Sunday, June 7, 2009
TNT Just What The TV Doctor Ordered
They may be the smallest player in the NASCAR TV scenario, but TNT started the network's six race run with a bang. The philosophy was simple, try to give NASCAR fans everything they wanted. What a novel idea.
Fans who wanted to concentrate on the TV coverage found a responsive and fun group presenting 90 minutes of pre-race coverage. Marc Fein anchored a panel that included Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds. These three talked through a wide variety of NASCAR topics and presented several quality features.
Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach used the final 30 minutes to talk about race topics and offer a look at the new Wally's World feature. The famous TNT cocktail table is back, but the pre-race shows were well-constructed and set a very different table for TV viewers than the previous efforts of Fox.
During this time, fans who were also on Twitter discovered something brand new. Petty was actually taking pictures and texting with fans while he was on the pre-race show. Amazingly, this continued throughout the race and ushered in a new level of direct contact between NASCAR fans and the TV booth.
Bill Weber was sporting a new light blue blazer, but his presence in the booth was anything but obtrusive. He did a great job of directing traffic between his three analysts and four very busy pit reporters. Weber's calm and organized manner on the air let Petty and Dallenbach take center stage.
Petty is the star of this show and he proved to be a responsive and interesting presence during the telecast. Once the race began, Petty repeatedly directly asked questions on the air that fans were sending to him via Twitter and RaceBuddy. Issues like caution flags, pit road reports and even the location of the debris on the track were brought up for all to hear.
Many fans fired up the computer and opened the free RaceBuddy application offered by NASCAR.com. Four additional camera angles, a designated pit reporter, texts from pit road and the ability to chat and message made for a great added value. RaceBuddy can be plugged directly into HDTV's, giving NASCAR on TV a whole new look.
Larry McReynolds once again provided the strategy and the cutaway car demos from the infield. His presence really rounds-out a solid broadcast team. Ralph Sheheen, Lindsay Czarniak and Marty Snider have not been on the NASCAR TV beat this season, but worked pit road without missing a story.
The TNT production team offers wider views of the track and lots of recaps of the field as the race progresses. On the restarts, the cameras focus on the two and three-wide action regardless of how far back in the pack it is happening.
Pocono has not been known to produce the most exciting races, but Petty kept viewers interested with his commitment to bring-up any topic and demand the kind of on-track accountability that was not present earlier this season. Rarely has the Lead Analyst been on the air asking his Producer to show the debris on the track that brought out the caution flag.
TNT waited out a rain delay and then wrapped-up the race with a good explanation of the gas mileage strategy that won the race. TNT has to consider eliminating the fake pylons and other electronically inserted objects left over from their older coverage.
In addition, the split-screen frequently used may have looked good when it was composed, but the rolling checkered flag effect behind it is tremendously distracting, especially in HD. The boxes also have thick gray and black edges that do not fit in with the graphics package being used.
The TNT coverage also did not commit to letting the lead-lap cars cross the start-finish line and missed both Jimmie Johnson running out of gas and Kasey Kahne spinning in the final corner. At a huge track like Pocono, fans deserved to see the cars race to the finish.
All in all, this was a solid effort by TNT that resulted in a very watchable telecast. Adding the Twitter and RaceBuddy features let fans get much more interactive than ever before. Having a designated pit road reporter only for the online users was also a clear winner.
Note: We will get the details of why TNT left the air and moved the post-race show online to NASCAR.com before the scheduled off time shortly. Being told right now it was a call made in Atlanta. Missed some good interviews on the TV side.
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