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 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 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?

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.

Monday Night NASCAR TV Match-Ups

Here we are already into the TNT portion of the Sprint Cup Series schedule. Pocono is now in the books along with the Nationwide Series race from Nashville and the Truck Series event from Texas. The Monday NASCAR TV shows will have a lot of content from which to draw.

First-up will be Allen Bestwick hosting the one hour edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2 at 5:30PM. This week, Bestwick will be joined by Ricky Craven, Mike Massaro and Boris Said. That means Bestwick will once again be dealing with another first-time combination of panelists.

Craven and Johnny Benson have quickly become popular guests on this show. Craven has proven to have a solid presence on TV with a quick wit that matches-up well with Bestwick. Craven also works well with Massaro, who has really come into his own this season through this program.

The new card in the deck is Said. Once one of the most popular sports car racers in North America, Said's limited NASCAR experience has been working against him this season. Then came "the incident."

Once considered an affable and fun-loving type, Said's memorable rant against Marcos Ambrose earlier this season on NASCAR Now was a shocker.

With Ambrose on the program, Said refused to publicly make-up with Ambrose, who even wore a "Said-head" wig when he appeared on the show. Said went on a rant that contained information and emotion that did not need to appear on TV. Even the show host tried to get Boris back on the right track, but to no avail.

Regardless of the reality of Said's feelings, NASCAR Now was not the place to unleash a torrent of anger. Eventually, Ambrose had some choice words back for Said and even removed the wig. Ultimately, Ambrose charged Said with being a part-time racer with nothing to lose. That was a tough one to take.

Since that time, Said has kept a low profile and his return to this program after an oval race at Pocono is a surprise. It is even more surprising given that Craven is already on the program. Said's role is going to be hard to define.

Give the Coordinating Producer of this TV series a lot of credit. He stirs the pot on a weekly basis and challenges Bestwick to handle a new crew for the full hour. This mix of characters has been one of the most intriguing aspects of the Monday show.

Over at SPEED, This Week In NASCAR is showing signs of new life as the on-air dynamics of the panelists get sorted-out. Steve Byrnes has bravely plowed ahead with this program and is finally making headway.

This week, Michael Waltrip is back and will be joined by Greg Biffle. This combination has a very different relationship than the Waltrip and Chad Knaus pairing. Biffle is still very serious, and Waltrip continually drives him crazy by interfering and changing topics.

Byrnes has done a good job with these two of stepping-in and keeping the mood light even if the discussion is sometimes a bit heavy. This week, he may have to do a lot of stepping-in. Waltrip and Biffle both had big issues in the Sprint Cup race.

SPEED has kept this program "flipped" with the preview of Michigan coming first, and then the Pocono highlights and commentary coming after the first thirty minutes of the show. Some things just defy explanation.

Last week once again there was an added feature in the closing thirty minutes instead of allowing the panel to simply talk. This is the Achilles Heel of this program. There are three veteran NASCAR folks on the set and they are not allowed to simply communicate for any length of time.

This Week in NASCAR comes along at 8PM EDT for one hour on SPEED, and both NASCAR Now and TWIN repeat for the West Coast. TWIN re-airs at Midnight and NASCAR Now at 12:30AM Eastern.

If there is ever a problem with this re-air being dropped, please take a moment and email us here at The Daly Planet with the details. There will be full columns up about both these programs immediately after they air on Monday.

Feel free to offer your comments about the on-air talent line-ups or any other topic covered in this column on this post.

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In-Progress At Pocono: Sprint Cup Race on TNT

Here we go, the first of six races in the summer six-pack of Cup events on TNT. Last season, this is where the TV portion of the season took a wrong turn. This year, TNT vows to change course and relate to the viewers at home in a very different way.

TNT's own Marc Fein will host Larry McReynolds from the TNT mobile stage in the infield. Fein and Bill Weber will combine to host the ninety minutes of pre-race programming TNT will present before every race. The pre-race shows will be a mix of live interviews and pre-produced features.

Once the coverage is underway, Bill Weber will call the play-by-play action with Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach in the booth. Down on pit road will be Lindsay Czarniak, Matt Yocum, Ralph Shaheen and Marty Snider. TNT will used McReynolds to show technical issues with a cut-a-way car.

TNT will actively invite viewers to use their broadband computers to sign-up for RaceBuddy. This free page will have four camera angles live that viewers can choose, and an in-car camera that will change as viewers vote for different drivers. It will also include email sent directly to Larry McReynolds at the race, and offers fans a change to email video questions to be used on the telecast.

RaceBuddy is available by going to, and this is a very brave experiment with the fans to see if they will respond to an active online companion to the TV broadcast.

This post will serve to host your comments about the entire TNT presentation both online and on TV. To add your opinion, just click on the COMMENTS button below. The rules for posting are listed on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to participate with us in this forum.