Saturday, November 17, 2007
SPEED Falls Into The Hype Machine
How many times in sports have we seen it? Two golfers are promoted as going head-to-head on Sunday and they don't even wind-up in the same foursome. Neither one wins the tournament. One ends the day just happy to be off the course.
Two college football teams are touted in the pre-game show as being carbon copies of each other. This game could be epic. Instead, the game is a blow-out and the stands are almost empty in the final quarter.
Experienced TV networks understand that they do not "know" the story of the event in advance. No matter how hard they try, they will never "know" what will unfold once the live action begins.
It is a fundamental truth in sports TV that to focus on one match-up, to focus on one conflict, or to focus on one story before a live event will always get you burned. Friday night, it was SPEED's turn to find that out the hard way.
Krista Voda focused the pre-race show on the Hornaday vs. Skinner match-up without SPEED's normally outstanding balance in coverage. Both reporters Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander spent the entire thirty minutes talking about seemingly the same subject.
The network's boxing theme of two heavyweights going into battle did not take into account two elements. The rest of the field and Lady Luck. Ultimately, both would play significant roles in upsetting SPEED's pre-planned storyline.
SPEED also dusted off Toyota's biggest shill Darrell Waltrip and tried to pass his presence off as bringing "the big time" to the network. Please. SPEED has invested themselves in this series for years and did not need someone who is not a Truck Series owner, participant, or TV announcer to lend a helping hand.
Before the pre-race was over, SPEED once again made a very strange decision. Instead of giving us a final season run-down of the field with additional interviews, we got a sponsor plug. Jack Roush stopped by to introduce Colin Braun as his new Truck Series driver for next season. The only question was why?
This Ford sponsored race is the last one of the year. The final one. The last pre-race show, the last starting grid, the last time for pre-race interviews. Instead of Todd Bodine, Jack Sprague or Ted Musgrave we got a live video press release.
Two of the biggest stories were Jacques Villeneuve driving in this race and Whelen Modified champ Donny Lia stepping into a Craftsman Truck Series ride. Neither were told. The network had been pulled into an off-balance focus on only one story.
Transitioning from the pre-race to the race itself really told the tale. There were a lot of interviews and a lot of news that was still sitting on the starting grid untouched. That is rare for a network like SPEED that has been delivering high-quality telecasts all season long. Why they got caught-up in this hype is anyone's guess.
Once the race telecast had begun, the story was quickly told. Mike Skinner's problems cost him the championship early, and it was over. Now, the network faced the situation we spoke about earlier.
The single story that SPEED had chosen to focus on and promote was suddenly gone. Now, they had almost an entire race to face-up to the stories unfolding on the track that the network had neglected to cover in the pre-race show.
Rick Allen and Phil Parsons have certainly dealt with a lot of situations this season, and they were up to the challenge of re-orienting the viewers to the reality of the racing on the track. Michael Waltrip continues to be a controversial figure on this series for SPEED. Like him or hate him, Waltrip brings enthusiasm and energy to the telecast that are sometimes lacking from the laid-back Parsons.
After the race ended, SPEED once again fell victim to their pre-race planning. It certainly is hard to compare SPEED even one time to ESPN, but this endless focus on the championship regardless of the overall stories of the race certainly seemed to be almost "ESPN-ish." The pit reporters and the announcers focused on Skinner, Hornaday, and the Harvicks despite the brief and mandatory race winner interview with Johnny Benson.
The strange thing is that SPEED had a lot of time available, and lots of drivers with good stories to tell. Other than the Championship trophy presentation, SPEED declined to follow-up on the very drivers that they featured all season long.
Rick Crawford finished fourth. Young Justin Marks picked up an eighth place result. Matt Crafton, Jon Wood and Todd Bodine finished in a wild race for the twelfth place. Modified champ Donny Lia finished twenty-fifth, only two laps off the pace and never got himself in the way. Lia has a huge fan following in the Northeast.
Rather than continue live, SPEED chose to join an old Survival of the Fastest show in-progress. This is not exactly the way fans wanted the network's normally excellent Truck Series coverage to end.
There was no opportunity for Ray Dunlap, Adam Alexander or Krista Voda to come on-camera to sign-off at the end of a long season. There were no final closing thoughts from Parsons and Waltrip, the race analysts. Finally, there was a rushed closing read by Allen that mentioned the TV crew and then ended abruptly.
NASCAR fans who watched The Craftsman Truck Series on SPEED deserved to have the network stay and talk to as many drivers and crew chiefs as possible. This day was not just about Hornaday and Skinner. It was time to pay-off the stories that SPEED has been following in this series all year long. Unfortunately, it did not happen.
Whether SPEED was pulled into the "hype machine" by ESPN or NASCAR or themselves remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the "fight" promoted by the network never happened. Let's hope that SPEED took some good notes about putting all the TV eggs in the same basket for next season's finale.
There will be a Craftsman Truck Series TV season in review column on The Daly Planet during the following week. Please keep your comments on this post to the Homestead event and the issues associated with that telecast. Thanks to SPEED for a good long season of good hard Truck Series racing.
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