Sunday, February 22, 2009
Meet The Original "Digger"
Three TV networks cover the points races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Fox starts things off for thirteen events and then yields to TNT for six races. ESPN eventually steps-in and takes the sport all the way through the end of the season.
Each of these networks brings to the sport a different team of announcers and a different production philosophy. ESPN runs a tight ship with buttoned-down on-air talent and lots of sports information during the races. TNT focuses on promoting the network's entertainment programming and offers the Daytona race in July with limited commercial breaks.
The NASCAR on Fox telecasts began as a friendly group of well-informed experts talking about stock car racing in terms that anyone could understand. Fox made it clear that they welcomed new fans to the sport and wanted to embrace what was called "the casual fan." While the announcers are still welcoming, some things have changed.
Fox executive David Hill likes animated characters in his TV sports programs. "Cleatus" is a robot that appears in the Fox NFL games. Click here to see Conan O'Brien express his views on that topic.
The TV network, however, has other ideas about what to do with their robot. Click here to scope-out the action figure available of this animated creation. Perhaps, the reality that these concepts were ultimately created to drive revenue has not zoomed past you at this point.
All of this brings us to "Digger." The picture above is of the original "Digger." No, not the one from Fox. This "Digger" was an original creation over two decades ago crafted by a company you may remember.
The Shirt Tales was a short-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon about five woodland creatures (Tyg Tiger, Pammy Panda, Digger Mole, Rick Raccoon, and Bogey Orangutan) who lived in Oak Tree Park– and spent their time battling crime when they weren’t teasing Park Ranger Mr. Dinkle. The TV cartoon series ran from 1982 through early 1984. Click here for The Shirt Tales Wiki page.
The late voice-over veteran Bob Ogle (click here) created the personality of the "Digger Mole" character for the series. "Digger Mole" was plastered on T-shirts, coffee mugs and the pack was made into a set of take-home figures. They were also featured on a line of Hallmark cards. The merchandising of these type of cartoon characters is a lucrative business.
The fundamental difference between "Digger Mole" and the NASCAR on Fox version of "Digger" is where and how the character appeared. The Shirt Tales was simply a cartoon that was presented as a complete TV program for kids.
The Fox version of "Digger" is an animation that is inserted over a sport that often does not lend itself to easy laughs and the giggles of small children.
Where and how the "Digger" animation is used has changed the TV viewing enjoyment of many NASCAR fans. After an incident that may have altered the entire complexion of a race, seeing "Digger" do his little act somehow trivializes the moment.
Even worse is hearing the NASCAR on Fox announcers trying to somehow come up with yet another funny line about "Digger." Often, they are forced to interrupt the commentary about the real action on the track to pay attention to this animated character. The bottom line is that "Digger" often detracts from the event and has in many ways become the show.
At Daytona, the Fox commentary team sometimes just ignored "Digger" due to the racing action. That made things even stranger. The animation would play, nothing would be said and the mole would go back in his hole as if nothing happened.
Hopefully, California will bring "Digger" in a limited role during caution flags and the lap prior to a restart. Even used once coming back from commercial break would limit the impact of this animation on the actual event.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with "Digger" is that the true level of annoyance is not revealed until Fox departs the NASCAR scene and TNT steps-in. The wide sweeping shots of veteran Director Mike Wells and the TNT production team show the racing in a very different way from the Fox gang. In an instant, "Digger" becomes a memory until the next season.
In a year where NASCAR and the TV partners need to be hyper-sensitive to the fans, perhaps a wiser use of "Digger" can return the focus to the racing and let the drivers provide the excitement for the TV viewers.
Just for the record, "Digger" appeared 20 times in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, 19 times in the race and once in the pre-race show. Thanks to Cheryl and the gang at cawsnjaws.com.
We invite you to share your thoughts about "Digger" appearing in the Sprint Cup Series races on Fox. Just click the comments button below. Your comment will appear after it is moderated. This is a family-friendly website and profanity or hateful speech will simply get your comment deleted.
Here are some links to other Internet posts that contained "Digger" comments:
Digger = Obnoxious (Speedway Media)
Worst Press Conference (Ryan McGee for ESPN the Magazine)
Talking TV (Frontstretch)
Time To Take Out "Digger" (Cup Stuff Blog)
"Digger" Goes For Dollars (USA Today)