Friday, September 26, 2008

Infield Pit Studio Worked For Punch On Friday


It was a long day for the ESPN on-air crew Friday from the Kansas Speedway. As it turns out, the on-track activity ended with an interesting twist.

Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree used the Infield Pit Studio as a base of operations while Punch hosted a variety of shows. While it was still the same task of analysis for Petree and Jarrett, it was a completely different environment for Punch. He has been used in a variety of roles for ESPN, as readers can see from a picture of his days as a top pit reporter years ago.

On this day, gone were his metaphors and catch phrases. Gone were the awkward silences and the TV moments where things were clearly off-balance. To even the most casual viewer, Punch was energized and in control. In other words, he was home.

Despite Punch's new comfort level, the ESPN coverage of Sprint Cup practice at 12:30PM was absolutely horrible. There must be some serious pressure on the ESPN Producer to "glamorize" practice or to try to make it "more interesting." The results have been a disaster and this one hour program was another example.

Almost instantly, the cars on the track became nothing more than background noise. Where SPEED focuses solely on the on-track action, ESPN offered a mind-altering amount of recorded video featuring last week's Dover highlights in painful detail, previous finishes of multiple Cup races at Kansas and even edited features from way back including one from 2007. All of this while Cup cars whiz by in the background. What is ESPN thinking in the heart of The Chase?

Punch led the live coverage of Cup qualifying next and this formula has been more successful for the network. The cars on the track are inserted into a video box surrounded by lots of graphics while another video box is used for everything from live interviews to pictures of crew chiefs and owners looking at the stop watch.

A lot of information comes at viewers during this program and Jarrett and Petree are very good at keeping the conversation flowing with Punch "directing TV traffic" from his host position. The pit reporters kept their interviews brief and showed a lot of hustle during this session. The casual attire instead of the ESPN firesuits works very well to set the only relaxed tone ESPN will allow during the weekend.

Punch saved the best for last and that was Nationwide Series practice. ESPN shelved all the bells and whistles and just showed the cars on the track. It was a lot of fun and really helped viewers to understand just how comfortable Punch can be in this infield role. Nothing brought this out more than the breaking news that happened during this live session.

Punch smoothly introduced Jamie Little with the bulletin that Juan Montoya's time had been disallowed and he was going to be moved to the back of the pack for problems with the shock absorbers.

Without missing a beat, Punch let Petree speak to this briefly and led right over to Tim Brewer in the Tech Center. Brewer had the part in question and explained the issue in easy to understand terms.

Once Brewer was done, Punch got a strong reaction from Dale Jarrett who backed NASCAR by saying a performance advantage should result in this penalty. Even as this program was slipping off-the-air, Punch was advising viewers to stay-tuned and that NASCAR Now was going to follow-up immediately with a full report. This is the NASCAR on ESPN crew in action that viewers enjoy.

Sure enough, NASCAR Now host Ryan Burr went on-the-air and sent it right back to Punch in Kansas. For viewers just tuning-in, Punch recapped the situation, let Petree and Jarrett comment and then led to a Jamie Little interview. Short and to the point, Little talked directly with Series Director John Darby who explained the situation and the penalty.

Once again, Brewer did a full explanation of the situation compete with the part in question and exactly what Montoya's team had done. Punch then wrapped the entire situation up very neatly before sending it back to Burr in the ESPN studios.

Viewers had seen very clearly what TDP has been talking about for months. ESPN has one of the top reporters in NASCAR on staff and on this day he was leading the broadcast from the infield studio and doing an exceptional job.

Regardless of what each show Producer had asked, Punch had responded. From the disjointed coverage of Cup practice through the heavy graphics of qualifying and into the relaxed telecast of the Nationwide Series, Punch had been able to adjust and deal with each individual set of circumstances.

He topped the day off with a breaking news story, transitioned smoothly between live programs and then presented an entire segment on-the-fly that featured two studios, five announcers and a live interview with a NASCAR executive.

In some ways, it will be a shame to see Punch again take the elevator to the broadcast booth to call the Nationwide Series race. His hard work and strong performance on Friday from the infield combined years of TV reporting experience with a perspective and knowledge of NASCAR that few possess.

On Saturday afternoon for Punch, it's back to calling the action in turn 2 with 100 laps to go.

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Note: You can click on the picture to see it full size or to save it to your computer. Thanks to ESPN for the photo.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem with this coverage is the same as the problem ESPN has with NASCAR races in general:

Whomever is the EP doesn't think racing is inherently interesting.

Therefore, this person obviously believes, we must do something to "make it" interesting.

...which is why this EP needs to be replaced by someone who "gets" it.

Daly Planet Editor said...

EP = Executive Producer

Dot said...

Dang it, I wish I could've seen these shows today (except Cup qual from what I read), but I had to work.

I have noticed that when I don't watch, something good happens. Maybe that's the key. I won't watch anything live to make it better for the rest of you. Maybe I'm the one poisoning the coverage, lol. I'm taping the NW race tomorrow and going to the pool. You're welcome.

@ JD, thanks for the definition. I agree w/anon 10:55, that person needs to go.

alex said...

If all the pre-recorded bits from practice today show up again in the prerace on Sunday, then the EP really has to go.

BTW, nice picture of JP. That late 80s time was my favorite era of Nascar.

Jo said...

JD - great photo of Dale & Doc!
I saved it ( we were all so young then) ;)

I agree w/ Anon1055 EP gots to go.
The end of practice, & NN start -this IS the Doc we know & love. And thats why I'm so upset this season again. The whole news story showed how strong Doc can be in the right job situation!

Anonymous said...

The entire second half of today's coverage was great. Which makes the first part (practice and even qualifying) look so much worse.

This is a time to give ESPN credit where it is due, then hope that they realize viewers like the informative information and cars on the track actually racing, practicing, or qualifying and keep up with it.

ri88girl said...

Why can't ESPN see what we see? Doc is in the wrong job. Put him in the infield and he shines. ESPN are you listening?

SallyB said...

I'm so glad that 'new' fans of Nascar had a chance to see Dr. Punch in his element. For many years he has been one of the bright spots of Nascar racing, and ESPN has managed to put him in a position where he is obviously out of his element. Now they know why so many of us are so anxious to see him back where he is one of the best.

Vicky D said...

Dot, thanks for taking one for the TDP group! I didn't get to watch the cup practice but was home by the Nationwide. I really thought it was something with the breaking news re Montoya's issue and I actually understood TB's explanation of the shock.

Newracefan said...

Have not gotten through everything I DVR'd thanks for letting me know that it's worth watching some of it.

lyncta said...

Anyone know where I can watch online Dale Jr's nascar now interview from last night?

stricklinfan82 said...

ESPN's Cup practice show was an absolute disgrace, as I documented well in the in-progress thread. As a result, they advertised to me that NASCAR fans that wanted to see on-track action weren't welcomed the rest of the day, so I didn't bother with any of their other junk.

A MAJOR overhaul needs to be done behind the scenes at ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Whatever individual or collection of individuals is resposible for making the conscious decision to ignore the on-track action during these sessions needs to be relieved of their duties, plain and simple. Producer, director, 'suit' above them, janitor, intern, whoever it is. I don't know whose fault it is but the decision-makers at ESPN certainly must.

I was originally going to be kind and suggest a 're-assignment' to another ESPN 'sport' for them instead, but to be honest with you I don't know any other fan base that would put up with this garbage "ignore the event you're there to cover" approach either. From football fans to baseball fans, from soccer fans to lacrosse fans, from World Series of Poker fans to Spelling Bee fans - every one of them is tuning into to ESPN's coverage of their sport/game to WATCH THE EVENT. It's not rocket science.