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.

TV Commercials Get Viewers Steamed

Normally, we talk about the content that the TV networks offer as they show hundreds of hours of programming that documents the NASCAR scene for eleven months.

Several years back, the TV commercials run in these NASCAR programs began to star the drivers and even the crew chiefs. Advertisers had discovered that these familiar faces sold products and inspired brand loyalty the likes of which they had never known.

Now, NASCAR's economic struggles find sponsors who do not participate in the sport on a full-time basis. Companies like Planters, Old Spice and Go Daddy are sometimes "in" and sometimes "out" on racing weekends.

This past weekend found all three of them "in" and offering commercials that did not sit well with some TV viewers. Since these companies are not in the sport's TV broadcasts all season long, they do not make NASCAR specific commercials with drivers and racing themes. Instead, they imported some other commercials from the entertainment side of the cable TV world.

While Tony Stewart may be fond of Old Spice as a sponsor, many emailers were not fond of the half-man/half-horse character who was standing supposedly naked in the shower. It got creepier when he put his Old Spice combo bodywash/shampoo container on his own man/horse rear-end.

The creepiness reached a fever pitch when his beautiful and normal wife/girlfriend walked-in and stood next to her naked horse/guy/boyfriend/husband thing. Yes, he was a good provider. Not sure what program, network or TV series this commercial was intended for, but good luck on impressing NASCAR fans with the Centaur approach.

Nothing has lit-up the email like the Planters Peanut company commercials. A quick check of NASCAR will tell you that about half of the fans are female. Perhaps, the best way to sell them peanuts is not to have an "ugly girl" smear herself with "Essence of Peanut" and then walk around town while men get run-over and fight just to be near her.

See, she would be nothing except an "ugly girl" if she did not smell like peanuts. Somehow, I just don't think those NASCAR peanuts are flying off the shelves. Perhaps, 2009 might find Planters back in NASCAR with a different advertising agency and commercials.

Over the past several years, a very obnoxious company called Go Daddy has been making a name for itself in two ways. First, it has thrown a lot of money at celebrities and secondly it has produced some of the most sexist and borderline profane commercials every made. This weekend NASCAR fans got a little taste of both.

It was Disney-owned ESPN that showed several different Go Daddy commercials in the two NASCAR races. Some featured Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others who promoted the Go Daddy website services. It was another non-NASCAR commercial that got the email smoking and the parents upset. Once again, where this commercial originally aired may tell the real tale of why and how it wound-up on ESPN.

Two male actors were involved in some office conversation that was totally harmless as presented. Then, the suggestions began where this commercial was headed as the guys talked about "doing" various women. Of course, it meant looking them up on the computer.

The joke concluded as a female office worker walked by just when one of the men was saying that he "already did his mother." The female yelled "pervert" and that was the end of that. This Go Daddy company is really a class act.

Perhaps, we could get Go Daddy and Planters together for a seminar on female NASCAR demographics while the horse/guy/thing waited outside. He does not seem to be very shy about showing off his bodywash/shampoo shelf in public.

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.

In-Progress From Bristol: Sprint Cup Series Race on ESPN

Things are getting serious this time of the year for both the teams and the TV networks. The ESPN coverage is on the verge of shifting over to the ABC Broadcast Network for The Chase and Saturday night in Bristol should be a good test of the TV crew.

Allen Bestwick will host the hour-long NASCAR Countdown show at 7PM from ESPN's Infield Pit Studio. He will be joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. This newly-paved track has resulted in some very different racing and that should be the main topic of conversation.

It will be Dr. Jerry Punch calling the play-by-play action from the announce booth in the race tower with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside for analysis. Down on pit road will be Dave Burns, Shannon Spake, Jamie Little and Mike Massaro.

This crew is coming off a Nationwide race that was so fast and so furious that no one really got a handle on the action until it was almost over. Incidents were missed in commercial, the championship fight took precedence over the racing action and the lack of frequent caution periods made the commercials seem incredibly intrusive. Basically, it was a tough night for the TV gang.

It should be interesting to see if ESPN stripped-down the broadcast to deal with the sixteen second laps and the two-wide racing under green that will probably dominate the night. Almost all the production elements from the SportsCenter updates to the Tech Center explanations and the replaying of the driver audio simply did not fit into the tight time constraints that this race mandates.

ESPN tried to force pre-recorded "soundbites" with the drivers into the telecast. Also, pre-produced "bumpers" of drivers walking-up and looking into the camera before commercial break were used while the race was under green. The results were disastrous. Lap-after-lap of green flag racing was missed.

Sometimes, the network would return from commercial, do a recap of what was missed and then go right back to another commercial break. As a viewer, it was maddening.

On Wednesday night, SPEED aired the Craftsman Truck Series race from this very track. The action was intense and the racing was outstanding. Viewers saw SPEED take a stripped-down approach that put the focus of the telecast on the track and nowhere else. Pit reporters were heard and not seen, all the teams were covered and the commercials were inserted right after a pass was completed. It worked.

There are a lot of forces at work on the ESPN coverage that makes shrinking the telecast very hard. ESPN has ten announcers, a Tech Center, an Infield Pit Studio, SportsCenter updates, a bottom line constant sports crawl and a lot of promos to do.

Even the short Nationwide Series race was so fast that it ended almost forty-five minutes early. If the Sprint Cup Series decides to run side-by-side and fight it out in the pits for position, it could be one of the shortest races in Bristol history.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Sprint Cup race coverage on ESPN. To add your TV-related comment, 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. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


There is going to be quite an interesting mix of TV programs on SPEED Saturday afternoon. It begins with one of the most controversial TV guests in the network's history.

Bob Pockrass of is the absolute opposite of Kyle Petty. As these two face-off on Tradin' Paint at 3:30PM the network puts host John Roberts in between them. Last season, Petty said Pockrass spends his time "blowing smoke up people's butts" and at a recent Stewart-Haas news conference, Stewart said to Pockrass "what have you been smoking?"

Like the kid in high school that annoys you until you blow-up, Pockrass has the ability on TV to push Kyle Petty's buttons. This week the topics on the menu may do just that. The JGR cheating, the Toyota horsepower, the 2009 schedules and Kyle's recent comments about NASCAR radio broadcasts might be up for discussion.

Petty gets a lot of credit for hanging-in on this show once he replaced Michael Waltrip last season. It is the only NASCAR TV show that takes on substantive topics and uses members of the NASCAR Media who are not regularly seen on TV as panelists.

Following next at 4PM is NASCAR Performance with Larry McReynolds hosting. Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker, two crew chiefs who have been known to push the limits of the rule book, are his regular panelists. McReynolds has made this program into a nice little franchise that is often more informative than many other NASCAR TV shows. From JGR's magnets to the best Bristol set-up to potential tire troubles, it should be a good show.

TV veteran Randy Pemberton has taken over NASCAR in a Hurry and added his own personality to the show. At 4:30PM he recaps the Bristol action from the arrival of the teams to the present moment using footage shot during the weekend. It is a nice way to get up-to-speed in well...a hurry.

At 5PM the franchise comes strolling in as NASCAR RaceDay takes to the air for two sold hours of pre-race television. Host John Roberts and panelists Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace are well-known by now for this popular program.

This week, the list of live guests is long. Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, David Reutimann and David Ragan will be on the show. The network will have two stages as they have done in the past. One will be outside the track, and one in the infield. Wendy Venturini's Real Deal will be a profile of the Morgan McClure race team as the #4 has recently been in the news with Tony Stewart.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Saturday afternoon of NASCAR TV programs on SPEED. To add your TV-related comments, 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. Thank you for stopping by The Daly Planet.

Gutsy Ryan Burr Finally Asks The Question

The ESPN tap dance had been going-on so long it was getting annoying to all the parties concerned. Someone was going to have to step-in and end this pointless dance marathon. Leave it to an ESPNEWS anchor who lives outside the NASCAR bubble.

Saturday Morning's NASCAR Now hit the air at 10AM and it featured one of the most effective pairings of studio anchor and field reporter. Standing in Bristol, TN was Marty Smith. Perhaps, Smith is the face of ESPN's NASCAR efforts where news and feature reporting is concerned.

This season has seen Smith write a cover story for ESPN the Magazine, stand front-and-center on the big news stories of the season and handle the interviews that NASCAR fans want to see. A big part of Smith's on-air success is the new studio anchor team of Nicole Manske and Ryan Burr.

It was Burr handling the Saturday duties. Fans know Burr from his time on the ESPNEWS Network and his ability to talk to almost anyone. Sometimes, Burr can work to draw emotion and opinion from a guest who participates in the sports world. In this case, he asked the tough questions of ESPN's Lead Reporter and helped to clear-up the lingering bad feelings about earlier comments from some ESPN announcers.

"Right after this happened Marty, there's going to be speculation...that's the job of the people who were hired at ESPN," said Burr. What Burr was carefully doing was addressing the earlier statements by Tim Brewer that Tony Stewart was involved in this scheme.

On Friday night, Allen Bestwick and the ESPN Infield Pit Studio team had actually hosted JD Gibbs in the studio. Bestwick was polite and political, but could not bring himself to ask the question America wanted to hear. Apparently, it took someone who came from the TV news side of the business to get the issue out on the table. Finally, Burr got it done.

"We have now had a week to kind of let all this settle in," continued Burr. "What role, if any, did the drivers have in this?"

Marty Smith's expression never changed. He never blinked. His answer was straightforward. "None whatsoever at all," he said.

Smith reminded viewers that JGR accepted all the penalties with the exception of the points and probation given to both Tony Stewart and Joey Logano. After the JGR employees involved identified themselves, it was the contention of both Joe and JD Gibbs that between the lengthy NASCAR suspensions and the internal fines and suspensions that no action should be directed at the drivers.

This simple and effective question-and-answer session cleared the air as well as possible before ESPN stepped into the big spotlight of the Sprint Cup Series and put a live microphone in front of Tony Stewart. While Logano may be trained in the long line of NASCAR's corporate spokesman/drivers, Stewart had already mentioned Brewer's comments on his Sirius radio show and was a good bet to back that up on live TV.

Both the early and late editions of NASCAR Now have proven to be good companion pieces to the ESPN coverage of the Sprint Cup Series. Hosts Manske and Burr are straight-shooters who do not mince words and go directly to the heart of the matter on a topic. It has proven to be effective, with this JGR driver issue being a very good example.

We would welcome your comments as to whether or not ESPN has offered enough of an explanation to put this issue to bed and move on to the racing action. To add your TV-related comments, 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 and thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.