Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Special: IndyCar Cancels Weekly TV Series

NASCAR fans may remember back in 2007 when ESPN supported its new NASCAR TV contract by launching a daily show called NASCAR Now. In a word, it was horrible. Two hosts with no NASCAR experience, a hype-driven agenda that was embarrassing and a complete lack of respect for the sport.

Now, five years later, NASCAR Now is a flagship motorsports series. Good hosts, solid reporting and updated information that is passed along seamlessly. That series has become a part of the NASCAR TV landscape.

After much poking and prodding, SPEED finally jumped into the same mix and created NASCAR Race Hub. Expanding on the Monday one-hour show the network produced for years, SPEED finally flexed some TV muscle. Again, it took several tries to get it right. Now, Steve Byrnes is firmly entrenched as the host and the show is running at full speed.

Last weekend many NASCAR fans took the time to cross-over and watch the open-wheel gang run the Indy 500. Here at TDP, we hosted a live blog that resulted in many positive comments about the series and the racing. The Indy 500 is to IndyCar what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR. It's a spectacle that attracts all kinds of new fans.

Needless to say, the drama of the final laps came to a head when JR Hidlebrand hit the wall on the final turn and Dan Wheldon just got past him before the caution lights came on. It was a big win for Wheldon, who only had a one-race deal for this season. Hildebrand was a gracious loser on TV.

The IndyCar series has a handful of races on ESPN and ABC, including the Indy 500. The bulk of the season is carried on VERSUS, a cable network with an identity problem that can best be described as disjointed. VERSUS grew out of the Outdoor Life Network and has tried to be all things to all people. It's not working.

This season, IndyCar also put a toe in the TV water with a new series called Open Wheel Weekly. It aired on Tuesdays in what we like to call the "DVR Theater" timeslot. That is 4PM on the East Coast, 1PM out west. The programs were also made available online to registered members and re-aired on VERSUS at 11PM Pacific Time.

The picture above is driver Tony Kanaan goofing around off-air with fellow driver Bruno Junquiera and the Open Wheel Weekly announcers. Robin Miller is well-known to most fans because of his work with SPEED. Kevin Lee and Lindsay Thackston co-host the program.

After a sparkling Indy 500 that attracted a lot of news fans, the only weekly TV series that focuses on the IndyCar Series was abruptly cancelled. The official word is on hiatus but that is just a TV term that means Open Wheel Weekly may possibly return in the future. There was no show on Tuesday.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that perhaps the week after the biggest race of the season might not have been the best time to cancel the series. With no race this weekend, the exposure that a TV show airing nationally and available online would bring was fundamentally important.

Sure, it was on at 4PM for the East Coast. Sure, it's a blip on the radar in the big picture, Sure, it's not critical to the survival of the series. But having a long-form TV show where IndyCar could put it's best foot forward only days after the biggest race of the year in many ways is priceless.

Put it on YouTube. Plaster it on Facebook. Tweet to every IndyCar fan on Twitter that the show is available online. Make it a front page link on the IndyCar website. Social media and Internet users have a habit of taking something small and making it very big.

ESPN is so desperate for TV exposure for its IndyCar races, the series is included in the NASCAR Now program. Drivers are interviewed, races are promo'ed and the ongoing Danica story is always updated.

If the ultimate goal of IndyCar is to coordinate a future TV package with Comcast using NBC and VERSUS as the key networks, the sanctioning body had better get hopping on returning a "support show" to the air.

Despite the issue of cost, history supports the fact that a series like Open Wheel Weekly needs time to develop and mature just like NASCAR Now and Race Hub.

Had I watched Open Wheel Weekly this Tuesday and heard from Miller, Wheldon and Hidlebrand it would have reinforced my interest in the series. Had I been shown some behind-the-scenes video and sound from the race it would really have been a treat.

Instead, I am only planning to watch the Indy500 next season. Those memories are still fresh. After all, I saw it all on TV.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your 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.


Sophia said...

Actually it was called 'Indycar Weekly'.

First show was shakey, last 2 improved & last week was outta site with 2 old timers..Unser & I forget the other name..also Kanaan, i think was on. Can't believe it's gone so soon. Lame decision.

Robin said they'd hoped to get a better timeslot after Hockey season. Guess not.

Last weeks show was great with build up to the 500.

Sophia said...

p.s. Never mind. DVR called it Indycar Open Wheel Weekly. forums referred to it as Indycar Weekly.

Still STINKS it's gone so soon. Robin's email must be blowing up. When Junqueria was on last week, he mentioned he got 1500 tweets when he got bumped from the race. This was the only show that might personalize the IRL drivers.

WT needs 2 hours & Speed should give Robin show after that!

Anonymous said...

Only heard of this show when Bill was asking Twitterville about what was going on with it. A shame if it is indeed canceled. Sounds like a show to help introduce folks to the series.

I've mentioned many a time that I've watched the Indy 500 for years and never knew until I got into NASCAR that they ran races other than the 500.

I hope they end up bringing it back.

GinaV24 said...

I don't watch a lot of Indycar and have never seen the show, but still as you said, the timing of this cancellation seems stupid to me. I always watch the Indianapolis 500 and it was a good race and a good broadcast, so why not strike while the iron is hot and see if more fans tune in.

Wiresculptress said...

IndyCar has a long history of shooting itself in the foot. I'm disappointed, but not surprised.

Yeah, IndyCar runs a 17-race schedule this year, but they never talk about the rest of the season on the 500 telecasts.

I dearly love IndyCar, but the series seems to have a death wish.

Sophia said...

I already got an email back from Robin Miller. I figured it would take days to hear from him (It can and he tries to answer everybody!)

Came down to bad time slot & nobody willing to sponsor. (I would think that could've been planned upfront myself for at least 4-6 shows?) The Hockey games took up some primetime slots apparently.

He said it could possibly come back in August but it was a shame as he saw the value in bringing the drivers to the viewers.

I personally think Versus is a Schizophrenic station...Hunting, rodeos, fishing (apparently Hockey?) then Indycar races???

Still, I LOVED that the show seemed to be finding it's legs after couple of shows. When Junqueria (sp) was bumped from the 500 the day after bump day, he was there on the show to say how he felt (He was very generous in his speaking but he body language said DEPRESSED)

Junqueria said "I don't use twitter much but I got 1500 twitter comments of support" so it saw the value of twitter...even if short term. Even with his limited English it was great seeing him sitting next to Robin.

Frankly the blond girl & Guy were not needed on this show. They may be very nice people but Robin & some guests and CONVERSATION was all we needed. Put him in a studio the size of a walk in closet, some Indycar posters & there ya go :)

Thanks for the mention JD.

INDYCAR deserves love! Robin is tireless in his passion for the sport.

KoHoSo said...

To say this is bad timing would be the understatement of the year. I just wonder if this has more to do with the upcoming changes coming to Versus than anything else.

Wisconsin Steve said...

I realize they don't broadcast the races, but you would think Speed might see the value in having a show about IndyCar racing featuring Miller and/or some of the other knowledgable voices they have on their staff.

Versus obviously doesn't at this point.

Daly Planet Editor said...


The show is called Open Wheel Weekly. While I appreciate Miller's response, this type of support show is not chasing ratings and is directly funded by IndyCar.

Anonymous said...

"I've mentioned many a time that I've watched the Indy 500 for years and never knew until I got into NASCAR that they ran races other than the 500. "

In NASCAR the fans know all the drivers, in other series the drivers know all the fans!

Tiny crowd at monday's grand am race in lime rock. You never feel you know those guys, but guys like Leh Keen and Seth Thomas hang out on some of the car forums...accessible.

Vicky D said...

I liked this show, however it was another one where I had to find it to dvr it like NN this week and others. I like Lindy Thaxton (I think this is her name) and Robin too. Anyway that's too bad since the biggest race of the year and they don't have a show on about it during the week.

James said...

When we complain about BZF and the way things are run, the tv coverage and the camera angles, nobody ruins a racing series like open wheel has for the last 10 years! The shame is that Robin Miller, a great color comentator and really fun to watch, along with Bob Jenkins the greatest play by play announcer for racing of any series are both working for a group destined to fail!

It comes as no surprise to me that this show was cancelled, they are to dumb to know when they had a winner! Robin answered emails, had deep experience with the series and is a walking historian of indycar. I could listen to Bob Jenkins call a soap box derby race! He was the guy along with Larry Nuber that first called the cup races and had the first real hit tv show "speedweeks" the won many awards, it was the most complete, honest, no agenda show for racing ever to be on tv. The model other shows used to get started. When there was no other news for racing other than the National Speed Sport News you could tune into Speedweeks and get the straight scoop.

I am real sorry this show was cancelled, it could have really helped the fans get to know the drivers, but again, its just typical of indycar.

Sophia said...

James ditto to the Robin Miller comments and horrid timing of ending such a show.

For crying out loud even if it was canceled WAIT until after a wrap up show on the biggest race of the year first? 500!

In retrospect, on WT Sunday night DD made a comment to Robin about something being said that "Robin could save for his other show" & I think I remember Dave mentioning VS by name..and Robin having an odd look on his face. This was on the online extra part of WT..and I was shocked Dave said Versus...and now I wonder if that wasn't an inside joke...doesn't matter now.

But yea, the cancellation of this series so abruptly (& on weekend of Indy 500)does make BZF look a bit like Einstein.

Alexander the Great said...

Adam Alexander the great. In his
mind - he is top notch - doing what
they told him to do at Radio School.
But he is simply trying to hard
to please his employers with his
rap and his lingo.
" They need a kick in the pants. " It seems that he izzz
Go get em adam ..

Allison J said...

Versus is killing IndyCar. Coverage is amateurish, Lindsay Thackston is a repeat-offender disaster, and their on-track crew repeatedly disrespects the drivers and teams by acting like they are the most important thing on the planet in the post-race celebrations.

Watch next time: they're sticking their head and mikes in the car before the driver gets out of the car, pull and tug on drivers while they are hugging their team, and make inane, uncomfortable comments if the driver is temporarily distracted.

It's gotta be the most embarrassing TV crew in motorsports today. Add to that their awkward promos, acid rock tunes, ill-at-ease lead (Lindsay Thackston), and etc. and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Thank you, God, for the DVR and the FF button or IndyCar would never be watched in my house again. I still keep IndyCar in my nightly prayers, begging for SpeedTV to pick up the series. Give it the same wonderful coverage as the Rolex Grand Am series and we would be among the most grateful race fans around.

Anonymous said...

I have never been a fan of open wheel racing and did not bother to watch this year's Indy 500. In contrast, I find Robin Miller the most interesting journalist in the sport of automobile racing. I will watch him anywhere he appears and enjoy his comments.

If anything could turn me into an open wheel fan, it would be a regular dose of Robin Miller. I can't believe someone doesn't have a spot for this man somewhere covering the IRL and other open wheel racing.