Saturday, June 7, 2008
TNT And SPEED Marriage Off To Rocky Start
It was just the final practice session for the Sprint Cup cars at Pocono. Happy hour was in full effect as the teams tried to dial-in the COT for the long and hot run to come on Sunday.
Where NASCAR TV was concerned, it was the first time in 2008 that the TNT gang was going to be involved in a SPEED telecast. Calling the practice would be Bill Weber, Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach from the announce booth.
Down on pit road would be TNT veterans Marty Snider and Matt Yocum. TNT's own in-house studio announcer Marc Fein would be working down in the infield alongside of Larry McReynolds.
TNT announcers on SPEED is nothing new. During this part of the Sprint Cup schedule, the on-air talent move back and forth between the networks for one good reason. TNT only shows the races. SPEED handles all the other sessions, including practice and qualifying.
Instead of Weber or Fein, TV viewers tuning-in on Saturday afternoon heard the voice of SPEED's John Roberts. Once on-camera, he recapped the early practice session and then introduced SPEED's own pit reporters Bob Dillner and Randy Pemberton.
Both of these reporters interviewed drivers and also updated the news. Roberts then sent the network off to commercial by saying that practice would continue shortly. The entire time on the air, he never mentioned the TNT crew.
Returning from commercial, TV viewers now heard the voice of Marc Fein. This TNT announcer was now on-the-air, but never acknowledged Roberts or SPEED. He simply "re-started" the telecast as if Roberts and crew had never even existed.
Fein brought-in Larry McReynolds and the camera then showed the two men. They were standing on the Pocono infield blacktop in the high heat of summer in long-sleeved black oxford shirts that had the SPEED logo. No infield stage, no air conditioned building. Fein mentioned how nice it was of the network to dress himself and McReynolds in black. Things were about to get even stranger.
As Fein ended his segment and got ready to transition up to the booth announcers, the Director showed both sets of announcers side-by-side. Instead of the black SPEED shirts, all three of the TNT broadcast team were in blue oxford shirts with no logo. They wore headsets, so there were no microphones that had a network logo.
Fein asked Petty a question and Petty answered...with his microphone off. Welcome back Kyle. Weber and company never mentioned SPEED, never thanked the viewers for welcoming them back, and never even acknowledged they had been gone.
Veterans Matt Yocum and Marty Snider handled the garage area for the practice session and provided a solid presence for the telecast. The other two TNT pit reporters, Lindsay Czarniak and Ralph Shaheen, had participated in the Friday Cup telecasts on SPEED. This crew should be the backbone of the TNT season.
The Producer and Director put together the normally solid practice show that viewers have come to expect from SPEED. They focused on the action on the track, went to the garage area with a purpose and then returned to the cars running at speed. The graphics were informative and the video always made sense.
At the close of the session, Larry McReynolds appeared once again standing in the infield, this time by the gas pumps. Fein was nowhere to be found. McReynolds talked about fuel strategy and then was done. After a quick recap of the field, Weber mentioned "John Roberts and company coming up next." The TNT guys were officially done and sent the network to commercial.
As mentioned, John Roberts popped-up out of the break and guess what? He never mentioned Weber or the TNT guys. Roberts talked about the weather and then ran highlights of the happy hour session that viewers had just seen moments ago. Roberts actually ran down the same list of the fastest drivers in the session that the TNT guys had reviewed.
Once again, Roberts led viewers right back to "his" garage area reporters Randy Pemberton and Hermie Sadler. Pemberton talked to Matt Kenseth, and Sadler talked to his brother Elliott who was fast in practice. Elliott joked with Roberts about his RaceDay picks and showed the informal and fun style of the SPEED crew that viewers know all too well.
As Roberts closed-out the program, the fact that there were two very different "camps" trying to co-exist in this telecast could not have been more clear. This was a "show within a show" that made absolutely no sense to the TV viewer or even the NASCAR fan.
The "SPEED guys" and the "TNT guys" need to sit down and have a meeting. Fans were not well-served with these clashing agendas or clashing egos or whatever was happening. NASCAR has enough Hatfields and McCoys, the TV networks do not need to get into the action.
Two show hosts in Roberts and Fein was just plain ridiculous. Two sets of pit reporters was both bizarre and hilarious. TNT's lead announcers on-camera looking absolutely terrible was embarrassing. There have been four months of this season for SPEED and TNT to agree on what Weber, Petty and Dallenbach were going to wear on-camera.
SPEED has been with NASCAR fans since the network unveiled new coverage of testing back in January. This network has been a presence at every race track and on every weekend for the latest in NASCAR news and information.
Fans already know the players, and the new TNT guys are just temporary team members. Regardless of the fact that they will call six Sprint Cup races, they are not the big boys in this playground.
Maybe, by the next race the two groups will sit down and designate one host, one set of pit reporters and some common attire for the on-camera talent. Weber can be given permission to acknowledge SPEED and bring the informal style of the network to these telecasts.
There might be only six races where the "TNT guys" will work with SPEED, but there are six full months of racing for SPEED to cover until Homestead in November. NASCAR fans deserve better than they got on this Saturday and both networks know it.
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