Thursday, August 14, 2008

SPEED Gets A Second Chance With Stewart

Not too many cable TV networks get a chance to redeem themselves from a complete disaster. Especially a disaster that played-out live in front of a dedicated audience of NASCAR fans. Friday morning, SPEED gets that chance.

Click here to read this column from early July that detailed the complete and total mess that SPEED experienced when they tried to cover the big announcement by Tony Stewart that he was leaving Gibbs Racing and becoming a car owner.

Sometimes in TV, one little problem can cause a chain-of-events that seems almost unbelievable. That is exactly what happened in this case. A big "hum" in the audio made the overall sound unusable and then the video suddenly went to black and everything got very quiet. The audio then came back with the same problem but now the sound was being heard on-the-air through a phone line. Then, in the middle of Stewart's actual announcement, SPEED rolled a three minute commercial break.

Needless to say, NASCAR fans who did not have ESPNEWS on their cable systems were fit to be tied. After the commercial, veteran host John Roberts appeared and while never looking at the camera read some comments and then "threw" to a continuation of SPEED's regular programming. Fans watching ESPNEWS or listening on the Sirius radio knew the press conference was not over. Flat out, SPEED blew it.

Now, Stewart is poised to make another big announcement on Friday at 10:30AM in the Infield Media Center at MIS. John Roberts will again be the host and Wendy Venturini will be the reporter for SPEED. Stewart may be poised to announce Ryan Newman as his new driver and perhaps some additional sponsor details.

This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for SPEED to erase the painful memories of the network's last "live news" effort and cover this story without a problem. Venturini has a great relationship with Stewart and it should be interesting to see if she can get him one-on-one live after the formal press conference concludes.

SPEED has continued to show a flexibility and cooperation with NASCAR like no other TV network in the history of broadcast or cable TV. From breaking-into paid programming to show NASCAR news all the way to letting ESPN show an entire NASCAR race on SPEED at the last minute, this Charlotte-based group is clearly NASCAR's most popular TV partner. Let's see how things work out on Friday.

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Seven Hours Of Byrnes, Hammond And McReynolds

Things always get interesting in "NASCAR TV land" this time of year. On Friday, SPEED returns to coverage of practice and qualifying for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series for the next three consecutive weeks.

There will be seven hours of Friday coverage and three voices that will be doing it all. Unlike the Fox or TNT philosophies, ESPN does not allow any of the network's on-air announcers to appear on SPEED. Fans who just got used to seeing Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree on Fridays will find those two only on the race coverage.

So, SPEED is going to saddle-up three of the hardest working guys in NASCAR TV and ride them all day long. Steve Byrnes, Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds will start at Noon Eastern Time with Sprint Cup practice and will do six consecutive hours of live TV. You can view the complete schedule at the top of the main page. After a break to eat dinner, all three will be joined by Elliott Sadler and do another hour of the popular Trackside program.

Days like this point-out just how ridiculous this ESPN policy really is. NASCAR TV networks have traditionally shared announcers on Fridays. Mike Joy, Lindsay Czarniak, Matt Yocum, Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach are just some of the announcers who have been on SPEED this season helping with practice and qualifying.

Unfortunately, despite urging to the contrary by TDP, Thursday's NASCAR Now on ESPN2 purposefully eliminated any mention of the live practice and qualifying coverage on Friday and Saturday. The show chose to promote only the ESPN races and pretended that these sessions were not on-the-air.

This season started off well between the NASCAR TV partners with all parties cooperating and promoting all of the NASCAR TV coverage for the good of the sport. In making this decision on Thursday, NASCAR Now returned to the poor judgement of 2007 and the philosophy that if something was not on the ESPN networks, it just did not exist.

There are many more years left in the ESPN TV contract with NASCAR and plenty of room for change. Just a couple of weeks ago, SPEED picked-up all the non-televised Sprint Cup Series practice sessions for the remainder of the season. This coverage is going to give ESPN's NASCAR efforts a big boost and a great lead-in.

What SPEED got in return was NASCAR Now also choosing not to promote this live coverage, even though it was practice for the ESPN races. Things suddenly seem to be going downhill again at a time when ESPN really needs solid on-air promotion of The Chase races by all the NASCAR media partners.

ESPN2 completely steps aside on Friday, with one episode of NASCAR Now airing at Midnight ET. Coverage returns on Saturday at 3PM and Sunday at 1PM for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series events. At least the popular Ricky Craven finally returns to the Monday edition of NASCAR Now.

This post is going to serve to host your comments about the Friday TV coverage and the issues discussed above. To add your TV-related 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 for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

A Line Of What On The Radio?

Every weekend SPEED manufactures a lot of TV programming from the SPEED Stage at the Sprint Cup races. One of these programs, squeezed-in between the "big shows," is called Tradin' Paint.

The series began with Michael Waltrip, host John Roberts and a rotating member of the media debating various NASCAR issues. Waltrip eventually moved-on and was replaced by Kyle Petty. Last season, Petty got his very own lesson in dealing with those NASCAR media members. Unfortunately, the lessons often played-out while the program aired.

This little thirty minute show is tough to catch for many fans and does not re-air after Sunday. The shifting race schedules between Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons mean this TV series is best viewed on the DVR or TiVo. Last weekend's show at Watkins Glen was an interesting one to record.

TV veteran Randy Pemberton has been a utility player for SPEED this season as well as hosting one "mini-network" for DirecTV's Hot Pass service. Some NASCAR fans may remember Pemberton working as a reporter alongside Bill Weber on Inside Winston Cup Racing back when Ned Jarrett was the host on TNN. Pemberton has been around the NASCAR block and was this week's media guest.

Roberts led the panel through polite discussions of issues like racing in the rain and who will make The Chase for the Championship. Then, the topic turned to shorter races. Petty was all for it and Pemberton was not. Keep in mind that Petty's other part-time job is as a race analyst for TNT's NASCAR package.

Pemberton forcefully made the point that if the TV guys showed more than just the top five or six cars fans might be more interested in the racing. That did not go over well with Petty. Comparing the current racing to watching paint dry, Petty offered the rebuttal that you can't make something from nothing.

Then, Pemberton pushed Petty's hot button when he said that perhaps if Petty listened to the MRN radio broadcasts he would be able to understand how to make racing exciting. "Those guys (drivers) are battling just as hard for 20th, which is where you are most of the time," said Pemberton.

The radio guys and the TV guys are like the Hatfields and McCoys. So, Petty wasn't having any of this nonsense. "You know why they are battling for 20th?" asked Petty. "Because you can't see them and those (MRN) guys are shooting you a line of crap on the radio!"

His point was that because the TV announcers have to actually show the race to home viewers they must call the real action on the track. Petty was suggesting that the racing action was being embellished during the radio broadcasts.

Pemberton's contention was simple. Should the TV networks expect to be entertained by the racing on the track all the time or should they be actively involved in telling the whole story of the race and work to make it exciting for the fans watching at home?

We have all seen the on-air TV styles change from the drama-building of Ken Squier and the excitement of Eli Gold to the laid-back style of Jerry Punch and the pragmatic style of Bill Weber. How many fans are watching the races on TV, but listening to the radio to get exactly that old-style excitement back again?

Unfortunately, this was the only opinionated moment in an otherwise uninspired program in what has become an uninspired series. TDP readers now call Tradin' Paint a "love-fest" and recent shows have been nothing more than two opinions given to a bored host.

Roberts appears on almost every SPEED Stage program and can be forgiven if viewers get the feeling he wants to get the show over and have some lunch. Pemberton might be a good substitute for Roberts because of his long history both in the sport and with Kyle Petty. Add a Jenna Fryer, David Poole or Lee Spencer to that mix and it may finally make for some interesting TV viewing.

One element absent from Tradin' Paint is the ESPN reporter presence. Marty Smith, David Newton or Mike Massaro will never be on this program due to network TV contracts and ESPN policies. That is a shame for the fans.

As Tradin' Paint makes its way to Homestead, the choice of the topics to discuss and the media guests to invite are going to be make-or-break decisions that will either grow this series or continue to let it languish in SPEED TV's minor leagues.

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