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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ESPN2's problems with covering NASCAR action on Saturday afternoons have been well documented this fall. Once the college football season began, NASCAR took it right on the chin from the network.
The core problem has been the college football game that begins each Saturday at Noon Eastern Time. College football games take three and one half hours, but ESPN has continually scheduled live NASCAR at 3PM. Needless to say, problems followed.
Once again this Saturday, ESPN2 has UConn playing Syracuse at Noon, followed by the final NEXTEL Cup Happy Hour at 3PM. Since Happy Hour is followed by the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show and then the final Busch Series race, the on-air time of Happy Hour will be "collapsed" as the football game runs past 3PM.
This means if the football game runs at normal length, ESPN2 viewers will miss half of the final Happy Hour. If there is an on-field serious injury or overtime, NASCAR may lose live TV altogether for the final NEXTEL Cup Happy Hour of 2007.
ESPN2 will once again feature Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree on all three Saturday programs. Allen Bestwick will host NASCAR Countdown from the Infield Studio alongside of Brad Daugherty. The pit reporters will be Mike Massaro, Jamie Little, Dave Burns, and Shannon Spake.
This page will host your comments on Happy Hour, NASCAR Countdown, and the final Busch Series race on ESPN2. Please keep your comments to the TV issues associated with these telecasts, and read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page.
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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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