Thursday, February 18, 2010
Daytona 500: The TV Aftermath
It's been a couple of days now since the Daytona 500 was telecast by the NASCAR on FOX team. Jamie McMurray has gone off on a whirlwind media tour and shown himself to be quite handy on TV. NASCAR and track officials have offered explanations on "bondo-gate" to anyone who will listen.
Click here to review the fan postings on TDP immediately after the race that focused on the telecast. Now, I'll add my opinion and let you comment.
The NASCAR on FOX team handled the Bud Shoot Out the weekend before the Daytona 500. Almost exactly the same group worked on the Thursday Gatorade Duels for SPEED as well. Both telecasts served to excite fans who were not only welcoming back racing, but were welcoming the NASCAR on FOX team into their homes for the tenth season.
What better possible way to preview the big race than by having both "heat races" come down to inches for the win. In both programs, the TV booth team of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds reminded us just how good NASCAR on TV can truly be with their excitement level and flow of information to the viewers.
Chris Myers returned on Sunday to anchor the Daytona 500 telecast. Myers is a well respected TV professional who has hosted high profile series for networks like ESPN and the Tennis Channel. This season, NFL fans also saw him as a sideline reporter for games on FOX. Unfortunately, NASCAR calls for something a little different.
During his time in the Hollywood Hotel, Myers is an actor. After ten seasons of NASCAR, Myers must act as if he knows nothing about the sport. He must make corny jokes at the expense of others. Even as Myers hosts a sophisticated new TV series on Showtime called Inside NASCAR, on FOX he is nothing more than a court jester.
Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond know the routine. They roll their eyes at Myers during their time together. They say silly things and make funny faces. They joined Myers in acting their way through the pre-race.
It was only then that the real agenda of FOX this season was revealed. Waltrip and Hammond awkwardly made their way outside of the Hollywood Hotel. Waiting there was the new A-Team van. It was movie promo time. A theme that would dominate the coverage as it did last season.
Instantly, no one remembered what Waltrip or Hammond said about the race as they performed the goofy A-Team skit. Waltrip had turned from credible analyst to shameless shill. The bottom line is, you cannot work both sides of the street.
The in-race coverage suffered horribly from commercial placement. A full length movie trailer was played before a full length commercial and other trailers played over the racing action in a small video box on the screen. As fans noticed, commercials were placed in the racing despite the pothole delays.
Ultimately, inserting a commercial with twenty laps to go while racing under green was just heartless. Even in a race of normal length, that would have been tough to take under green. But after hours of delays and frustration, it was inexcusable.
Mike Joy has been the heart and soul of NASCAR on FOX since these telecasts began. Nothing could have prepared viewers for what happened on Sunday. In our live Twitter race chat, fans were asking if Joy was under the weather. It was that bad.
For whatever reason, Joy had a very tough day. It certainly did not help that he was trapped handling various commercial elements and promos in the event. Periods of silence from Joy while cars raced under green was a very new phenomenon. Hearing him in a monotone talking about various teams and topics instead of calling the action was also very different. Over the last three seasons, fans had taken to calling that "the ESPN approach."
One memorable thing Fox and ESPN share is the incredibly poor timing on use of the in-car cameras. Time after time, key action on the track was missed because the TV team could not resist pushing the in-car button.
Nothing brought this more into focus than the final laps. From seemingly out of nowhere, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared and tried to squeeze his car between two others on the backstretch at full speed. Incredibly, the Fox Director took Junior's in-car camera at that moment. It showed nothing but the single car ahead of Jamie McMurray.
The biggest pass of the race had been completely missed by FOX. It was made by the most popular driver in the sport. It was made after two long red flag periods. It was made during a green/white/checker finish. It was a ridiculous TV mistake. If Junior had won the race, Fox would have missed the pass that set it all up.
During both red flag periods, the best pit reporting team on TV got busy. They began to talk to the drivers and fill time while repairs were done on the track. Eventually, the booth talent and the Hollywood Hotel crew were also used. Unfortunately, that was not enough.
As the delay wore on, fans never saw a replay of the thrilling finish of the Gatorade Duels. There was no recap of the Bud Shoot Out from the previous week. NASCAR personalities like Junior Johnson or the Wood Brothers, celebrated before the race, were never brought into the Hollywood Hotel. The endless pit road interviews simply kept on going.
Finally, after some social media urging on Twitter, a NASCAR official addressed the issue on TV. Unfortunately, it was Brian France. Standing alongside the Fox team who were neatly dressed in shirts and ties, France offered a very basic overview of the situation. It was not his words, but his appearance that was the problem.
Just like his ill-timed comments over the last several seasons on topics from Mauricia Grant to drug testing policies, France appeared wrinkled, confused and uninformed. He may be just the opposite, but that is the point. To fans watching on television, France simply looked disheveled.
NASCAR has a new policy that has been repeated to media members and drivers alike. It attempts to tie anything that is not happy or perfect into some kind of vendetta against the sport. Happy talk now fills NASCAR radio, official websites and many TV programs. Negative talk is for those who hate NASCAR.
In the TV world, NASCAR enjoyed a solid Speedweeks. We previously mentioned the Bud Shoot Out and the Gatorade Duels. SPEED's veteran truck series team had a blast calling the tight finish of that race on Friday night. Even better was ESPN's debut with Marty Reid in the booth and Dr. Jerry Punch back on pit road in the Nationwide Series race. Click here to review that glowing article.
As we all know in real life, things aren't always rosy. The Daytona 500 telecast on FOX was not. Credit certainly goes to FOX for hanging in there during the delays. But, why was this telecast so different from the other races during the week? These were the exact same announcers, the exact same cars and even the exact same track.
Maybe this weekend in Fontana will find the FOX crew settled back into the familiar rhythm fans have enjoyed for a decade. Then again, FOX may believe that everything from Daytona was perfect. These days, everything is always perfect in NASCAR land.
There is no truck race this weekend and ESPN2 gets Danica on Saturday. Chris Myers appears at 2PM ET with the NASCAR on FOX pre-race show. Green flag is 3:10PM.
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