Sunday, November 1, 2009
Four Hours Of Talladega Pre-Race TV Worthwhile?
This topic has been raised before at TDP. It seems to come to a head each season during The Chase. Sunday, it will be on display in a weekend that features college football, NBA basketball, Major League Baseball and NFL Football.
In a nutshell, there will be four hours of live NASCAR pre-race on national television leading up to an event that may not even last that long from green to checker. The questions are does this make sense and is it really good for the sport?
Sunday starts with the preview hour of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. This is a TV series originating from the Connecticut studios of ESPN. On the set this weekend are host Mike Massaro and analyst Randy LaJoie. Reporting from Talladega are Nicole Manske and Marty Smith.
NASCAR Now is a polished and professional show that offers a very early race preview. Most interviews are taped while the reporters on-scene do their liveshots outside with the track as a background. The program relies on edited features and lots of footage, called B-roll, that is played while the duo in the studio talks about a topic.
NASCAR Now is airing a full four hours before the actual race. Often, it seems to be an island of motorsports amid a world of stick-and-ball sports. Still, it is accurate and informative as a pre-race show.
This week, the jackets and ties of NASCAR Now overlap with one of the two hours of controlled mayhem on SPEED called NASCAR Raceday. The format of the program is simple. The show bounces back and forth between the outside of the track and the inside.
On the inside are two reporters, Wendy Venturini and Hermie Sadler. They offer news, interviews and some opinions on the NASCAR topics of the day. They are professional, polished and fun. The vibe from these two is unlike any of the other NASCAR TV reporters.
Meanwhile, outside the track is a trio that cannot quite figure out how to stay out of trouble. Host John Roberts is looking stressed these days. He often tries to step out of the host role and offer a closing comment once panelists Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace stop talking.
The reason is easy to understand. This trio has lost its way on TV and it shows. They do not talk to each other, they each talk to the TV viewers directly. Roberts tosses out a topic and instead of a discussion, he gets two former drivers who seem to be interested in "making big statements" instead of common sense.
"Well, fans" is the way Spencer starts lots of his answers/lectures. "Let me tell you something" is the favorite opening line for Wallace. His intentions might be good, but Wallace often gets sidetracked by forced comedy antics and incomplete sentences.
Spencer and Wallace may both be doing their best, but this act is old. Roberts is repeatedly forced to offer the last word on many topics because Spencer and Wallace have made very little sense. Returning the focus of the two panelists to Roberts and not the crowd or the TV viewers is going to be critical.
Leave Wallace's desktop dancing and Spencer's cigar chomping to the commercial breaks. The two informed and polished reporters inside the track have made the antics and disjointed conversation of the outside panel even more glaring.
RaceDay still has an appeal as having something for everyone, but the program could be so much more with some fundamental TV coaching for Spencer and Wallace.
Now, after three hours of pre-race shows, along comes NASCAR Countdown on ABC. This is the actual TV show leading into the race and originates from the traveling Infield Pit Studio that ESPN built at considerable expense for this sport.
Allen Bestwick was promoted to host of this program and has done a solid job. This week, he brings in an extra chair as Ray Evernham joins regulars Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty on the one hour show.
ESPN has Bestwick on a tight leash for this program. It is heavily scripted and often uses the exact same edited features seen on the 10AM NASCAR Now show. All four of the NASCAR on ESPN pit reporters are used, but they do not have the same kind of relationship with the Sprint Cup Series drivers as SPEED's Venturini and Sadler.
The forced replies always include a sponsor mention and one or two sentences addressing the topic. It is sometimes very clear that the drivers just do not like the reporter that has been assigned to them. Since this TV team only comes into Cup for the final seventeen races, it is late July before many of the drivers deal with Jamie Little, Shannon Spake, Vince Welch or Dave Burns.
The race analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree also appear in the show with a preview, but Jerry Punch usually does not. The focus is kept on Bestwick as he tries to herd the nine on-air talent into a cohesive show in the forty-four minutes of content that he has to work with.
By the time Bestwick hands off to Punch, NASCAR fans have been offered four hours of previewing the same 43 cars on the same track. Three TV networks and eighteen on-air talent have combined to offer an amazing amount of NASCAR TV.
Update: Apologies to those (including myself) as NN aired at 9AM. Here is the official info from ESPN as provided to TDP:
Mike Massaro hosts half-hour episodes of NASCAR Now airing Tuesday through Thursday of this week at 5 p.m., and Saturday at 1 a.m. (late Friday night). Massaro will be joined by LaJoie for the one-hour weekend edition that airs Sunday, Nov. 1, at 10 a.m. with a preview of that day’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. The weekend wrap-up edition airs at 10 p.m. Sunday. Nicole Manske and Marty Smith will report from the speedway for both programs.
On this Sunday, how about sharing with us your pre-race viewing habits? Are you going to watch all three shows before the race? If not, what did you pick and why? Are choices based on personalities, networks or content?
We will also use this post to live blog all three shows. Offer any TV-related comments and opinions on Sunday as these programs roll by. To add your comment, just click on the comment button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for stopping by and helping us watch four hours of NASCAR pre-race TV.