friday. Let's just repeat that one more time...5PM on a Friday night out West.
Of all the strange scenarios we could have scripted in this wild year of NASCAR TV, is there any one stranger than this?
The Banquet is bumped to a network that ESPN said would not be involved in any NASCAR telecasts because of a sport that ESPN said would not be a problem to any live NASCAR programming.
What a way to close-out the first season of a billion dollar TV contract.
Note: There will be a live page for in-progress comments during the NEXTEL Cup Banquet. The page is now open for your comments.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email email@example.com if you wish not to be published. Please read the rules on the right side of the main page prior to posting, and thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
This week in New York City, in addition to NASCAR Champions Week, the Reuters News Agency was hosting the annual "Reuters Media Summit."
This end of the year event gives CEO's and other senior management figures an opportunity to sum-up the performance of their company for the past season, and look forward to the future. One of the CEO's was Brian France, from NASCAR.
In both video and print interviews, Mr. France spoke about some of the television issues that have been discussed here at The Daly Planet since February. His words were actually very encouraging.
Mr. France first addressed the new NASCAR TV partner, ESPN. He began by saying that ESPN was in the midst of a "learning curve" about NASCAR on TV. He followed that up with the reason why.
"The production and fan expectation they (ESPN) have to be at is much higher than before," said France. "They are finding that out." The way that both ESPN and NASCAR are finding that out is quite interesting. France suggested that fans have become more demanding and vocal since ESPN last covered NASCAR in 2000.
France stated that he would like to see ESPN do more sophisticated graphics, more detailed commentary, and more original programming. That refrain may sound quite familiar to Daly Planet readers.
The best part of this interview is that the CEO of NASCAR is finally talking TV after a long season of silence. It seems he is clearly aware that things are not exactly the way he thought they would be in the first year of this new TV contract. That is a big bonus, when someone who is pulled in so many directions can speak to a media issue like this clearly and in an informed manner.
In continuing the interview, France addressed other TV elements in the overall NASCAR package. The next question asked was about a possible cable TV network in the future, and France was focused in his remarks.
"We have a (TV) license agreement that is with SPEED Channel, a News Corp. asset, that is in 70 million homes," said France. "We would love to expand our programming on that channel, and we are working with them to do that."
In terms of TV, Mr. France made a statement to SPEED Channel in very clear terms. The door is open to grow the outstanding weekend programming the network originated from the NASCAR tracks into additional programming during the weekdays.
In much the same way that viewers of ESPN and now the NFL Network enjoy the historic and often times humorous NFL Films presentations, the hope is that SPEED will open-up and allow additional strategic NASCAR-oriented programming in 2008.
There has been some speculation that the network has enough content to support a SPEED2 offshoot, which could perhaps continue to grow the kind of lifestyle and original programming ventures that SPEED has recently found to be so successful. There is no doubt that a strong market exists for these type of programs, and that SPEED has been one of the more successful networks in tapping into this genre.
It would have been nice if Mr. France dealt with some specifics, but that is not really his role in this equation. He has several veteran executives who oversee the TV contracts, the NASCAR TV partners, and the NASCAR Images production company.
All season long, ESPN has been fantastic in returning email to The Daly Planet for even the smaller requests about scheduling or talent assignments. There certainly have been differences of opinion along the way, but that is to be expected in a subjective business like TV.
Following Mr. France's remarks, Reuters contacted ESPN to see what they would like to add to the story in terms of their part of the NASCAR TV package. The single line in the news story about the France interview told the tale. "ESPN could not be reached for comment."
This is a shame, because it would have been the perfect time for an ESPN executive to back-up Mr. France's comments with some positive feedback about NASCAR and a commitment to return next season with an even stronger TV production team.
The countdown clock at Jayski.com says we are seventy-nine days away until the first Nationwide Series race in Daytona. This event will be produced by ESPN, and give us the first peek at the network's new Infield Studio team.
At Daytona in 2007 that consisted of Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty. Let's hope Mr. France's well chosen words can make a difference in 2008.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish not to be published. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page, and thanks for stopping by and leaving your opinion.
Apparently, the NASCAR "media tour" of NYC this week has been very busy on a lot of entertainment and news TV programs.
Readers have been sending email about lots of appearances, and I certainly need help when it comes to those types of shows. So, here is it...your opportunity to help us get a handle on the who and where and when this week in NYC.
Please post your description of what TV program you saw a NASCAR driver, owner, crew chief or whoever on this week in NYC. That will help us put together a rough survey of how the NYC media crowd treated the sport. and if the appearances helped or dented the NASCAR exposure level.
To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENT button below, and then follow the simple instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page and then add your opinion about "Champions Week" in NYC right here on The Daly Planet.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Run for the hills! The end is near! Those mean "TV people" are going to make you pay thousands of dollars to see NASCAR in High Definition next season.
Well, HDTV is always good for scary headlines in the newspapers, but for sports fans there is very little to worry about. In fact, the future of HDTV and free sports on TV is about to blossom.
Lots of questions have been coming our way about HDTV since SPEED announced it will be changing over to HD throughout 2008. Many NASCAR fans are confused about all the things that are being said and heard in the media. Actually, its pretty simple.
Let's first talk about those of you who still receive local TV stations over-the-air. That's right, you are the few proud remaining members of the "TV antenna on the roof" club. In today's world, your club is about thirteen million homes in a universe of over two hundred million TV sets.
Your local TV station transmits over-the-air in an old style "analog" signal that has been the standard since TV began. That will end by February of 2009, which is the timeline set by the Federal Government for TV stations to change over to digital broadcasting.
Just like rotary phones that suddenly could not dial on the new digital phone systems, the same is true for your good old four hundred pound RCA TV set from 1984 sitting in the corner of the den. Take a deep breath, and make it a nice planter.
While there is a converter that can make a digital TV signal work on your analog TV, what is the point? This technology is here to stay, and is now priced in the four hundred dollar range for an HDTV set with a tuner capable of receiving over-the-air signals. That last part is going to be the interesting change for the future.
For those of you with cable TV and no antenna on your roof, only one thing changes. Your cable system will slowly start to offer the same cable networks you watch now in HD. These side-by-side broadcasts will allow you to compare the standard cable signal with HD. As you will see, format of the picture is wider and resembles a movie screen. The big change comes when you step-up and get your first HDTV set.
Then, as many of my friends have said, there is no going back. The HDTV picture is amazing, and the new "aspect ratio" of the TV is easy to get used to watching. Combined with the stereo signal delivered on most live TV sporting events, this new package is a big improvement over the previous way of watching sports on the big screen.
Cable watchers who choose not to buy a new set for 2008 will still be able to watch all the NASCAR TV events and programs, buy why not invest? Before you start telling me that money is tight, let me clue you in on a little secret that HDTV brings.
When your local station begins to transmit in HD, there is a new wrinkle that many of them are doing with great success. They can now provide to your TV over-the-air and free of charge multiple digital channels that come in clear as a bell. How about that for an interesting twist?
Remember the early days of cable TV when we had the famous "A/B switch" behind the TV set? "A" got you the cable input for those channels, and the "B" got you the over-the-air stations. Now, with HDTV, the same thing lives once again, and there is a good reason why.
Your local TV station is going to be able to send as many as four digital channels to your TV set over-the-air. As someone who has seen this technology, let me tell you that the picture is awesome and the fact that it is free also opens-up a lot of possibilities for the future.
Consider this, if you live in a market with five good TV stations, and they each decide to deliver four "sub-channels," you just got twenty free channels of digital television with no charge other than buying your HDTV set. Needless to say, this possibility has the "pay TV" guys scrambling.
What you see right now are companies like DirecTV and HDNet offering HD signals to your home by satellite dish at very low cost. Cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner are also scrambling to add HD network feeds to their line-ups to keep their product attractive. In the blink of an eye, the power has begun to shift back to over-the-air TV stations. Isn't that interesting?
As a consumer, you will soon have multiple HD channels over-the-air from your local TV stations, cable networks converting to all HD, and several new "HD only" networks popping-up on your cable TV line-up.
All of this should be enough to invest in a starter HDTV set, and I am told prices will be at their lowest in the week after Christmas. There are good information pages all about HDTV on the web at the WalMart and Circuit City websites. The bottom line is, shop around. Prices on this technology are continuing to fall.
Don't make it more complicated than it is. If you are a NASCAR fan, get an HDTV set that meets your demands for viewing and also meets the demands of your wallet.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email email@example.com if you do not wish to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Back on November 13th, we talked about the on-going problems this season with several TV series being produced by NASCAR Images.
This company is the official TV production arm of NASCAR, and produces a wide range of shows from Survival of the Fastest on SPEED to Chasing Glory on ESPN2. They also produce the NASCAR programming from the SPEED Stage, including NASCAR RaceDay.
The column, which is linked here, summed-up the issues raised by the NASCAR fans who could not believe that "officially produced" programs from NASCAR were not exactly being truthful when it came to what viewers were seeing.
At issue were not the live shows, or the high-profile projects like the movie "Dale." Fans were angry about what is called "quick turn-a-round" shows. These series are shot on location, and then assembled into programs back at the NASCAR Images headquarters in Charlotte.
This type of series is called "post-produced," and the pressure is on the editors and producers to meet network deadlines for delivery of these episodes. Therein lies the problem.
Even before this company was called NASCAR Images, it specialized in producing weekly shows about the sport. Some older fans may recognize the name Sunbelt Video when Inside Winston Cup Racing was the big weekly show hosted by Ned Jarrett. Alongside of Ned was his young field reporter. His name was Bill Weber.
When The Daly Planet approached those connected with both Chasing Glory and Survival of the Fastest, it was clear that some "issues" had already been discovered by the NASCAR Images management team.
Basically, several editors and producers faced a couple of situations, and made the wrong decision. Both of these series have their new footage shot with film, but require a lot of older footage edited into the programs from other sources. Add in the fact that the TV networks require programs to be in High Definition, and problems pop-up pretty quickly. The bottom line is, the pieces don't fit.
You can't take older video and "make it" into HD. As the transition to this new TV format comes around, lots of producers find themselves having a tough time with the lack of older HD footage. What this means for NASCAR Images is that they have the current footage and sound all ready to go, but still have one little problem.
They need to "fill-in" the parts of the show that are not completely current with what is called "B-roll." That is the older footage used for reference in a show. The problem NASCAR Images ran into is that most of it is not in HD, and the networks will not accept it. That leaves only two choices.
First, shoot new footage to try and bridge the gaps. Second, take some old footage that is in HD and use it, hoping no one will know it is not "exactly" the right thing. Needless to say, the reason we are writing this story is because NASCAR Images made the wrong choice.
What they chose to do was take footage of the same team, or the same driver, or the same track and pretend that is was the day or week that they needed it to be for their story. They purposefully "mis-labeled" NASCAR footage.
In the year of the COT, it seems only fitting that the NASCAR Images producers were also handcuffed by the same thing making the teams crazy. With all the COT testing going on at "non-NASCAR" tracks, the availability of the drivers was at an all time low. Add in "The Chase" format, and the fact that no driver wanted cameras following him as he rose or fell in the ten race stretch.
The NASCAR Images mess only gets bigger when you consider they are waiting on their new offices and production facility to be built as a part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame complex in Charlotte. In the meantime, over one hundred production folks are jammed into a rented office and production facilities next to the highway that was originally intended for about forty.
Needless to say, they run the editing suites and the facilities three shifts a day to turn-out the volume of TV programs, corporate videos, and pre-production for the SPEED shows that has to be done each week. If you are a regular reader of The Daly Planet, you are familiar with the "ten pounds of TV in a five pound bag" theory. This certainly fits that bill.
Unfortunately, even with all this chaos going-on there is no excuse for trying to deceive NASCAR fans with announcer audio and added graphics put over top of footage that was months or even years old. Company policy at NASCAR Images should be put in place to end this practice by individual producers right now.
This issue has upset fans, teams, and even some drivers. Not a good idea to be shown on national TV with a "girlfriend" you no longer have happily having fun at the pool. It certainly is true that these types of production decisions in any TV setting can have consequences much further reaching than any editor or producer could imagine at the time.
NASCAR Images told The Daly Planet enough to let us know they are dealing with the staff members involved. ESPN and SPEED both had no comment. As usual, the mainstream NASCAR media was to busy with other "urgent issues" to even recognize this problem existed. I really don't think too many of them watch the NASCAR TV programs anyway.
Hopefully, our discussion of this topic in a public forum can push things along for next season. Several of the key NASCAR Images folks came to that company from NFL Films, as you can tell by the style of program they produce. Somehow, I just can't believe that Steve Sabol and company would have allowed even one second of mis-labeled footage to walk out of the door and onto the air.
With many TV viewers now questioning the integrity of NASCAR Images as a result of these incidents, the management team in Charlotte needs to use 2008 to re-build the company's relationship with the NASCAR fans.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
The season rolled out of the garage in February at a cold and windy Daytona. It ended ten months later under beautiful South Florida skies with a smiling NEXTEL Cup Champion.
Thirty-eight events and thousands of racing miles comprised the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season. For the three TV networks covering this series, the commitment was huge in terms of manpower and logistics.
As TV packages go, NASCAR rivals tennis and golf as manufacturing hundreds of hours of live national TV coverage in a single season. Luckily, NASCAR racing is just a tad more popular than those two sports.
Putting aside the TV coverage of the practice and qualifying sessions, the Cup races alone generated over one hundred and fifty hours of live TV in 2007. Spread over ten months, it is easy to understand how this sport is very attractive to TV networks.
On this past Sunday afternoon, scheduled up against the early NFL games, ESPN2 presented their NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season-in-review program. As one might expect, it was produced in cooperation with NASCAR Images in Charlotte, the sport's official TV production group.
ESPN is the new "big daddy" of NASCAR. They televise the entire Busch/Nationwide Series, produce a daily NASCAR news program, and host the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup events live on either ESPN or ABC. This year-in-review program was a chance to look back on an incredible season that saw many first time events for both the network and the sport.
Before ESPN's Cup coverage began, they broadcast an outstanding series called Ultimate NASCAR. It gave viewers a chance to bond with Dr. Jerry Punch while he hosted a series of shows on diverse historical topics that really showed-off the best parts of the sport. The editing, sound effects, and grandeur of these programs was often breath-taking.
Now, after a year of hard work, ESPN was going to recap the entire season of the highest level of stock car racing in North America. Viewers could look forward to the ESPN and ABC TV team of Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree and Tim Brewer sharing their views.
Also, summing up their thoughts after a long year would be Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro, two high-profile NASCAR veterans that were the backbone of ESPN's coverage of pit road this season.
Marty Smith would be there to give a good synopsis of an incredible year in NASCAR news. From Junior and Kyle changing rides to Toyota buying their way into Gibbs, this was a huge year of NASCAR news, even without the COT.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to this party. As the NEXTEL Cup year-in-review program began, there was absolutely no mention of ESPN. There were no ESPN announcers on-camera. There were no ESPN graphics. Something was very wrong.
Then, the voice heard next was the "generic voice-over announcer" that fans have come to understand works for NASCAR Images. His booming tones signaled another "NFL Films style" presentation of NASCAR action highly-edited into a set format. This was the NEXTEL Cup season-in-review show?
The 2007 footage began to zip by in a flurry of announcer voices that were never introduced, but magically seemed to be scripted for every moment. Using announcers from all three TV networks, from both radio networks, and from NASCAR Images the on-track action flew by at lightning speed. There was a very good reason it was so fast.
The entire thirty-eight race NEXTEL Cup season was going to be recapped on ESPN in twenty-two minutes. Let me say that once again. The 2007 Cup season was going to be pulverized into twenty-two minutes of video footage.
Twenty-two minutes is the amount of content that is left in a thirty minute show on ESPN after eight minutes are subtracted for commercials. Twenty-two minutes to cover one hundred and fifty hours of racing as a final tribute to the teams, drivers, and fans. Twenty-two minutes.
Regardless of the parties or the TV contract issues involved in this decision, it is completely amazing. NASCAR fans have been knocking down the email door at The Daly Planet asking about off-season TV programming. Other than this show and the Banquet...the NEXTEL Cup landscape is barren.
In the meantime, over at SPEED, NASCAR fans are being treated to daylong "theme blocks" of classics like PINKS, Unique Whips, and Payback. The NASCAR programming is completely gone from a network that basically survives because of the sport.
Can you imagine a two hour version of Inside NEXTEL Cup recapping the season?
How about a studio version of RaceDay where John Roberts leads a discussion looking back at the season with Jimmy, Kenny, and Wendy?
Maybe Steve Byrnes could lead the Trackside gang of Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond through a season-in-review with lots of guests on the phone and some in the studio. Viewers would not mind Junior checking in from the beach on his cell phone.
The point of this column is that NASCAR fans deserved more than just a thirty minute "generic" recap show on one cable network on a Sunday afternoon. This NASCAR Images show was a "throw-a-way" that was probably mandatory in the ESPN TV contract.
What other explanation could exist for a TV network that committed so many resources and so much time to NASCAR? Consider this, the NASCAR pre-race shows on both SPEED and ABC were longer than the year-in-review program. Does that make any sense at all?
SPEED can do a three hour RaceDay from Homestead but no three hour season-in-review? ESPN tells us they have spread NASCAR across five TV networks, an InternetTV site, and their own ESPN.com and Jayski sites as well...but they do not want to waste their time on a look back at their own efforts?
Maybe NASCAR will make a little note about an expanded post-season TV programming mix for 2008. With new sponsors, a new car, and struggling TV ratings, it just might be a good time to expand that season-in-review show to remind fans of the action over the ten months of the season. For this year...its just a little too late.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below or email email@example.com if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by and leave your opinion.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Jimmie Johnson gets to hang-out with some pretty cool people. On the Tuesday following the Homestead Championship Weekend, Jimmie Johnson made an appearance in Bristol, CT at the headquarters of ESPN. Johnson was there as the two-time champ to appear on the network's daily motorsports program, NASCAR Now.
This was a tremendous opportunity to "pay-off" the season for this TV series, which has struggled with both the fans and the ratings. Now, they had the champ on the set, and he was going to stay for the entire thirty minute show.
Over the last ten months, ESPN has used Stacy Compton and Boris Said as the analysts for this series. Compton has worked especially hard, and put himself through a brutal season of driving fulltime in the Craftsman Truck Series while still appearing regularly on this program in Connecticut.
For NASCAR technical experience, the show has brought in Tim Brewer all season. Added to Brewer's experienced perspective were the commentaries on the sport from both Brad Daugherty and Tim Cowlishaw. While Brewer represented the "nuts and bolts" of NASCAR, Daugherty and Cowlishaw offered opinions and predictions.
The bright spot for the show has been the hard work of the reporters. Shannon Spake has provided yeoman's work this season, and is clearly the MVP of this series. Also, throughout "The Chase," ESPN's highest-profile NASCAR veteran Mike Massaro has been flying to Bristol to appear in-person with "Chase" updates each week.
On the hard news side, Marty Smith's "Lead Reporter" role has been complimented by Angelique Chengelis and Terry Blount. David Newton will be the subject of a Daly Planet column later this off-season.
Along with Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace, this daily TV series has been a seemingly endless array of veteran NASCAR personalities who all functioned in support of only one person. Back in 2006, ESPN chose a non-racing experienced host for NASCAR Now. He almost ran this new series into the ground right out of the box.
Erik Kuselias is a stick-and-ball guy, a lawyer by trade, and his second career is sports radio. He had never hosted any type of TV series on ESPN before NASCAR Now. The network knew it was crucial that he be surrounded by experts and analysts all the time simply to be able to provide even the basic information about the sport to the viewers.
On this day, Kuselias introduced Jimmie Johnson as the camera opened wide on the High Definition studio set of NASCAR Now. It was strangely quiet. The reason was simple, no one else was there.
To Johnson's left there was no Stacy Compton, and no Boris Said. Tim Cowlishaw was not waiting to have his turn with the champ, and Brad Daugherty was not standing-by on the satellite video screen to offers his thoughts and questions.
On the TV monitor wall where the reporters appear, there was no Marty Smith or Terry Blount. Over by the Home Depot "garage" on the set, there was no Mike Massaro.
In what may have been one of the worst studio television production decisions of the year, ESPN plunked the NEXTEL Cup Champ on the set with the one person on the entire NASCAR Now staff who knows absolutely nothing about stock car racing.
Here are some excerpts of questions asked to Johnson by Kuselias:
"Were you nervous (before the Homestead race)?"
"Did you know where Jeff was on the track (at Homestead)?"
"Did you have a winning car at Homestead?"
"What are you thinking there (while crossing the finish line for the NEXTEL Cup Championship)?"
"How did you celebrate?"
"How would you feel if you averaged a 5.1 place finish for "The Chase" and came in second (like Gordon)?"
"Boris Said described your life as the American Dream...what other (non-NASCAR) things would you like to do?"
In closing the program segment, Kuselias said "I saw you in the ESPN lunch line...people were happy for you."
Kuselias had nothing more to say to the champ, because he knows nothing about the history or dynamics of NASCAR. He is NASCAR illiterate.
As with most NASCAR professionals, Johnson is made of Teflon and everything thrown at him by uninformed media types like Kuselias just slides right off. Stripped of his Lowe's, Chevy, and NASCAR logos by the ESPN fashion police, Johnson still managed to maintain his cool and take this embarrassing interview in stride.
After ignoring Dale Earnhardt Junior in Homestead, ESPN assigned Shannon Spake to follow-up with Johnson's new teammate. The relief on Junior's face after the race was clear, but his words were absolutely amazing.
"It will be nice to get around good people and quit having to deal with jerks," said Junior about his move out of DEI. This set Johnson up to welcome him with open arms on the show, and predict that both Junior and Casey Mears will wind-up making "The Chase" in 2008. That would be the last thing Johnson contributed.
Out of the next commercial, and with Johnson still on the set, NASCAR Now ran a pre-produced feature talking about the "silly season." Ryan Burr lent his voice to a three minute review of exactly the same content fans can read on Jayski.com anytime.
Amazingly enough, although the Jayski site is wholly-owned by ESPN, it was never mentioned. Imagine choosing to run a three minute "old news" feature with the 2007 NEXTEL Cup Champion sitting silently in the studio.
After the feature, as a closing question, Kuselias turned to Johnson and asked "when did you know you had made it, and could drive with anyone in NEXTEL Cup?" Johnson deflected the question by saying he was still hungry and fearful for his job. Then, he just couldn't resist any longer.
As if to end this absolutely awful interview with a parting shot, a smiling Johnson said "the second Championship might have helped."
With even more NASCAR egg on his face than usual, Kuselias threw to yet another ESPN screaming rock music video to end the 2007 run of NASCAR Now.
One can only wonder what was going through the heads of Marty Smith, Stacy Compton, Brad Daugherty, and the entire on-air crew of this TV series. After working hard all season in support of this racing-challenged host, the entire group was shut-out of the final program. What a bizarre ending for the season.
There were no smart or informed questions of Johnson. Stacy Compton and Boris Said with the champ would have been wonderful. Marty Smith putting things in perspective and asking his brand of questions would have been great. As ESPN's lead racing analyst, Rusty Wallace should have appeared in this program, even with a pre-recorded soundbite about Johnson.
This program should have shown-off the "NASCAR Now family" and put a "face" on this series for 2007. Instead, it ended as it started. Bad questions from a host who cannot hide his "deer in the headlights" look when he has to talk NASCAR.
Rumors of wholesale changes on this series for 2008 have been buzzing around for several weeks now, and certainly the network executives know an upgrade is needed. Someone with a firm hand needs to guide this TV series into mainstream NASCAR coverage, and then push it into the sport as a whole.
The Daly Planet will keep you up-to-date on this situation as it begins to take shape for the 2008 season. We would welcome your thoughts on the performance of NASCAR Now for the past ten months.
To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not want your email address. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page, and thanks once again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
UPDATE: After the comments, I just had to add the pic. It is a small world.
A good coach knows when to call a time-out, so I am calling one right now.
This has been a non-stop run since February, and I certainly appreciate all of you coming along for the ride. This is a good time to take a couple of days and get back to the family and relax with some football.
The Daly Planet will return on Sunday with a new column and take the week to finish the topics that we need to review from the 2007 NASCAR season.
Then, we will begin a series where you can ask questions of different NASCAR TV personalities, and they will answer them...imagine that.
To start off, we are going to speak with Steve Byrnes, Randy Pemberton, and Wendy Venturini when the banquets are over. There will be three or four more names added to that list shortly. Start thinking of your questions for the first three.
Note: For those of you browsing this site for the first time, the comments section is still open on each column. Please feel free to add your opinion.
If you would like to pass along some Thanksgiving words to the hearty group of Daly Planet readers that have kept this site going all year long, this would be the place. I hope everybody has a safe and wonderful holiday, and we will see you on Sunday.
To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the intstructions.
Wednesday we will be back after a two week break with another session of Q&A about NASCAR TV topics.
UPDATE: Thank you for all the great questions and for the conversation. The Daly Planet will return on Sunday with a new column. Have a great holiday.
We will begin on Wednesday mid-morning and run through until Wednesday night.
This page will host the session, and it is being posted at this time so those of you with real lives can post your questions now, and then just check back to see if we have gotten you an answer.
Here are some notes before we start:
1 - There will be a NASCAR Images column shortly about the footage issues.
2 - We are still working to sort-out if we can continue this website for 2008.
3 - There will be a NASCAR Now end-of-season column up shortly.
4 - After Thanksgiving, we will be taking your questions for NASCAR TV announcers who have been nice enough to let us bother them off-season. Details will be out next week, but Steve, Randy...and yes...Wendy are in.
5 - The NEXTEL Cup banquet will air Friday, November 30th from 9 to 12PM Eastern Time on ESPN Classic. It will then re-air on ESPN2 from midnight Eastern until 3AM.
So, there you go. To post your question, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions. Please take the time to read through the questions already asked so we do not have duplicates. Thanks again, this will be fun to do before the holiday when we take a brief break.
Monday, November 19, 2007
The simple reason that we started The Daly Planet this February is because it was the first year of the new NASCAR TV contract.
It was a time of great excitement and anticipation for all parties involved in the big announcement. Back on February 8th, it was an ESPN press release that reminded us "the network's (previous) award-winning, flag-to-flag NASCAR coverage was honored with seventeen Sports Emmy Awards and credited with helping to popularize the sport nationwide."
The head of TV production for ESPN's NASCAR events is Rich Feinberg, and he said "We're not here to re-invent the way NASCAR is covered because we have tremendous respect for what has been accomplished. We are proud of our history, (and will be) pushing the limit up, and upgrading the experience. We're here to serve the NASCAR fans, but also to bring on new viewers."
Dick Glover, NASCAR's VP of Broadcasting said "The huge thing is ESPN and ABC will expose NASCAR to the casual fan, and that's a sweet spot of growth for us."
Taking a moment to remember what ESPN laid-out as their agenda for NASCAR in 2007 can be important in making a judgement about the success or failure of their participation in the sport now that the season is over.
In December of 2006, Feinberg said the ESPN production team had three goals in broadcasting each race. Here they are in the order he presented them:
1 - Documentation of the race from start to finish.
2 - Storytelling, or creating emotion.
3 - Entertainment through technology, graphics, music and directorial approach.
Feinberg said "If we keep that approach, we have a chance to be successful and pick-up where we left off."
In closing, Feinberg added two points. "If the ratings from today (2006) do not improve, I for one will not be very satisfied," he said. He also added that he will read "the blogs" on Mondays to find out how his telecasts were received by the fans.
While that was Mr. Feinberg back then, this is Mr. Feinberg on November 18th of this year while answering reporter Mike Mulhern about why the ESPN produced NEXTEL Cup telecasts failed to increase viewership or TV ratings for the sport.
"I wish I knew (the reason)," said Feinberg. "Our marketing groups are working closely with NASCAR and we're all looking in the mirror and and asking...what's going on?"
"The product, in terms of television, we're proud of the job we've done this first year. Mulhern asked if there were too many TV announcers and too many TV gizmos in the ABC and ESPN coverage. "No, I don't think so," said Feinberg. "We do have a lot of voices and a good mixture of voices and we are proud of that."
"We are in the storytelling business," he continued. "And it's not Team A vs. Team B...we've got 43 teams. So, we've got to find those stories."
To that end, Feinberg talked about his most recent NASCAR announcer. "Just like we want to broaden our audience and bring new viewers in, we've been using a broader perspective in our (on-air) talent," he said. "Like Suzy Kolber, who is a highly respected journalist and very successful on Monday Night Football. I am so proud of what she has done on the air as our host these last seventeen weeks. She works as hard as anyone or harder, and I believe she is being accepted (by NASCAR fans)."
Feinberg has a theory about why TV ratings have been down this season. "I wonder if it's just a time of change," he said. "We've got a lot of the greatest drivers, cult figures if you will, who have retired. Rusty Wallace has hung it up, Mark Martin has cut way back, Dale Jarrett hasn't been competitive lately. Ricky Rudd is hanging it up after some unproductive years."
"The research shows we have done a good job of bringing in new viewers," he continued. "And we're doing well in the coveted younger demographics, but in the 55 plus...(demographic numbers are down)."
Finally, he offered some other suggestions for what might be wrong. "Well, are there too many races, have we lost too many of the great stars, is there too much international now, or is it that (Earnhardt) Junior isn't winning?" he asked.
Mulhern's story was offered on the Winston-Salem Journal's website. Below it were the comments offered by NASCAR fans. They did not seem to agree with Mr. Feinberg about ESPN's coverage of the sport.
"Stop trying to copy Fox...Eliminate announcers with no connection to the sport like Suzy Kolber...ESPN throws too much talk and too many gimmicks into the coverage...The ESPN primary focus should be on covering what is happening on the track...I went to an ESPN marketing seminar and a race broke out...At the end of a race, ESPN does not interview the top five drivers, last Sunday at Homestead they did not interview The Chase drivers...Brent Musburger knows nothing about NASCAR...ESPN has the worst coverage of NASCAR I have ever seen after ten years of watching every race."
This is just a brief sampling of some of the over one hundred comments on this one story on this one website alone. As readers of The Daly Planet know, there has been a wholesale outcry from the fans about some of the things that they believe ESPN was able to "get away with" this season.
So, now it is done. Before we go back and look at the TNT and Fox Sports portions of the Cup races, there is time now to consider Mr. Feinberg's remarks and then ask for your opinion. This time, we will look back at only the final seventeen Cup races of 2007.
This is the big money part of the ESPN and ABC TV deal that cost the network hundreds of millions of dollars in rights fees. The network's Programming Department bought these races, and then gave them to Mr. Feinberg and his group to produce.
Before we ask for your comments, let's take a moment and consider what Mr. Feinberg did not talk about. That would be the performance of his own TV production team. Mr. Feinberg carefully navigated around his own inability to deal with the mounting problems that ultimately resulted in one of the worst produced NASCAR TV telecasts in history. Unfortunately, that would be the 2007 NEXTEL Cup final race in Homestead.
This season, ESPN has left crashed cars on the track with drivers inside and never mentioned them again. I know, because my driver, Dale Jarrett, was one of them. They refuse to update the drivers condition, or speak with them when they leave the Infield Care Center. At Homestead, it happened again many times.
This season, ESPN has refused to tell viewers which car gets a lap back during a caution, the Lucky Dog. They have also steadfastly refused to reset the field after a commercial and before the green flag. Instead, they insert a production element like a recorded team radio blurb or a Draft Track demo. At Homestead, it happened again many times.
This season, ESPN has decided before the race what "story" they are going to tell, and they stick with that theme despite the reality of a major live sporting event unfolding right in front of them. Often, their chosen "story" is so ridiculous to NASCAR fans that it borders on the laughable. At Homestead, as Jeff and Jimmie know all too well, it happened again.
This season, ESPN has refused to do regular "full field" rundowns with the pit reporters who are assigned to the teams. Instead, the silent ticker at the top of the screen is the only way for fans to understand every fifty laps or so where their favorite driver is on the track. There is no way to understand how he got there. At Homestead, this happened again.
Finally, this season it was possible for ESPN to go through an entire four hour NEXTEL Cup race and never mention the name of a driver after reading it one time when announcing his position on the starting grid. No matter what actually transpired in the race, unless certain drivers got into one of the top five positions on the track, they would never be heard from all race long. At Homestead, in the final race of the season, this happened again.
When a network builds coverage of a major event series, they build it from the bottom. They establish a fundamental credibility through their announcers and their TV production team that lets the viewers know that what they are seeing and hearing is the best choice of pictures and commentary available.
When a network uses "TV toys" on a live broadcast, these gizmos are used to embellish, not interfere with the live action. They appear at a time when they make sense, and not at a time when they can be inserted to show-off new technology or pad an announcer's ego.
When a network deals with athletes from any sport, they use a level of restraint and fairness that does not exploit the emotional or difficult moments that professional athletes will always encounter in their careers. The TV network shows both the viewers and the athletes that it knows where to draw the line.
In the last seventeen NEXTEL Cup races of the season, what did you think of ESPN's TV production team? Did some of Mr. Feinberg's points hit home, or did some of the gaps in the coverage get your attention? Think about it, summarize it, and then add it to our end of season comments so we can read and discuss it.
To add your opinion, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not want your email address. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page, and we thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.
The big boys were on the studio set at the NASCAR Images building in Charlotte, NC. It was the Monday after the season had ended, and Kenny Schrader, Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle were ready to get this show done and get on vacation. Only one thing stood in their way...Dave Despain.
All three drivers were fresh-faced and wide awake, a situation questioned by Despain about the level of partying that followed the Homestead race. Greg Biffle answered the question by saying "I only finished thirteenth."
Off to the races for one last time the trio followed Despain's prompting and lent a good focus to the events as they unfolded on the Cup side. Despain was not impressed with the race, and headed into the highlight segment with a rather deep breath.
In this program, Despain added some impromptu questions for the panel about incidents on pit road and Cup Series rookies. This non-scripted conversation was always a hallmark of the "old" INC and often led things into hilarious territory.
For whatever reason, this "new" version of INC, now several years old, has some feeling that viewers are seeing race highlights for the first time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most fans are here for the fun, having seen The SPEED Report, Victory Lane, NASCAR Now, or even SportsCenter.
The entire point of the "old" show was that having fun was the priority, and if the highlights got shown before Allen Bestwick had a coronary...that was OK too. While there are some occasional smiles, that spirit is gone and has never returned.
Schrader tries to move things in a fun direction now and again, but Despain reels the panel in quickly and gets back to the script. In Monday's program, several brief "mini-discussions" popped-up and showed the depth of experience and knowledge of the panel. This aspect is sorely missed on a regular basis.
After the highlights finished, the Toyota subject came up and Waltrip was staunch in his defense of this company's foray into the Cup side. Once again, Schrader was the voice of experience in saying that it was not where Toyota "was" in Cup at present, it was where they are going.
The rest of the show continued as normal, with some inside jokes flying between Waltrip and Schrader. Greg Biffle has become a solid member of this panel, and his serious personality fits well with the hyperactive Waltrip and the laid-back Schrader.
Throughout the season, this show has experienced highs and lows that seemed to be determined by tension among the cast and lack of innovation from the production team. The "hot seat" guest is gone, the viewer questions are boring, and there are no fun features anywhere to be seen.
It has come down to a re-hash of highlights already seen by fans in a TV show all alone on Monday nights with no other NASCAR programming support. It kind of makes it seem even more ironic that the show is from NASCAR Images, where the panel sits surrounded by thousands of hours of NASCAR footage.
In this season-ending program, there were no "out-takes or bloopers" shown going to commercial. There were no memorable moments played back or remembered by the cast. As we have so often seen from NASCAR Images this season, there was only random NASCAR footage edited into a music video. What a complete waste of time.
On that set were two drivers who have participated in this program for the last decade. In this show, they were asked about races, manufacturers and even rookies. What they were never asked about was this show...this series...the last ten years of their lives spent Mondays in the same studio.
It was great that Despain casually made the statement that the show would return next season. It would have been nice if just like the other "final" programs on SPEED, INC would have spent some time and given viewers some retrospective of what had transpired over the last ten months on the set.
Remember, there is no longer running show on SPEED than INC. In this final hour of what had been a very memorable year for a lot of reasons, fans deserved more than just Despain offering each driver thirty seconds to say what he "is doing in the off-season."
When INC returns, let us hope for several things. First, that SPEED places some additional NASCAR programming like Tradin' Paint, NASCAR Performance, Survival of the Fastest, and maybe even a live edition of WindTunnel on Monday nights. The hodge-podge of lifestyle shows likes PINKS and Payback make INC a lonely NASCAR island.
Secondly, that more resources are used to allow some additional show elements. This stripped-down version of INC that was created by an executive no longer at the network should be scrapped. Shoot a feature at the track, bring in a guest, and allow the fans to submit their questions through Internet video. Do something to dust-off this old war horse and make it young again.
The original SpeedVision Executive Producer Bob Scanlon had a simple idea. Get one driver from each NASCAR manufacturer, add a host that could get them talking, and do it on the Monday after each race.
While that idea has changed slightly over the years, the fundamental premise has been proven to stand the test of time. It will be nice to see INC return for another season, and even nicer to see it grow back into the franchise program it was for this network for so many years.
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Fans had hoped that SPEED would make a good choice for the final media guest of the outstanding series Tradin' Paint.
The network did not have to look far to find the perfect candidate. Robin Miller pried himself away from the open-wheel world to stop by Homestead and let his opinion be known.
Both John Roberts and regular panelist Kyle Petty appeared to be pleased to welcome a member of the SPEED Channel extended family. Miller was more "user friendly" than the many NASCAR journalists that had enraged Petty throughout the season.
SPEED added a special touch to this program by playing back thoughts offered by some of the more memorable guests of Tradin' Paint over the last ten months. This was a great feature.
There is no doubt that Miller views NASCAR with a certain level of disdain, but he managed to temper his words and participate in some good and lively discussions on this program. It was exactly what SPEED needed to send this show into the off-season on a high note.
The fireworks started with the discussion of the top 35 rule. Miller offered theory, and Petty offered reality. Petty continues to move this topic over to the business model of keeping some value in the teams, without any franchising system. Miller used the good comparison that the big value of the Indy 500 was that the fastest thirty-three cars started no matter who they were or who owned them.
Ray Dunlap stepped-up to offer thoughts on the past champions provisional and was very clear with his words on this issue. He suggested eliminating it for 2008. Miller offered the point that the owners are going to use anything at their disposal to assure that their teams make the race. Petty tried to agree, but could not resist taking a shot at Dunlap's credibility along the way.
Petty's point was that these rules were decades old, and it was simply time to modernize all the old rules when NASCAR decides to pay attention to this issue. Petty said that under the current system Dale Jarrett has every "freaking right" to use his past champions provisional even if he is several tenths off the pace. Kyle does have a way with words.
In this final program, host John Roberts set a sightly milder tone than some of the knock-down drag-out affairs from earlier in the season. AP Reporter Jenna Fryer and Petty could hardly find any common ground, and Petty basically accused her of fabricating stories. "Can I just leave now?" said Fryer only five minutes into the show.
Nothing, however, will top the Kyle Petty vs. Bob Pockrass from SceneDaily debacle this season. That one had viewers howling and The Daly Planet comments flying for a full week. Pockrass has a personality that, well, kind of gets under your skin a little bit. To Petty, Pockrass is just flat and simply a complete moron.
John Roberts put on his referee hat and waded into a discussion that featured Pockrass questioning everything under the NASCAR sun, often times without the respect or dignity that the Petty family finds very fundamental to the sport. The result was Petty blowing his top on national TV.
Just like Jenna Fryer, Petty accused Pockrass of deliberately making things up in his stories, and told him he was "full of BS." Petty went on to question the NASCAR Media in general, suggesting they manufactured false rumors to feed their publications and websites.
One final memorable moment was when Pockrass suggested Montoya could not win in his first season because of the steep NASCAR learning curve. Petty dismissed him with a wave and said Pockrass did not know the sport, and did not understand that anyone could win on any Sunday. Pockrass said "I guess that includes you too, right?"
On the way out the door, Petty said on SPEED that Pockrass and most of the NASCAR Media spend their time "blowing smoke up people's butts." The bottom line for Petty was, the media was always wrong and he was always right.
That is why a nice, middle-aged man like Robin Miller from the SPEED family was the right choice for this show. They talked about good subjects, each gave their opinions, and the season ended without the potential for post-show festivities. Although, I do think Fryer could take Petty on a good day.
Earlier this season, I called Tradin' Paint "the little TV show that could." Given one additional guest, this show could fill a quality hour on SPEED and re-air on Mondays behind Inside NEXTEL Cup, should that program series return. The key problem for Tradin' Paint is that viewers cannot find it among the multi-channel NASCAR mess of a TV schedule.
John Roberts and Kyle Petty have made this show worth watching all season long. Their guests have almost always made it memorable. With a little polish, a few more resources, and a steady timeslot, Tradin' Paint could finally give SPEED the NASCAR opinion and discussion-style show they have been lacking. This team put a solid TV season under their belts in 2007.
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Sunday, November 18, 2007
There were certainly some high hopes that this final weekend in Homestead would see the ESPN on ABC gang come through with their best telecast of the season.
The stage had been set with an outstanding Busch Series race on Saturday featuring the same announcers, the same TV crew, and the same track. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, for NASCAR fans nationwide...the answer was almost everything.
Sometimes, the poor ESPN guys just cannot buy a break as they try to navigate their way through the twisted world of the ABC local stations. On this Sunday, KABC in Los Angeles, the number two TV market in the US, somehow forgot to show the first thirty minutes of the live NASCAR Countdown pre-race show.
Can you believe it? Even with thousands of angry calls pouring into the KABC and ABC Network switchboards, the fans could not convince the Master Control operator at the station that he probably should switch to the live final NEXTEL Cup race instead of running the children's show the station was airing.
Thirty minutes into the forty-five minute program, the greater Los Angeles area joined the final NASCAR Countdown right in the middle of a Tim Brewer Tech Center update. What a way to kick things off for the West Coast viewers.
The amazing thing is that those viewers missed the best thirty minutes of the entire five hour telecast. Jerry Punch offered a great feature, and Suzy Kolber did her best to lead her cast through the top stories of the weekend. Thankfully, this included both the Truck and Busch Series highlights from the final races.
The only glaring omission by ABC in the pre-race was the lack of any interview or brief tribute to Ricky Rudd. This tough and strong-minded driver still has a big fan base and will be fully retired after the race. Rudd is "old school" and will be missed in the grandstands and around the nation.
When the ESPN race team took over, things from pit road were being followed quite well, but that could not be said for the announcers upstairs in the TV booth. Quickly, Jeff Burton and Martin Truex Jr. had incidents that were first missed, and then brushed aside by the ESPN on ABC crew. It was clear that despite the reality of the situation, it was going to be "all championship all the time" for this race.
Even good old Junior got into the act by being spun coming onto pit road. A yellow flag coming out during green flag pit stops quickly put the network team right over the edge. This set the tone for the night, with the TV crew forgetting to reset the field after a caution. They forgot to even mention who the Lucky Dog was for the first of many times this night.
They were obsessed with the Johnson and Gordon cars, although for experienced race fans there was no drama to be had. As we have said many times this season, how can two sets of announcers at the same track be describing two completely different races?
The radio call of this event had exciting racing, two and three wide action, and lots of updates on drivers from all different teams, big and small. The ESPN on ABC presentation consisted of the top three cars on the track and then Mr. Gordon and Mr. Johnson.
As cars began to fall out of the race, their stories were never updated. After several accidents, no one was interviewed outside the Infield Care Center so fans would know they were OK. Several accidents were very hard hits. This practice used to be a very fundamental part of NASCAR coverage. Now, ESPN cannot be bothered because they have a pre-determined storyline to tell.
It only got worse from there, and it was a shame. Perhaps, too many cooks were trying to create the Homestead "soup" in the TV truck. ESPN never did regular field rundowns with the pit reporters assigned to the drivers. Only the silent ticker at the top of the screen had any reference to what was happening on the track.
In The Daly Planet forum, readers kept asking "how did he get so far back?" or "how did he gain ten places in two laps?" as the disjointed coverage stumbled along. Nothing in the field was being updated except the top three cars and the two points contenders.
As we all know, the key issue that NASCAR fans want the TV networks to understand is that each and every driver is represented in the fans watching the race on TV. No one misses that point more than ESPN, who can literally not mention a driver's name after reading it on the starting grid. How is this possible?
The reason is clear, and has been made clear by this production staff all season long. The network creates a storyline to follow prior to the event, and despite the reality of the race itself, they will not bend. No matter how completely foolish or amateur it makes the announcers appear to be, live NASCAR racing cannot make ESPN change their story. They are simply sticking to it.
At Homestead, the story was the "threat" that Jimmie Johnson was somehow going to mysteriously lose his championship if Jeff Gordon won the race. Jeff would lead one lap, then get more points for leading the most laps, then win the race and it would be the greatest...ok....I can't even deal with trying to type that hype.
The biggest shame of the poor job ESPN did televising this race was the lack of exposure for the fulltime NEXTEL Cup teams that ran hard all season. The stories of both the drivers and the teams went untold in what should have been a balanced and informative multi-hour telecast.
When Jarrett and Reutimann ran well, nothing was said. The drivers still chasing rides for next season were never mentioned. Rudd was never shown. It was just a very poor excuse for network TV coverage of the field in the final race.
Then, to put a cap on the night, only the winner and the new champ were shown crossing the finish line. It almost appeared that the Director did not know where to go or what to do. ESPN had been doing a fine job of showing the lead lap cars racing to the stripe, but that went out the window along with almost any other positive elements of the on-track coverage.
Strangely, we did not see the Draft Tracker at Homestead, where the cars run well over one hundred and fifty miles an hour. Earlier this season, we did see it explaining how Clint Bowyer spun at Richmond while going almost eighty. It was the dreaded low-speed aero push.
Another element missing from both the pre-race and the race itself was Aerosmith. Where they went, why they went, and who made them go was never explained. In the final race of the season after ten long months of being back in the saddle again, Aerosmith had taken their motorcycle song and left the building.
Luckily, the saving grace for this night was Allen Bestwick. He quietly went about interviewing the key players in the championship, and then handled the awards presentations with dignity and his normal good humor.
When the network had additional time to fill, it was Bestwick who waded into the masses and pulled out interviews with Johnson's interim Crew Chief and even the champ's dad and grandmother. Let's face facts, the only thing Allen Bestwick has not done for ESPN this season is change the oil in the TV truck.
Bestwick has done play-by-play for races, been a pit reporter, hosted the NASCAR Countdown show, hosted NASCAR Now and been a feature reporter for that same show. On several occasions, he hosted the pre-race show, did the play-by-play and then handled the post-race segments by himself. If there is a Most Valuable Player award for this season, Bestwick gets the nod.
As we close out the final race of the season, it is tough to defend any of the glaring and almost strange problems ESPN had with this race. How tough is it to tell us who the Lucky Dog is after a caution? How hard is it to reset the field before a restart? Its great to know who was first off pit road, but who stayed out?
Fans want to hear from their driver after an accident. Fans want to hear from their driver when his car is retired from the race. Fans do not need to hear pre-recorded team radio conversations, pre-recorded crowd noise, or pre-recorded team speeches after the engines are started. All of this combines for one big mess.
Later in the off-season, we will be discussing the ESPN NEXTEL Cup season as a whole, but for right now we need time for the memory of Homestead to fade. I never saw my favorite driver after the green flag. I did not see him finish. He was never mentioned in a race recap. I never saw one of his pit stops.
My personal memory of Homestead is watching the race ticker to see where my driver was, and coming to the grim realization that the official NASCAR TV network of The Chase for the Championship was not going to mention him. He never ran in the top five and his name was not Johnson or Gordon.
Halfway through the race, if I did not have to write this column, I would have turned the TV off and never turned it on again. I wonder how many people across the nation, wearing the t-shirt and ball cap of their favorite driver, reached for the remote and voted on the ESPN coverage with one swift click. What a season.
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This Sunday at Homestead marks the end of the first season of NEXTEL Cup racing on ESPN and ABC. The company bought the final seventeen races of the season, including the entire Chase for the Championship.
The NASCAR Countdown pre-race show this week will be forty-five minutes long and begin at 3PM Eastern Time. Suzy Kolber is listed as the host, and Brad Daugherty will be alongside of her in the Infield Studio.
Race coverage will begin at 3:45PM, with the green flag falling around 4PM. The race is scheduled until 8PM, which will hopefully include coverage of the championship trophy presentation and post-race interviews.
Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree will anchor the ABC coverage. On pit road will be Mike Massaro, Allen Bestwick, Jamie Little, and Dave Burns.
This announce team is coming off a very good Busch Series telecast from Saturday afternoon, and they have good weather and a race track in outstanding condition. These ingredients should combine to produce a good telecast. Fans should be watching for ABC to spread the attention around to cars in the race not contending for the championship, but in the news for other reasons.
This is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s final ride in the DEI #8, Ricky Rudd's official last race and several other drivers are still without a ride for 2008. There are several storylines to follow.
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Mike Joy is a talented racing TV veteran, and perhaps the most professional NASCAR announcer presently on network television. Darrell Waltrip is a former champion who is continuing to enjoy his re-birth as a TV analyst that has led him into a wonderful and financially rewarding world.
Dave Despain currently enjoys his status as the single host of WindTunnel on Sunday nights. This series is his franchise. He does not enjoy his status as the single host of Inside NEXTEL Cup on Monday nights. This series will never be his franchise.
Sunday morning Despain hosted a special live version of WindTunnel from the SPEED studios in Charlotte, NC. Joy was alongside, and DW was on a satellite liveshot from the Homestead track. It was an opportunity for Despain to vent all his NASCAR frustrations, and he did just that for the better part of the hour.
The reason The Daly Planet does not normally discuss this program is that it is not NASCAR themed. We do, however, view it each week and continue to appreciate the fact that Despain tries his best to spread TV exposure around to all forms of racing.
Despain works best with Robin Miller, when both can provide support for the other to continue to harrass NASCAR on every possible point. In this program, Mike Joy refused to play the Miller role and took every NASCAR question poised to him by Despain with a very big grain of salt.
The first question asked to DW was not done until fifteen minutes into this one hour show. In that same time, Despain asked Joy only one or two questions. The criticism of Despain is that his endless talking and control issues always sink every meaningful conversation.
DW answered some hard questions, but it was clear that Despain was there to poke the big NASCAR bear with a stick. Mike Joy tried to ask DW questions from the Charlotte studio, but Despain quickly stepped-in and took control, which included telling DW that he had ten seconds to answer a question. Needless to say, DW took his sweet time and made sure Despain understood not to do that again.
It was Waltrip that quietly raised what was perhaps the best point of the entire program. It was the contrast between the intensity and the agressiveness that we saw in the past and the current Hendrick Racing "love fest" for the championship. DW did not mince words when he said NASCAR "sucked the life out of the sport" by clamping down on the personalities of guys like Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.
His point was that NASCAR itself had made this championship "vanilla" through their own actions with the intense and passionate drivers in the sport. His words were a big public shot across the NASCAR bow on national TV, and really made this show memorable.
Joy and Despain struggled on the same set, as both are professional TV hosts. Joy wound up asking as many questions as Despain, and each time Despain stepped-in and tried to regain control. Several times, it was not only obvious, it just was not very professional.
Once DW departed, Despain began to take viewer calls that instantly left NASCAR and went directly to Formula-1. Joy and Despain were off into Formula-1 land with a the NASCAR TV viewers who tuned-in for this special NASCAR edition scratching their heads.
It was great to see Mike Joy on TV again, and SPEED fans can only wonder what Inside NEXTEL Cup could become if Joy was at the helm. This Despain-hosted show is struggling, and fans only had to see and hear Joy again to rekindle their great memories of this TV professional.
Chip Ganassi stepped onto the show live from Homestead and addressed the success of Hendrick Motorsports. It was nice to see someone with an ego the size of Ganassi exchange plain talk with Mike Joy about the COT and the 2008 season. Gansssi was a good guest to address the influx of open-wheel drivers and he spoke plainly about the fact that most of these drivers paid their dues, just in another series.
Joy once again took control of the show and led Ganassi into a good discussion about Juan Pablo Montoya and his rookie season. Despain stepped-in and could not resist taking a shot at Ganassi about Montoya and left the interview with "Robin Miller says hi."
This "extra shot" is Despain's Achilles Heel, and it was never more apparent than when he was seated alongside of the classy Joy on the set.
DW returned to address the Penske Racing situation and talked again plainly about the tough racing with the COT, and the fact that "The Chase" should only be about five races long. He also suggested that the Cup regulars should not be scored in the Busch Series Championship. Waltrip was on a roll, and he was not going to stop.
Without prompting, he reinforced that the COT needs additional work, and Mike Joy asked him about the safety issues of the COT. Joy continued with his own beliefs about the cost-saving and racing issues with this new car.
DW summed up the fact that NASCAR is at a crossroads, and that the fan base needs some assurance that the sport will maintain the excitement and intensity that put it on the map. Despain is not a NASCAR fan, and he moved onto another question without reinforcing that the top NASCAR on Fox announcer was saying NASCAR was in crisis.
The reason Despain moved on was clear. It was his time to talk about more Formula-1 racing. Off he went to the races, talking on a NASCAR Sunday about some bizarre Formula-1 story that none of his viewers were interested in at all.
Despain was very clear that this was the biggest story of the year, but then someone said something in his ear. He was not happy, but sent the show down to Homestead so the RaceDay trio of panelists could contibute their biggest NASCAR stories of the year. Because Despain rambled on about F-1 so long, Mike Joy did not get to participate.
The bottom line about this show is that SPEED needed to decide in advance if this program was going to be NASCAR themed, or not. Because they did not, the program was disjointed and made no sense. It was as though NASCAR was being forced on Despain, and he was doing everything possible to get if off "his show."
In the end, the contributions of DW and Mike Joy proved to be valuable, and brought the content to this program that the NASCAR fans wanted to see. Despain's rant about the Formula-1 cheating scandal was mis-placed, and threw the program off balance.
This is the only Daly Planet review of this program, and there was no doubt if SPEED had committed to make this an all NASCAR show, it could have shined.
Instead, what was left for the viewers was a "mish-mash" of NASCAR experts surrounded by Despain and his unyielding Formula-1 agenda. One wonders what Mike Joy and DW could have done alone with live phone calls from fans and without all the ego and control issues on the set. Despain is a talented man, it is just a shame he cannot get out of the way on the air and let others shine.
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Sunday at 12:30PM SPEED produces what may be its highest-profile NASCAR TV show in history. NASCAR RaceDay will offer three hours of live programming from Homestead, FL.
John Roberts will host this telecast as usual, with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. The popular Wendy Venturini will provide the live news and interviews from the garage area and pit road. Only, this one RaceDay will be a bit different.
SPEED is pulling out all the stops for this expanded version, and will add to the line-up Steve Byrnes, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond from the Trackside crew. In addition, we will see Hermie Sadler, Randy Pemberton and Bob Dillner offering information as well.
Love him or hate him, NASCAR.com InternetTV host Ricki Rachtmann will also be along to participate in the final race picks of the year.
RaceDay has been having a good run, but has been plagued by technical problems on some of their highest profile shows. This is the day at the track when the demand for electricity, RF transmission space, and wireless communication is at an all-time high. The SPEED stage is not part of the main TV compound, but a "stand alone" TV venue on the outside of the track.
Like the ESPN on ABC crew, SPEED faces the challenge of balancing the championship news and information with the other big stories of the day. There is a ton of news and NASCAR moments in history that will be unfolding before this race. From Junior's last ride with Budweiser in the "8" to Ricky Rudd calling it a career, it will be interesting to see how SPEED prioritizes this information.
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Saturday, November 17, 2007
The final NEXTEL Cup race of the season will be previewed by a one hour live edition of NASCAR Now at 10AM Eastern Time.
This ESPN2 show will be hosted by either Erik Kuselias or Ryan Burr. The one hour Saturday preview show for the Busch Series was hosted by Burr. The weekend studio analyst for this TV series is Craftsman Truck Series driver Stacy Compton.
This program is said to be featuring the entire ESPN on ABC staff including the booth announcers Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree. Brad Daugherty and Tim Cowlishaw will also be making appearances for commentary purposes.
Also at the track, NASCAR Now will be using the ESPN on ABC pit reporters including Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Dave Burns, Mike Massaro and Allen Bestwick.
This is a normally scheduled edition of NASCAR Now, although the series did add a new live show Sunday night after the championship race at 10PM on ESPN.
This program series on ESPN2 has endured some tremendous struggles this season in on-air talent, production decision-making and overall credibility. The rumor is that immediately after the season is over, ESPN will be making drastic changes to the series in order to prepare for the 2008 NASCAR season.
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It was a simple suggestion from my girlfriend. I was searching for a way to ask NASCAR fans to express their true feelings about this year's TV coverage going into the final race weekend of the season.
Her words were brief and to the point. "NASCAR fans...make your demands," she suggested. That sounded good, so I wrote the column in this link.
Little did I know the incredible outpouring of emotion and information that would be the result. From across the country, from Canada, and even from Alaska the comments began to build. It was clear that we hit a nerve.
Those contributing were sometimes veteran fans of twenty years or more, and sometimes new race fans brought into the sport when The Chase moved onto broadcast TV a couple of years back. The interesting thing is that almost all of them focused on exactly the same points.
Fans felt very strongly that all teams should be considered equal regardless of their place on the track. They wanted to remind the TV networks that groups of fans, dressed in their team colors, did not care if their driver was fifth or fifteenth as long as they knew what was going on in his race. Often, they felt the networks got "tunnelvision" and focused on the top five cars for the entire event.
Daly Planet reader "Charlie" suggested the network TV guys take a walk around the track before the race and look at the fans. In t-shirts, hats, and many other team colors the TV guys would see that every driver was represented. "Charlie's" point was that the TV networks need to understand the viewers are just like the fans at the track. Every driver is represented among the millions of fans watching on TV.
This theme continued with pleas for additional full field rundowns. "Sandie" said the one thing she never wants to hear from a NASCAR TV announcer is "where did he come from?" when a car works into the top five. Fans should already know "where he came from" and its the job of the network to provide that information, she maintains.
Several times this season, cars have been involved in incidents on the track and then never heard from again. My favorite driver, Dale Jarrett, was actually left sitting on the track completely crashed and still in the car.
Viewers never knew what happened until Kyle Petty later apologized for the incident. Jarrett is not only a former champion, he is also a part-time ESPN NASCAR announcer. Fans asked that the TV networks "pay off" the stories of every car that is no longer in the race.
This led to the very valid point of not updating the condition of drivers involved in on-track incidents. Imagine a pro football or baseball game where a key player leaves due to injury and his condition is never updated. It does not happen.
Just as one of the duties of sideline reporters in football is injury updates, the same is true of the pit reporters on NASCAR telecasts. Tell us how our key athletes are doing and do it every single time.
The word "time" was mentioned a lot, and for only one reason. NASCAR has been cheating the start times of both the Saturday and Sunday races back to get more TV viewers. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. TV ratings are down across the board for the sport. Fans asked that NASCAR return to the traditional 1PM Eastern Time starts for a wide variety of reasons.
Since the start times were cheated back, the end of many races often comes after 7 or 8PM in the evening. While this might thrill some TV executives and Ad Salesman, it disrupts the real lives of the fans. "Robbie" from Atlanta said "having just enough time to run the race in perfect weather cheats the fans out of a full length race if it rains."
In real life, fans move off to dinner and begin getting ready for the week ahead, even as the trackside lights come on and the host TV network tries to keep the audience. As fans know from this season, the later start times have been a disaster.
The comments from the fans kept coming until they numbered well over one hundred. The email from media personalities and reporters also came my way. They suggested that we had provided for both NASCAR and their TV partners a free focus group.
Fan "demands" ranged from general respect for the sport to mandatory post-race interviews, qualified announcers and the use of side-by-side commercials next season for uninterrupted coverage. It was clear that this TV season was perhaps not NASCAR's finest hour.
Now, we have this final post on The Daly Planet before the big race. The same fans that suggested change and wrote so clearly about the TV issues this season will be watching the ESPN on ABC TV crew as they produce the Homestead finale.
It certainly will be interesting to see if anything changes, and if the suggestions of the fans have trickled down into the ESPN TV compound. Please join us during or after the race to let us know how you think this final telecast was produced.
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