Sunday, May 31, 2009

Saturday's TV Role Reversal


The TV version of Seinfeld's "bizarro world" was on full display Saturday from Dover. This is the episode where everything was opposite and Elaine wound-up with a new cast of friends who looked a lot like her old cast of friends. When a stunning blond eyed George in the coffee shop, he told her he was unemployed and lived with his mother. She loved it.

This season, the ESPN gang has been taking it on the chin for all kinds of struggles from the unfocused "how does that make you feel" pit reporters to the disinterested play-by-play announcer calling out driver names and car numbers in between commercials.

Meanwhile, the SPEED team calling the Camping World Truck Series races has been fun to watch and focused like a laser beam on the racing. Saturday, all of that changed in a very strange way. NASCAR's version of "bizarro world."

Big Brad Daugherty set the changes in motion with his infectious enthusiasm during the pre-race show as he fired-up the TV viewers for the Nationwide Series race. Instead of his usual politically correct spin, Daugherty was right on the money with his wild and very loud opinions of Kyle Busch.

Daugherty talked right over-top of Dale Jarrett and cut-off Allen Bestwick. He just did not want to hear it. The soft-spoken Carolina guy was long gone. Daugherty was an unabashed seven-foot tall finger-waving NASCAR cheerleader who was ready to watch Kyle Busch dominate.

Instead of the tired and disinterested Jerry Punch viewers have known for years, in his place was a polished and excited TV professional who focused on the action and let every member of the TV team participate in the broadcast. Who was this guy?

Punch made the Dover Nationwide Series race interesting by including all the members of his team and running his pit reporters around like sprinters. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree were not dominating the commentary. The reason was simple, Punch did not need their help. This was an entirely new dynamic at work and it got even stranger.

The very same TV production team that painfully follows the ESPN script and gets upset when it changes turned into flexible and open-minded NASCAR fans who regularly searched for the best racing on the track and showed it to the fans. OK, what happened to our regular TV guys?

The three pit reporters hustled and were pushed by the broadcast booth to get stories while they were in-progress. This time, there was no perky Jamie and stuttering Shannon to drive TV viewers crazy. The only thing fans heard was information and the hustle lasted all race long. Even Dave Burns was up on the wheel and asked key questions after the race to pay-off the on-track stories.

Tim Brewer showed-up when he was needed, Allen Bestwick recapped the action at the right times and the fireworks at the end of the race made for some moments that fans will remember for a long time. From Logano looking like he was about to cry on pit road to a livid Kyle Busch fleeing the ESPN reporters yet again, this was a fun and interesting NASCAR TV telecast by the ESPN team.

Due to the Friday rain out, SPEED televised the Camping World Truck Series race right after the ESPN crew finished with the ABC telecast. Krista Voda is one of the most solid NASCAR personalities on TV, but the vibe was not there from the truck team.

Michael Waltrip was over-selling himself, his sponsors and NASCAR long before the drop of the green flag. Waltrip had made himself into a very good third man in the booth, but what happened to him in this telecast almost defied logic. His "spin" of the Goodyear reality in this event should have won a public relations award.

Rick Allen is one of the most dependable and energetic play-by-play guys in the sport, but he was soon to be confronted by a problem that caused the entire broadcast to crumble. Allen made the decision to treat the catastrophic tire failures in the field as just racing incidents. They certainly were not.

Truck after truck fell victim to this problem that NASCAR and Goodyear could not solve. Phil Parsons documented how many laps the trucks could go before the tires popped, but never called for a competition caution for driver safety. Parsons stepped-back instead of up and watched as this issue decimated the field and the race.

Instead of racing, the final segment of the event literally came down to a winner whose tires did not blow. Like Reutimann in the rain, a decision not to pit won the race. The fast trucks were either crashed out, damaged or had drivers not willing to risk injury. The second half of this race was a TV disaster.

At the end of the doubleheader, the reality of the switch hit home. ESPN had stepped-up and done a great job of presenting a Nationwide Series race that featured few passes for the lead but lots of action behind the Busch and Logano freight train. The key was that the producer threw away the script and showed the racing, wherever it was on the track.

SPEED had been shaken by the tire failures in the race and never made a decision about what to do or how to handle this issue on the air. Allen was still calling the race as if it was a competition, rather than a dangerous exhibition of basic equipment failure.

How and why the TV teams decided to change places for this doubleheader is unknown. Having ESPN hit it out of the ballpark and SPEED strike-out is a very new experience.

Seeing Kyle Busch lose two races he dominated in two different series on two different TV networks on the same day was wild. The difference of hearing Punch excitedly call the final restart and Allen try to figure out what to say about Brian Scott was also interesting.

On Seinfeld, the next episode returns everything to normal and the gang moves on to tackle another issue. The ESPN Nationwide team heads for Nashville, TN and a stand-alone race next Saturday night. They have to be pleased with their Dover effort and pumped-up that July brings them to the Sprint Cup Series.

The SPEED team moves next to the high-speed oval in Texas for a CWTS race under the lights on Friday night. That should give them an opportunity to open things back up, shake off the tire issues and get themselves back on track.

If there is one thing broadcasters have learned the hard way over the years, fans will forgive a lot if you just give it to them straight. NASCAR's fan-base established a "no spin zone" long before the cable news networks.

This was a Saturday to remember for both good and bad reasons. While Kyle Busch will no doubt be the theme of most media reports, the side-by-side comparison of two veteran NASCAR TV networks might have yielded the strangest results of all.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, it speaks volumes about how much Jerry Punch has lowered both standards and expectations that you would call his performance tonight polished and excited. Maybe in comparison to his other efforts he has improved, but he is still woefully shy of adequate, and still flirts with utter incompetence more often that the lead broadcaster in his third year of duty should. I am seriously dreading when ESPN/ABC takes over the Cup series.

Dot said...

Do you think that the tire problems weren't mentioned because they were told not to? In a way, the popping tires was a good thing. It added another element in strategy and did make the race unpredictable. The bad thing was, all the torn up trucks. My hope for tomorrow is that when a tire pops they hit the safer barrier and not the concrete wall. And, why isn't that safer barrier all around the track?

Do you think NASCAR will come up with some tire rule for tomorrow? The teams will be scrambling. Just like that one race years ago where they made the teams change the air pressures (I think) right in the middle of the race. Messed up everyone's set up. Gymmie, I'm looking to you to fill in my blank. :)

The Truck race was a little off today. Not just in the booth, but the cameras too. Random shots of the track and no trucks being shown. Either Phil or Rick were resorting to truck numbers instead of driver names. The 13.....

I didn't see the entire NW race. I figured SDDD would win. I was wrong. What a wild finish. Good for Kez. Right place, right time.

Let's hope JP keeps the momentum going tomorrow. Maybe if the hot topic is the tires, JR will get a break. I read where Tony Jr is not happy. I'm sure that affects JR too. SDDD losing twice in one day will be the other story.

Rockin Rich said...

Dot@2:10AM:

I haven't been following all the comments recently. What does your new Vile Kyle moniker SDDD stand for?

I can guess at some possibilities, but the ones I am thinking of would get this post "Removed By A Network Administrator". I expect yours is funner than anything I would come up with.

Karen said...

Rich, Shruba Dubba Ding Dong per hotaru-raganbaby-6.

red said...

hey gang. can't comment on the coverage but, if you're interested, i can tell you some about the truck race yesterday.

1. emptying the stands and then letting truck fans back in really wasn't that tough and went smoothly. we all just stood around until the stands cleared -- didn't seem to take more than 20 minutes or so -- then trooped in and settled down. we didn't even get to the track until 4:30 or so and that made parking and walking around easier b/c folks were in the stands, watching n'wide.

2. we sat slightly to the right of the flag stand and ended up being across from the #4 pit, which was buzzing all night, and w/i easy sight of the #51 pit.

3. S&Ps started on lap 3-- sad. at one point, a truck pulled onto pit road but had no crew there at all. a crew member from another team (!) went over the wall, opened the hood, looked in, shook his head, closed the hood and re-pinned it and the truck did one more lap before pulling off the track for the night. no nascar official in sight while all this happened and it was right behind the 51 pit. by lap 30 or so, there were 7 trucks off, only one which seemed a legitimate engine issue.

4. on the live blog, someone asked about why the track didn't extend the pit road toward turn 1. it's already a hot mess at that end: the entrance to the cup garage area as well as the end of pit road. in fact. on friday, all 3 series were on pit road at the same time and it was a major cluster -- enough that i actually took photos b/c i've never seen it so congested.

5. if one chose to look away from the lead (which i did) there was GREAT racing all over the track! i hope you guys got to see it b/c some of the best was just a few spots behind the leader.

6. tires: yeah, it was that bad. no, we weren't covered by tire dust but i wouldn't have been surprised. mrn (when i could hear it) kept saying that the cars had run this tire before but not the trucks. goodyear has a lot of 'splaining to do.

7. sundown: well, i have to admit, we could hear mrn discussing how dark it was getting but it didn't seem that way to me. it was no darker than when there have been storm clouds all around the track. then again, the human eye is far more sensitive than any tv camera so who knows.

8. curiously enough, both friday and saturday, the family of the young woman who sang the national anthem was seated near me. on friday, i thought "wow, glad she did a good job and everyone around me was being complimentary!" when she came into the stands friday to greet her family, she received lots of compliments. i was reminded of some advice given about going to local tracks: "don't say anything bad about a driver b/c his/her family may be seated near you!"

AND i only saw 2 digger t-shirts being worn, 1 each on friday and saturday and both worn by adult males in their late 50s or early 60s. i can say that i cringed every time i walked past that hauler!

50 yr. fan said...

The Nationwide coverage was much
better. The camera work let the
viewers see the race.
The truck race was a rolling
ToYOYO ad between Parsons & Waltrip
and the camera work. Anyone think
all the camber might have been
part of the problem?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Michael Waltrip only lost it in this broadcast, I think what you noticed what many of us have been complaining about for quite some time.He is terrible, talks to us like we are stupid, and never adds anything that is interesting. The Nationwide race was so much more enjoyable I am really looking forward to TNT.Because of your constant criticism of Jerry Punch I listen to him more carefully to see what you are talking about and do not see that your complaints are valid.It scares me to think about DW in todays race now the 00 won and his BBB t shirt promotion.

bryanh said...

JD, Give the truck guys a break, everyone has a bad day, and I think you will agree this is their first. I wish my remote had a mute button for MW, and let Rick, and Phil call the race. If he gets out of his ride next year, I guess he will be at all the truck races. They should try someone with no sponsor, owner, or committment to anyone, and just comment on the race.

RacingIn.com, For Fans of Fast said...

TDP said, "The key was that the producer threw away the script and showed the racing, wherever it was on the track."

This is the CORE REASON why i 'turn down the TV and turn up the radio' during races.

The radio networks, both PRN and MRN have long realized that the radio listener can't 'see' the action so they have to describe it ALL THE WAY AROUND THE TRACK. If the leader is running away with it, that is BORING radio so they have to find the 'races within the race' to make it interesting for the listener.

At any point in a race there are races within the race and even though Kyle and Joey may have a lot of the fans, there are still fans of every other driver in the race who would love to see them on TV occasionally.

TV could learn a lot from Radio... Yeah... show the 'leaders' galloping away in a 'Picture in Picture', but show the other racing in additional camera views.

Ken said...

Michael Waltrip made watching the race an unpleasant experience. The Waltrip brothers ruin any race they are involved in. The race itself seemed to be "will anything happen to Busch".

Anonymous said...

I agree that Punch's previous performance has so lower expectations that he doesn't have to do much to be considered "improved."

I did enjoy the references to "exploding" and "popping" tires. For too long, the booth guys have kowtowed to Goodyear, which came up with the "cut tire" line and wanted everyone to use that. But these tires were not 'cut"--they blew out.

I did not have a problem with Michael Waltrip. I think his enthusiasm adds a lot to the broadcast.

Zieke said...

I will not watch any race w/ sound on that MW does. He is simply the worst race announcer ever. The self and sponsor promotions are plain stupid and very offensive. He and his brother need to do all of us a big favor and apply at Wal-Mart for a job.

Labbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Labbie said...

I agree completely with Anon @ 1:22, Punch is so woefully inadequate in the play-by-play role that even when he has a rare "good day", it is still so far below "good" that he is nearly impossible to listen to.

Dot said...

I need to correct my comment about JP's momentum. I meant to say next week, not tomorrow. And beyond for that matter.

I caught the last 35 laps on the rerun. I paid attention to JP at the end? Was that really him? Man, he sounded excited.

Is NASCAR Performance live or taped? I noticed umbrellas. NASCAR Smarts shows blue skies, is that live? Any weather reports?

Kyle said...

I was very impressed at ESPN's broadcast. Are they finally listening. They actually did like a top-20 or something rundown. Now, if they do that every 100 laps or a few laps after a pit stop, we will be in business. That was a good race for ESPN. Hopefully, they continue to use this format.

A+ for effort ESPN. Still a little room for improvement, but I won't dread your broadcasts anymore if you start doing it like this.

Speed, good as always.

Anonymous said...

Performance was taped on Friday evening and Smarts was taped on Saturday morning.

Dot said...

Thanks Anon 11:40.

Anonymous said...

ESPN's work was best since 90's. Even so, I believe JP belongs in the Pits maybe replacing Shannon. AB should do PxP.
MW is a shameless self-promoter who is annoying as hell. Shutup and take a breath once in a while and say something that adds to the telecast. With Mikie in the booth 3 is definitely a crowd.

Sophia said...

I am so enjoying Kyle Petty on Raceday. Jimmy Spencer is a kick sometimes but Kyle is a bit more polished and a good balance to Kenny Wallace in my opinion.

Yesterday, we did lots of cleaning around the house, I taped neither race. I expected the one on BSPN to be a sleeper with shrub winning. GLAD somebody new won!!!!!!!!!!!

Truck race only partially watched as well.

The crashes in both made me wince.

Since hearing MRN moved mid season to a weaker station, I am very bummed. I had hoped to LISTEN to races the last half of the season to keep up with things.

At this point, with the loss of the Fox guys in the booth (who cannot help being muzzled by suits, and lacking info, while they are FORCED to make promos out the ying yang) I look forward to TNT and MIKE WELLS DIRECTING!!!!!!!!


after that, well, espn is going to be a drag on the sport. PERIOD. the end. nuff said. :(

I will stay up on races with SR, TWIN and read here.

Not up to sitting thru hours of the lack of info, or taping and ff 4/5 of the race.

But we shall see.

ESPN is way too arrogant to change their delivery.

Fox was too arrogant to change their delivery. We've long been unhappy with camera work, the finish (ala ABC's long standing view of one car winner in Indy racing)the cartoons, the VIDEOS over GREEN FLAG racing.

oh and SPEED is RUINING TRUCKS with the strobe lights of red and other colors around split screen. BAD CHOICE.

The guys in the booth the rest of the season, do not make me wanna tune in (DWs bromances aside but other stations are just as bad!!)

JP needs to keep up the energy or PUT ABestwick in the booth. Put JP where he can shine. He deserves it.

Newracefan said...

I had to leave in the middle of the NW race and actually found it hard to do (I left late ;), listened to MRN on the way and when I got where I was going the race was on, walked in just in time to see Joey move Kyle and sat down and watched the rest which I was not planning to do. ESPN did a nice job and it was a good race. The trucks not as much fun all my favs had tire trouble, I DVR'd it since I was in and out but I offered to go with someone on an errand which I would not have done if the race was better. I think all that rain just threw the Speed guys off their game.

majorshouse said...

I watched the re-broadcast of the truck race this afternoon and it was horrendous. I got so sick and tired of Mikey with his shameless self promotion and all of the atteniton being leveled to Kyle Bush and the ending where he and Phil Parsons kept talking about how Bush was going to win like there was no one else on the track. Give me a break guys, this is horrible and I am to the point where I cannot stand hearing either Mikey or DW say a word because l;ike others before me have stated that they have absolutely nothing to add to the broadcast of the race and with Mikey three's a crowd so kick his butt out and take Darrell with him.