Friday, February 8, 2008
"Shifting Gears" Makes NASCAR TV History
There has never been anything like it before. Friday night in national prime time, there was Dale Earnhardt Jr. taking control of ESPN2 for one hour.
Other than the annoying "ticker" at the bottom of the screen, there was no mention of ESPN2. There were no ESPN on-air announcers present. No members of the ESPN NASCAR TV crew were seen. The "brand" on the screen was Dale Junior.
Hammerhead Entertainment is the TV production group created by Junior and currently run by marketing veteran Thayer Lavielle. She and Junior's sister, Kelly Earnhardt Elledge, are key players on the JR Motorsports team.
This unique series of five programs will put the first three episodes on TV before the Daytona 500, and then take a break. There is a very good reason why. The purpose of Shifting Gears is to document the transition of Junior from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports. This well-crafted coverage gives viewers an inside look at all the different changes and types of impact that this one decision caused.
While the first three programs will document Junior before he takes to the track. The final two will air months later, and show viewers just how he is doing in the reality of the 2008 NASCAR season. Actually, the final shows will air in the week prior to the Sprint Cup coverage changing from TNT to ESPN/ABC.
The deal with Hammerhead is part of an "exclusive multimedia agreement" between that company and ESPN. It essentially sidesteps the traditional provider of NASCAR programs now called the NASCAR Media Group located in Charlotte, NC. This trend is growing.
In 2007, Tony Stewart used his TV and media production company for several high-profile projects. The desire of these efforts is clear. That is to control the content. What is new is the fact that these projects are making it to air.
This first Shifting Gears program showed a slice of almost every part of the "Junior pie." Sometimes, it was almost overwhelming seeing the people surrounding this one man. As the story played out, it was fascinating to see the role of his sister emerge.
Even in her narration or on-camera explanations, she seemed to be clear that her protection of Junior as a brother and family member far outweighed selecting a sponsor or choosing a number. This first extensive glimpse of her on national TV was fascinating.
Give credit to the production team for editing a high-caliber hour that used all sorts of TV techniques to keep the viewer interested, and sometimes off-balance. Junior around the pool table and outside with his old Chevy truck were two effective techniques to present information in a non-scripted but effective fashion.
Junior talking plainly about his father, backed by additional comments from Kelly filling-in the gaps, showed the business fundamentals of the Earnhardt family. It also showed, once again, that this brother and sister combination are chained at the hip.
The stark contrast between Junior alone and outside in casual clothes and his sister sitting formally in a meeting room worked well throughout the program. It was a little tough to ingest all the commercials with Junior, and then transition back to the program. Everyone understood, however, that they pay the TV network bills as well.
Closing with a music video was actually a nice touch. It allowed a whole lot of footage to be spliced together to show the hectic behind-the-scenes world of NASCAR, where sponsorship and business mix with racing and real life.
Simply put, from a TV perspective, this show was classy and easy to watch. While fans may differ on the content, there is no doubt that we will be seeing more TV from Junior and company as they continue to "build his new brand."
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