Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Shifting Gears" Continues To Rattle NASCAR TV Establishment


Other than the TV coverage from the tracks and one daily news show, the NASCAR landscape is barren of long-form television programming.

The Charlotte-based NASCAR Media Group may have lots of "official" resources and footage, but without a TV network that wants to participate, they are just watching the world go by.

Meanwhile, upstart TV production groups run by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart have made in-roads on the racing TV landscape. Stewart has made a name for himself with his annual Pay-Per-View charity race, while Junior has offered his first TV series called Shifting Gears.

Earnhardt paid the freight to ESPN with commercial spots in order to get his originally-produced one hour TV shows on-the-air. Three episodes of Shifting Gears aired earlier this season, documenting Junior's transition from DEI to Hendrick Racing.

The first two programs were groundbreaking, the third was a mess. The brutal honesty and the behind-the-scenes moments with family members, friends and NASCAR personalities were sometimes breathtaking. Junior had clearly decided to open himself up totally and he emerged as an adult in charge of his own life and destiny.

This television project was original, meaning that it had no set schedule and was done on-the-fly with a very dedicated group of production folks. Things worked out well logistically for the first two shows, but the schedule caught-up with the Hammerhead Entertainment guys for the third episode. It turned-out to basically be a re-hash of the earlier two programs.

In this fourth episode, things got back to normal with plenty of documentary-style production involving activities both on-and-off the track. Earnhardt's life is a whirlwind of scheduling and sponsor activities. The storyline woven through the foundation of the series is the 2008 Sprint Cup Series experience.

Mixed with race footage, Shifting Gears moves the focus from the track to the personalities involved in Junior's NASCAR world. The highlight of this episode was the tangle between Earnhardt and Kyle Busch in Richmond. "As I was spinning out, for some reason I knew it was coming," said Junior.

Cameos from Darrell Waltrip helped this show, as DW's candor is legendary and his words about Earnhardt and his new found maturity rang true. This was especially meaningful after Walrip actually called the race in Richmond and was criticized by the fans for his over-the-top enthusiasm for Kyle Busch this season.

Earnhardt's sister Kelley continues to be a presence in these programs, but by now she has returned to her role out of the spotlight. Her perspective continues to be relevant where Junior's family roots and personal history are concerned.

ESPN's Marty Smith was included in the show, talking about Junior's in-depth interview with ESPN the Magazine. Smith described the history behind his story and Junior described why he agreed to do it. Anyone who has read it will definitely come away with a new understanding of the demons and struggles in the life of this third-generation racer.

There is an anonymous voice-over announcer that played a significant role in the first three shows tying segments together. In this fourth show, he added cheerleader to his responsibilities and it did not work. Junior does not need more compliments. Viewers just need the function of explaining where the show is going and why.

The candid comments of Earnhardt about the All-Star race and its lack of value in its present form are destined to raise some eyebrows and start some conversations. Also memorable were the soundbites from Jimmie Johnson about Junior and his consistency this season. Add his sister and crew chief to those saying flat-out that the team will make The Chase and finish strong.

Ultimately, this series is an eye-opener for the TV networks and NASCAR itself. This is exactly the type of programming that NASCAR envisioned would be on-the-air regularly with its television partners.

So far, no TV network has stepped-up to the challenge and committed to even one regularly scheduled long-form new NASCAR programming series in 2008. As with many other things in his life, Junior had to do this by himself.

The fifth and final episode of this series airs on ESPN Friday at 7PM Eastern Time.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

26 comments:

Daly Planet Editor said...

Sorry for the problems, Google blogspot was down for maintenance.

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying "Shifting Gears" in a lot of ways it puts a different light on Junior. Marty Smiths article was amazing. Since Junior's split from Fingerprint inc. sincere behind the scenes commentary on him are hard to come by.

Kendria

Newracefan said...

2 great behind the scenes shows in one week, possibly 3 if thursdays SG is as good as todays. This was much improved from the 3rd installment and worth the wait.

Jim Crooks said...

I'm an Earnhardt fan, first of all, so I am most assuredly biased from the get go. But the show on Tuesday, July 22nd was great. The comments about the incident with Kyle Busch at Richmond by Jr., Kelly, and Kyle were priceless. I'm glad I taped this episode, because there are some very interesting quotes there.

Thanks John for all you do. I read your blogs on a daily basis, and always learn a lot when I do.

Karen said...

Loved it, loved it. Only criticism was too many commercials. But the content of the show was fantastic. Now all he needs is to settle down with a wife and start having babies.
Hard to do that when you're Junior.

P.S. nrf, next show is Friday, not Thursday. Thursday is a repeat of Tuesday's show.

RPM said...

First let me say I'm not a member of the Jr. Nation. With that out of the way I am impressed with what he has done and how he has done it.

This was the first episode I have seen of SG. I thought it was very candid and entertaining. I'll definitely be recording the remaining episodes.

I'd love to see more shows from Hammerhead Entertainment. We need more programming like this without the NASCAR corporate script.

chase said...

'Shifting Gears' continues to amaze me -- this type of programming delving deep into a driver's personality and maturity is exactly what we need -- other drivers might take note. Jr has become his own person, living his life as he likes, and passionate about racing and all that goes into it. It is not simply getting in a car and turning left as so many people think. I look forward to the next installment and it would be great if he continues the series. He exudes credibility and allows us insight to the terrific person and athlete he really is. Thanks John!

Anonymous said...

It's Kelley - not Kelly. Dale is a 3rd generation driver, not 2nd. And, the music and narration behind episode 4 certainly did detract from the content. But, overall it was a good show. Hopefully, the final episode will be of similar quality.

Andrew S. said...

Hate to be a picker of nits JD but this show is NOT the first series produced by Hammerhead Entertainment. Back in the Day using all the old Car and Track footage hosted by Bud Lindeman and aired on Speed Channel.

red said...

rpm said...
First let me say I'm not a member of the Jr. Nation. With that out of the way I am impressed with what he has done and how he has done it.

This was the first episode I have seen of SG. I thought it was very candid and entertaining. I'll definitely be recording the remaining episodes.

I'd love to see more shows from Hammerhead Entertainment. We need more programming like this without the NASCAR corporate script.

i agree with you, rpm -- except that i am a fan of earnhardt, jr, although i draw the line at "jr nation."

earnhardt, jr deliberately started hammerhead so that he could have a production company with which to do a variety of projects he's envisioned. "shifting gears" is the second project b/c he knows how valuable his name and image are on the market: "back in the day" is the first. he also knows that using him as the subject will get the company's name and proessionalism "out there." from this first set of shows has already come a book with a dvd not far behind. he is a racer and also a good businessman with a strong partner in his sister, kelley earnhardt-elledge.

to your second point about needing more of this without nascar-script: i can only add my "Amen!" this sort of show is what will bring new fans to the sport. the inside looks are what folks want and what brings depth to our sport so that it's NOT just turning left in circles. nascar has media partners and yet the shows that deliver ineteresting and insider programming are so few and far between that we all comment on the quality and are grateful for their appearance.

nascar, speed and espn: are you reading this? do you "get it"?

Tracy said...

Red said "...nascar has media partners and yet the shows that deliver ineteresting and insider programming are so few and far between that we all comment on the quality and are grateful for their appearance."

Amen. SG is the sort of program people who respond on this blog have been asking for since I found you all. Wouldn't it be cool to have this same sort of program focusing on drivers who aren't big names? Or on crew/car chiefs? Last night I caught a re-air of the old Gong Show, and the snippets they inserted about the lives of the drivers who were in contention were fascinating. I'd forgotten their names, since the show aired so long ago, but I immediately thought how I'd like to see more on TV about these racers and what's happened in their lives. Stories abound in the racing world. Why isn't someone showing them?

Daly Planet Editor said...

andrew,

That series was "wraps" from Junior put around segments of racing from the old BL film footage.

What I was trying to say in this column was that this was the first original series from that group.

Thanks,

JD

rose said...

Thanks ESPN for giving us Jr's Shifting Gears. I prefer listening to him more than any of the boring commentators. Jr's honesty and talent are why he is our favorite. From the beginning with a poingnant quote, to the sound effects, the old gas station, the cinematography,and even the commercials. At the end of each production, I'm eager to see the next.

Anonymous said...

Like some others, I am not a big fan of Dale Jr.'s but came to know him better since the SG programs. I feel he got shafted back in '07and wish him nothing but the very best. I root for him every week to win....honestly this is because I feel I have gotten to know more of him and his personality.

I have totally enjoyed all of the SG programs and wish there were more programs like these produced.

MW55Fan or Linda from FL

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to see more in depth programming on the real lives of Nascar drivers. While a few have happened in the past, I think there's a real audience for this kind of program.

JD, you say that Jr paid to have this show on ESPN. So, what did he do for this---pay the going commercial rate? I'm guessing that Jr will somehow make a profit on this venture, seeing that you can purchase this show on iTunes.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 8:57PM,

Junior paid with the commercials from his sponsors that ran in the shows. He even complained in an earlier episode about how many he had to run to get on ESPN.

I can whisper to you that I believe this series will be available after the season is over and I would not be surprised if additional footage was going to make it to the DVD collection.

Not so sure about the profit, this was a shoe-string venture and five hours of ESPN in primetime costs a pretty penny. Thanks for the comment.

JD

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Daly Planet Editor said...

Folks,

This is a TV blog where we talk about NASCAR TV shows and coverage. To talk about teams and drivers, please surf over to NASCAR.com or SPEEDtv.com thanks.

JD

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article. I am a proud member of Jr Nation. I always have been. But that is beside the point, I really enjoyed SG, I hope to see more of this series, I hope he takes it out to the end of the year. I hope Hammerhead Entertainment starts showing us more of all the racers, maybe we would like them more or less if we knew more about their lives. I already admired Jr for things he has said and done, but this series helped get to know him even better. He is one heck of a guy and one heck of a racer. But it would be nice to get to know others also. Thanks so much for letting me comment. Take care.
Deanna from WI

Ramona said...

I ENJOY WHATEVER DALE JR IS INVOLVED IN...YES I AM A FAN, BUT DALE JR ALWAYS DELIVERS WHAT I FEEL IS HEART FELT, TRUTHFUL AND HONEST. HE'D MAKE A GOOD FRIEND.

Anonymous said...

Love the concept of this show...wondering if JR might think about doing a series on the Tony Stewart / Ryan Newman story that is unfolding. Would be great to get the "inside" scoop on things. Loved what JR and Kelly had to say about the Bush incident - we knew it all along.

Anonymous said...

I have watched all the episodes and I think they have all been a job well done. It's nice to see Jr in a different environment other than the track. I hate to see it end on Friday night. He should continue on a monthly basis so all of us "Jr fans" can keep up with him.

Anonymous said...

I saw only half of the show the other night, but am recording the repeat this evening. SG shows exactly why I am a fan of Dale Junior the man first and Junior the driver second.

Mary

Brian B. said...

I will stop anything that I'm doing to watch Shifting Gears , Jr. is the man , his life is interesting and he is just a straight up honest , down to earth person , and his show proves that .