Sunday, June 8, 2008
TNT Turns A New Page In TV History
It was the first of six Sprint Cup Series broadcasts for the TNT gang. The memories of the invasive promos, the angry announcers and the disjointed TV production were still fresh in the minds of many NASCAR fans. Sunday at Pocono may have gone a long way to helping those very memories to fade away.
This season, TNT is offering fans a "combo platter" of viewing options for all six events. RaceBuddy is a TNT concept that puts four live camera angles online for broadband computer users to watch for free. This application also includes email, a chat room and offers viewers an opportunity to send video questions.
The entire idea is that many fans like to use their computers for additional information while the races are in-progress. Some like to chat and interact, others like more live information and still others want to get their questions answered. It is a good concept.
TNT is once again offering two pre-race TV shows that run for ninety minutes combined. Since SPEED has moved RaceDay to a timeslot before the TNT shows, the Turner guys were the only game in town.
As pre-race shows go, TNT mixes features and the analysis of Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds to create the first hour. It is a mini-RaceDay, and covers a lot of the same territory as both SPEED and ESPN2's pre-race offerings.
The second show is led by Bill Weber and focuses on the race issues and news. Weber and Dallenbach sat in a cramped set up in the tower that did not lend itself to the program. As usual, the content that Weber offers is crisp and clear. He is an outstanding writer and reporter.
TNT unveiled RaceBuddy, and then started the race itself. As with anything, it takes a while for everyone to get on the same page. Just like last season, both drivers in the booth tend to address the same issues and often overlap.
TNT had an audio problem early in the race that resulted in a slice of Turner's other network audio on the air and then a quick commercial. Once back to Pocono, the announcers spent the better part of ten minutes talking over the back-up audio path which unfortunately sounds less than professional.
The crew carried on until the problem was fixed and then things settled down. This season, Marc Fein was not used while the race was in-progress. Larry McReynolds is clearly the fourth member of the broadcast team and takes the role of the race strategist.
Weber has a much better attitude this season. The inside jokes and the sniping are long gone. He does not get frustrated, and kept his on-air delivery in balance during the entire Pocono race. His attention to detail was outstanding.
Kyle Petty has really brought his personality to these broadcasts and it has been a big help. Petty and McReynolds are clearly the guys who were around during the first four months of the season and know the stories by heart. These two quickly started into a running conversation that had lots of information and opinion.
Meanwhile, over in RaceBuddy land the TNT and NASCAR.com crews were having the highs and lows of any new concept. The four camera angles and the ability to push that video full-screen was simply outstanding. Changing the in-car camera according to fan votes did not really turn-out to be an exciting feature.
Given a choice of either hearing the natural sound from the track or the team radios, users who picked the radio option got a surprise. An automated voice told the team numbers before each radio transmission. Often, it seemed to cover the transmission itself. It was confusing and did not make any sense.
TNT took only one video question during the pre-race show and no email questions during the broadcast. They will have to work on this integration between the TV guys and the computer guys for the next event. The TNT chatroom was also useless. Overcrowded and chaotic were two words used in emails to The Daly Planet.
Once again this season the TNT pit reporters are going to be a strong asset to the telecasts. Lindsay Czarniak chased the stories and did not seem to miss a beat despite being gone from the sport since last season. Veterans Matt Yocum, Marty Snider and Ralph Shaheen rounded-out a solid day of coverage from a tough pit road.
The TNT graphics got good reviews, and were changed in a timely fashion to relate to the happenings in the race itself. The updated information worked very well, and this season the annoying promotions inserted onto the live race screen were gone. What a positive change.
Most noticeable for many fans was the actions of the Director. Broader camera angles and wide sweeping shots made for a perfect Pocono presentation. Nothing was missed, and it was a sharp contrast to the hyper-tight presentations of the Fox gang.
Especially effective was the consistent use of identifying one car and then zooming out to show the interval to the next. On a track like Pocono, there was no other way to gain perspective. On the effect that showed two video boxes on the screen, TNT has a very bad and distracting moving background. Look for that to change immediately.
The telecast had one bad commercial inserted with fifteen laps to go that was tough to take, but overall this first broadcast did not suffer from the commercial and promotional overload of TNT last season. Even a brief rain delay did not seem to lessen the commercial load late in the race.
A bright spot for fans was the last lap, which featured a wideshot and drop-down graphic as the cars finished the race. It was clear that a change in the Director had resulted in a very different philosophy of coverage on the final lap.
Once the TNT broadcast is done, the announcing crew continues their post-race coverage live on NASCAR.com for yet another TV/Internet first. TNT has a lot to be proud of in this first effort, and only a few things to tweak.
As a TV viewer and fan, what did you think of the TV coverage, the announcers and the Internet RaceBuddy feature? If you multi-tasked, how did you enjoy the experience? If you did not, why did you choose not to participate?
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