Saturday, August 23, 2008

ESPN Bends And Good TV Things Happen


We hear a lot of drivers who say they race the track and not the other cars. At tough places like Darlington and Bristol the drivers will say that the track can just reach up and bite them even while running alone.

Bristol was the nemesis of ESPN last season and the Friday night Nationwide Series race had continued those struggles. ESPN tried to overlay an entire large-scale TV production on the little bull-ring and the track bit them. The sixteen second laps and fast-paced action just did not permit all the bells and whistles that a big network like ESPN brings along to a live TV event.

Saturday night, things had changed. ESPN made the decision to race the track.

Gone was Tim Brewer and his Tech Center updates under green flag racing. Gone were the pit reporters appearing on-camera during the racing action. Gone were the intrusive SportsCenter updates forced into the program. Gone was the the Infield Pit Center crew appearing on-camera under green. Gone was the continual lower-third on-screen sports ticker.

Added were live interviews with almost all of the drivers out of the race as they departed the Infield Medical Center. Added were race recaps from the pit reporters who were covering the cars and done through the top fifteen. Added were mentions of the veterans like Bill Elliott. In this second swing through Bristol, ESPN had finally gotten it right.

The spirit of Bristol is like no other track on the circuit, so it was a shame that ESPN seemed determined not to share the opening festivities with the viewers. Instead, tired pit reporters asked tired drivers the same tired questions. Luckily, no one fell out of the pick-up trucks as they slowly made their way around the oval with the waving drivers. Meanwhile, skydivers landed, planes roared and the spectacle of it all was unfolding right over the shoulders of the ESPN firesuits.

While Dr. Jerry Punch tried to set things up as full-contact stock car racing and a NASCAR slugfest, veteran fans had other ideas. Wednesday, the track had hosted a fast-paced and exciting Craftsman Truck Series race over on SPEED. Friday, the oval had seen a Nationwide Series race that ended a full 45 minutes earlier than ESPN had predicted. This one was going to be fast.

The TV directing leads the way at Bristol, as the short laps mean the pictures can make or break a telecast. On Saturday, the images were superb and the decisions of what to show the viewers were solid all night long. Lost in translation were still the teams outside of the Top 35 in points and the Top 20 on the track, but the nature of the race kept the focus elsewhere.

After a blistering start, two big wrecks slowed the pace and allowed the network to take a deep breath. The ESPN Producer has opened the door for Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree to jump-in and contribute at anytime. This has greatly helped Punch who is sometimes not the best at live action. In this race, it was Petree who often told viewers when the caution was out and who was involved in the accidents.

Allen Bestwick, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty were used sparingly when the race was under green due to the reality of the action. All three did have the opportunity to contribute during caution periods and several times to add their audio comments to the on-going discussion. It worked very well.

By mixing the in-car cameras and the "speed shots" around the track, the Director kept the perspective of speed in the broadcast and worked the TV viewers into the action like ESPN rarely had this season. This short-track challenge had been handled by the camera, audio and graphic freelancers. Pictures, sound and info worked well.

The racing contributed to the overall success of the telecast with a good mix of stories. With 30 laps to go, ESPN focused on the fight for the lead and let some other stories lag, but that was a function of the short laps and good action up front.

This was a great recovery from a Friday night of TV misery. It is hard to put away the TV tools, gizmo's and additional announcers that are all right there at the fingertips of the Director and Producer. ESPN focused the telecast on Jarrett, Petree and the pit reporters. Punch was directing traffic and allowing a good portion of the action to be described by his two analysts.

Punch still has a tough time figuring out how to call the final lap, but even he rallied while calling Edwards across the stripe. It was Dale Jarrett who described the rest of the field crossing the line. The ESPN team now moves back to the California Speedway and gets out all the bells and whistles for that big track.

This year, they can look back on Bristol with a batting average of .500 for the weekend and a strong performance on Saturday night.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

57 comments:

Phathead said...

All true, but I didn't really enjoy the 5 minutes of post-race

Dot said...

Wow, good race and good coverage. I am surprised. Did the ESPN suits read your blog/comments from last night JD?

However the ESPN site was about 10 laps behind.

Dot said...

Meant to type NASCAR.com.

Lou said...

I watched the race on espn and hotpass. from what i watched, the coverage was much better than it was on friday night. thanks espn for better coverage this saturday night.

Jo said...

OK I didn't think ESPN could do it. I was bracing for another bad night.

And ESPN made the needed changes and brought us a race broadcast.We got updates on most drivers ( even Blaney) we got infield care center interviews, we got pit shots & info in a timely fashion, the focus was on the race - ok - we had that 1 Jeff full screen moment-but only 1 ;)

ESPN gave us a race, great camera shot selections, lots of side by side, great overhead shots. Tons of info under the red flag & cautions. It was not boring I was not screaming at the TV, not even cRusty. Not too many voices at one time, all voices were at a non yell level.
Unless there was something going on that merited raised voices.
The excitement was conveyed. Awesome job!

Thank you for changing with the track. Thank you for good racing from Bristol.

Matt said...

Very nice improvement. I really enjoyed the mentioning of non-Chase drivers, the on-track battles, and infield interviews. The finish was great as well.

I hope all the fans did the "wiping of tears" move that Kyle does after he wins. What a whinebag.. I will never like him.

Theodore said...

Know what? They did a really good job tonight. If they keep doing what they did tonight, they'll be on the right track. I'm not going to say they've fixed it until they start doing this consistently, but this was a solid performance by ESPN. Thanks for listening and acting - now keep getting better! :-)

Jo said...

Oh Yeah I almost forgot

THANK YOU for showing the live & then the replay of Kyle bumping after the race was over & Carls punt of Kyle. Then giving us a replay!!! Great job!

Dot said...

@ Jo 11:50,
Ditto from Dot.

red said...

all i kept thinking is "THIS is what it looks like when the race becomes the priority and the storyline."

tough track to broadcast, to be sure, and the espn guys did a solid job. i liked the decision to seek out the racing away from the front of the pack, terrific camera work on the close, intelligent use of those amazing overhead shots.

we saw and heard more about "the rest of the guys" tonight than we have in weeks! that has to make those fans happy.

only thing that i missed was keeping us up to speed on those drivers who were dropping in and out at the back of the pack. i know it's hard but there were times it could have been brought forward with one or two sentences. also, the lucky dog was important but we didn't hear about that too much. at a short track like bristol with the leaders lapping cars at will, lucky dog makes a difference to those whose driver is mid pack or further back.

thanks, espn gang! while i didn't watch n'wide on friday, it's clear there was a major change of philosophy tonight and it resulted in a solid job!

Jessica said...

I thought it was pretty good. On the one hand you really needed foxtrax in order to have any perspective on what was going on through the field but short of full field rundowns a la radio I don't know the solution. The yellow "on the bubble" highlight in the ticker was obnoxious, they had people over 500 points back highlighted.

Rick said...

Much better coverage than last night.

ESPN,this is an excellent start to showing us what we want (and need) to see. There is still room for improvement, let's see more of it next week at a big, wide track where the lap times allow for more. Not more fluff, more through the field, showing the racing in the pack, etc.

The post-race was short, but with Nascar Now starting even before the race broadcast ended is OK by me for this one.

ESPN, go back and re-read last night's comments along with tonight's and if you follow our suggestions California might actually be a ratings boost for you.

alex said...

Good coverage from what I saw, but please don't let the new Kyle/Carl rivalry dominate the next couple race broadcasts. If they are battling on the track than by all means show us, but creating drama is never good. Otherwise, pictures were good and things seem to be an improvement from Friday.

alex said...

Jessica,

The color coding was probably based on who was mathematically eligible, so with 3 races left, anyone within 450 points of 12th was probably highlighted. This should be a little better over the next two weeks as more people are eliminated from contention.

alex said...

Sorry to keep posting over and over, but I agree with Rick.

Since next week is a big wide track, I hope that ESPN takes advantage of two and three wide racing and hesitates to zoom in close on one car and follow it as they talk about lap times, etc. Being on a two mile track, we as fans really appreciate the wide shots to show how far apart cars are within a pack.


Lastly, I know the "drivers standing in front of car" bumpers are a nice transition to commercial, but it kills 10 seconds each time. If you add that up over a race it's several minutes that could be better used to show action on the track.

Jessica said...

@alex: I could buy that if they didn't keep saying that those people were "on the bubble" That was an awful big bubble...;)

ri88girl said...

Thank you ESPN, the changes have made a substantial difference. The posts tonight were about the racing for the most part which tells me that we were all 'mostly' satisfied; and that is about as good an average as any network is going to get.

The keys will be to keep up the format as it is, and allow AP and DJ to come into the roles of play by play in addition to analysis. I think allowing a 'conversation' between the booth and infield off camera was a great idea.

I also think it is vital to do a through the field to at least 30th twice, even if it broken up into top and bottom 15.

The pit reporters gave excellent info and it was wonderful to see them talk to the crew chiefs on the box. Everyone was speaking in their own voice and not that of a director from the ear piece.

Hearing from all the drivers as they came from the infield care center was one of the things that made this broadcast successful. Each driver has a fan even if it isn't ESPN, and sometimes that update is the only one a fan will get on the health of his driver.

My one piece of advice is that someone should be designated the 'who got the luckydog and is in or out of the garage for what' updater for the whole race. I realize it is supposed to be the booth, but if that is to confusing then maybe one of the pit reporters could do it.

I seem to recall that ESPN had this kind of single successful broadcast last year, only to be followed by weeks and weeks of endlessly abismal coverage. Please don't let this be a one time thing.

Thanks again for an enjoyable and satisfying race.

Anonymous said...

Yes it was better than Fridays Nationwide race but I thought the 1st half of the race was painful to watch.
On lap 26 when JJ got turned into the wall and went into the pits, it wasn't until lap 32 before they returned to the green flag racing on the track. Six laps of green lap racing were missed when all it would have took was a split screen to show his trouble and the racing on track at the same time.

Also, when the biggest wreck of the night happened Punch calmly said "There's contact on the track". Said it with his monotone voice that's like fingernails on the chalkboard.

There were other times I remember yelling at the TV set. When they show a replay of an incedent while there's green flag racing, it seems like they over show it. After it's over, cut back to the race at hand. Don't keep following the car clear around the track when there's nothing to see.

I know these are little things but they are the professionals, they've been doing this long enough to not make such stupid mistakes. Just like Punches 'Summersault', fingernails I tell you!

Yes it was better the second half but they should be doing this EVERY half!

Steve L.
TN

ri88girl said...

I forgot two things, both to do with the pictures. Loved the pictures and was especially happy that you all went looking for the racing instead of focusing on the top five. Also, tonight had a lot of incar which I thought was great because it was coming from a wide variety of drivers instead of just two or three as per usual.

I really can't believe that this is the same director as last night, someone needs to show me (s)he's in the truck!

wickedj said...

JD, what ever happen to the glowing brake rotor camera. anyone who ever watched a ESPN bristol race in August knows EXACTLY what i mean. i miss that thing

Daly Planet Editor said...

Wicked, I am not really sure what HD has to do with it, but since the in-car cameras became HD we have not had the same kind of fun things we had in the past.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess someone at ESPN finally learned how to read and comprehend what fans have been saying for weeks. This was pretty good race coverage where racing was the story.

But I do have one question: Was it just me, or did anyone else notice that no one from ESPN interviewed Tony Stewart? He's one driver that everyone wants a sound bite from, but after last week's fiasco, I suspect that ESPN was maybe told they are persona non grata with regards to speaking to Tony?

Dot said...

Anon 1:30,

Now that you mention it......not one word about or from Tony that I recall either. I even watched NN. No, I'm not flip flopping, roommate had it on the good TV. (the one w/DVR).

I have a question. Don't the top 3 finishers go to the media center at the same time? They only showed Carl, Jack and Crew Chief. This is the first time that I recall ever seeing the after race media interviews. Mr Ed and KyB in the same room would have really been ESPN drama for races to come.

Gymmie said...

Yes they do Dot...but for some reason the majority we've only seen the winning driver, the CC and owner. It seems that we've only seen 2 and 3 if the winner hasn't made it over yet :(

Lou said...

No, I do not recall an interview w/Tony and I think he finished 8th. But to JD, although I split between Hotpass and ESPN, I did not hear a shout out to Kenny S. either and he had a good run for the 96 team. I still smile when I think what Bill E. said of the over 50 gang about Kenny being in the race.

As I said before better coverage. And thanks for that. Look forward to better coverage as season moves on.

Kenn Fong said...

Alex,

Bumpers are used more and more on all programming because of remotes and DVRs. They give a margin for those who have switched out and then return. They also help those of us with DVRs. My DirecTV DVR remote has a little zapper button which fast-forwards through 30 seconds in just 3. Since the video is still visible, it's a cue so I can go back to normal speed.

Your point is valid, though, and I agree.

Pacific Time Zone Kenny - Alameda, California

Gymmie said...

Kenn--I wish my DVR had that option...I used to have a TV/VCR combo that did that. Sometimes I had to back up a bit but it was usually spot on in the stop point.

stricklinfan82 said...

It was nice to see ESPN get back on track after the debacles at Michigan last Sunday and during the Nationwide race on Friday.

They did a very good job covering the race itself and not focusing solely on the points contenders. It was great to actually see racing on the TV screen and updates/TV time given to guys like Tony Raines. It was also great to hear interviews from Casey Mears, Sam Hornish, and Robby Gordon when they fell out. I thought at the time it was just a lucky break because of the need for "red flag filler" but later they followed up and interviewed Dave Blaney while the race was going on.

They certainly fixed their main issue of ignoring racing to focus on pre-determined storylines, but there are still a few other issues I would like to see addressed:

- Not split-screening green flag racing

Every green flag replay on Saturday was full-screen. When Jimmie Johnson crashed and made multiple green flag pit stops his car appeared on the whole screen. The only time a split-screen appeared was when they put Chad Knaus in one box and Jimmie's crippled car running around in another. Later in the race they split-screened Tim Brewer in the Tech Center... but with Martin Truex's crew working on his car in the garage and not with the racing. I would very much like to see ESPN keep the green flag racing in one box on the screen at all times.

- Not following up on Lucky Dogs

Most of the time ESPN did not tell us who the Lucky Dog was. Bill Weber and Mike Joy were great at immediately identifying the Lucky Dog when the yellow came out. Dr. Punch simply overlooks this, and only in instances where DJ or Andy bring it up after the ensuing restart are we ever filled-in.

- Sportscenter Minutes

These segments really need to go away, especially during green flag racing like they did early in the race Saturday night.

- No follow-up on the top 35 in owner's points before leaving the air

Yes I know they were in the traditional "hurry up" to get off the air, but it would only take a few seconds to put up that graphic right after the results and driver's points standings (which by the way should have 14 drivers on it, not just 13). It just doesn't make sense for the announcers to bring up the developing story of the top 35 multiple times throughout the running of the races (and at times show a "top 35 as of now" graphic) and leave the air every week without following up on that story's conclusion.

- the pre-taped videos

I still don't see the need for the pre-taped driver comments and the "video bumpers" going to commercial. I would rather watch racing than a driver filling the screen with his arms folded, and I would rather hear what's going on in the race than pre-recorded comments a driver made days or months ago.

In summary, great improvement by ESPN. At the same time they need to stay focused and make sure this wasn't a one-time fluke occurrence. They also need to make sure not to become content and instead continue to address some of the other smaller, yet still important, issues with their coverage.

Vicky D said...

Everyone has left good points from the race. It was so much better than Friday's race I actually enjoyed it and the "event". ESPN please keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Rusty & Brad did a real good job Sat. night. (Short & off-camera)

Ken said...

There are things I wish had been done differently but I think this is the best ESPN broadcast I have seen this century. However, the fact that I was watching it on a 52" TV in High Definition with Home Theater might have influenced my opinion.

This gives me hope for the Richmond Race. The California race will be a horse of a different color but the lessons they apparently learned with the Bristol races should translate well to the Richmond track.

majorshouse said...

The telecast last night was much better than Friday night's telecast of the Nationwide race. I know that they ahve a long way to go, but someone with ESPN must have been reading our complaints and I still wish that they would dump Jerry Punch. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree did a great job by themselves and could do a great job with Dr. Punch.

Anonymous said...

The Bristol broadcast was a real revelation about what can be done by listening to the viewers . Still way too much coverage of Gordon , and will we ever start a race broadcast without a closeup of Knaus ? Please devote some of the HMS coverage to the out of the top 35 teams . Yes i know , there is a definite HMS agenda by the people in the truck , but i can always hope . Jarrett and Petree did an excellent job again . I agree with other fans , i didn't miss the over done pit reporting one bit .Very pleasant change from the horrible high school A V class broadcasts we're used to seeing .

Newracefan said...

Great improvement from last week not to mention the disaster of NW at Bristol on friday. IF that means DJ and AP taking over most of the PXP I'm ok with that. Still think AB belongs in the booth but I'm not livid like I was Friday. There are some things that still need a little work, Lucky Dogs for one and top 35 follow up after the race for another. They also could have done a little better job on who got lapped and that could be used as a way to show cars from the back of the back. Overall I'll give it a B compared to the F- form Friday thats pretty significant improvement.

Newracefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Newracefan said...

Thats back of the pack and from Friday. Sorry about the double posting too, I swear I only pushed it once so I'm not sure why that is happening.

ttc said...

I agree with most of the above posts that ESPN did a good job last night.

Both Rusty and DJ provided very good commentary about the racing lines. Petree was also on his game.

Finally Shannon Spake had a very good night in the pits but unfortunately Jamie Little seems to be going in the other direction.

Dot said...

There were pit road penalties listed on Jayski, but very few if any mentioned during the race. I like to know who did what wrong during the pit stops. ESPN should tell us. Other than that, I'll repeat, good job.

Anonymous said...

Watched all night while JR tried to get his lap back.. Near the end he was again the 1st car a lap down. We saw Kurt Busch on pit road but never heard why. Next thing we knew the race restarted and Jr. was 2 laps down. Not a word from ESPN as to why. They were hung up on talking about Kyle, Edwards, Boyer and the 6 car. Hardly a word on Tony, Jr., B. Labonte, Ken Schrader, Newman, and many more that us older fans have followed for a long time. Not sure I can stay tuned for the Kyle/Carl show. It was a boring race and continually talking about the same people does nothing to keep you interested.

Anonymous said...

The race, and the broadcast, were very good. The Lucky Dog announcement was one area they failed badly in though, and I can't imagine that Aaron's is going to be happy, they sponsor that thing. I'm sure they'll be having a discussion with NASCAR about it.

I do have a new award I'd like to present for this race!

The "Bonehead Interview Question of the Race" Award went to Mike Massaro in an interview with Denny Hamlins crew chief, Mike Ford. He basically asked Mike Ford if he thought having new tires would help them at the end the race. Ford pointed out, with a bemused look on his face, that everybody had new tires.

Way to pay attention genius!

Mike said...

As far as the infield media center stuff. Kyle and Denny did their interviews while Carl was still in Victory Lane. The infield camera actually was pretty cool and was switching between views of Kyle talking about how Edwards does this stuff all the time, and Edwards reacting to it in Victory Lane (since he could hear everything Kyle was saying).

He was pretty sarcastic to the reporters, also. I'm glad BMS shows all of the infield media center stuff in the track, since me and my wife wanted to wait for some of the people to die down.

TexasRaceLady said...

Thank you, ESPN.

For allowing us to see the race --instead of the "talking heads"

For giving us interviews from the care center

For removing the "stuff" from the screen

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Please keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I continue to be annoyedby, and have no use for the forced addition of Daugherty and Wallace.

They add nothing, and the ESPN contrived and manipulated "addition" of those two chaps to the boys in the booth is rediculous! They add NOTHING!! repeat, NOTHING!! just more idle drivel that essentially mimicks what Petrie and Jarrett have already said( Mr. Punch, of course, continues to waste our time attempting to convince everyone that he's best friends with every driver, crew member, owner, sponsor, France family descendent, television executive and NASCAR official on the planet)

Good Lord. In the words my my fellow compatriot Murray Walker, "would you please just shut it!"


Bray Kroter

Anonymous said...

I must get a different espn than the rest of you do, I thought the coverage still sucked.

Anonymous said...

why does Punch continuously call a back-flip a "somersault"

I looked it up so you wouldnt have to (aside- John Roberts used this term on Race Day on Sat)and while not technically incorrect I believe back-flip is better used.
-------------------------------------
: a movement (as in gymnastics) in which a person turns forward or backward in a complete revolution along the ground or in the air bringing the feet over the head; also : a falling or tumbling head over heels
-------------------------------------

Adam T. Martin said...

Definitely good coverage this time around.

Solid pictures and audio. I enjoyed the post-race on ESPN 2.

Anonymous said...
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R Roberts said...

I thought the coverage was pretty good myself. The only gripe I had was the moment that Carl bumped Kyle out of the way... I didn't like the 'bumper cam' perspective. I couldn't really see what was going on as well at that specific moment. Other than that, it was a good show. I guess if that's the worst I can complain about, they did a pretty good job.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm too harsh. It was improved coverage for sure, but I can't call it good if you miss the pass for the win and have to show it on replay.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone happen to know what brand of racing gasoline the Cup guys use ? I guess they must still be using Union 76 cause i sure haven't heard anyone mention it during the race broadcasts .

Karen said...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone happen to know what brand of racing gasoline the Cup guys use ? I guess they must still be using Union 76 cause i sure haven't heard anyone mention it during the race broadcasts.

I heard one of the girls say it during a pit stop last night. I think Shannon Spake.

Lisa Hogan said...

I agree that ESPN coverage last night was a vast improvement over Friday night’s attempt.

I did get a laugh out of the new “bubble tracker” graphic.

I did find it odd the amount of coverage the #44 received. While the booth was bragging on him and he was running 22nd, Schrader passed him and didn’t get a mention.

Schrader did get the #96 a good bit of TV time because of who he was running near. Schrader did a great job of missing the Mear’s wreck and again got no mention.

DJ and Andy are doing a fine job on play-by-play. Hope they’re getting something extra in the paycheck. :)

GinaV24 said...

It was better coverage than Michigan, but I still think they talk too much and I saw more of SportsCenter than I ever watch when they force it on me. Sorry, the PXP is still lacking with Dr. Punch -- DJ and Andy are doing a great job. I also would have liked more wide shots of the field rather than seeing 1 or 2 cars on camera. I just hate it.

Gymmie said...

@anon 2:40--true but we always refer to the one on the floor as a somersault and the one in the air as a back flip or back tuck

Bill B said...

"Gone was Tim Brewer and his Tech Center updates under green flag racing. Gone were the pit reporters appearing on-camera during the racing action. Gone were the intrusive SportsCenter updates forced into the program. Gone was the the Infield Pit Center crew appearing on-camera under green. Gone was the continual lower-third on-screen sports ticker."

Exactly!!! Thank you ESPN for getting rid of the crap and letting us see as much green flag racing as possible. That's all you need to do to make fans happy, show us the maximum green flag laps as possible. There is a place for all that crap above... during cautions.

double piston pump said...

what's with jerry punch grunting all the time while he is talking? it gets verry annoying after awhile