Monday, October 31, 2011
Race Wrap: ESPN in Martinsville
The short-track in Martinsville, VA proved to be the undoing of ESPN this season. There are simply no words to describe how awful this telecast was once the race started. It defied description.
The pre-race show was solid and really worked well to set-up what everyone knew would be a tough day of bumping and banging. Rusty Wallace was absent due to the passing of his father on Saturday. Nicole Briscoe hosted with Dale Jarrett, Marty Smith and Brad Daugherty in the studio.
Marty Smith replayed an interview with Brad Keselowski and contributed to the topics on the pre-race show. His presence was refreshing and worked well with Jarrett. Wallace has been re-signed by ESPN through 2014. No word on Daugherty's future.
It was Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the TV booth. Jamie Little, Dave Burns, Mike Massaro and Jerry Punch were on pit road. Tim Brewer was in the Tech Garage.
Once the racing started it was made very clear that this race was going to be the tightest-framed and most awkward coverage in the five year history of ESPN since returning to NASCAR. The leaders were immediately framed when the green came out and the racing and incidents in the field were never seen.
It was replays that were used to explain to TV viewers time and time again what had actually happened on the track and pit road. The full-screen insertion of commercials for the first half of the race made it even more miserable. ESPN was caught in commercial when caution came out repeatedly.
ESPN has made it clear that this "hyper-tight" coverage is the way they are going to produce NASCAR races. In the body of this telecast, there were entire segments where the cameras never extended beyond showing two cars in the frame. The race recaps were presented with single car camera shots, despite the fact that the racing was under green.
To add insult to injury, the aerial camera was only used as the transition into commercial breaks. The low-angle speed shots were rarely used. Instead, the director zoomed-in on one or two cars at a time. Then, he shifted to one or two other cars as the announcers were instructed to talk about those drivers.
One key to the tension in this telecast between the broadcast booth and the producer and director in the TV truck were the frequent times when what was being discussed did not match what pictures were being shown. Bestwick would be yelling about the beating and banging at the back of the pack while the director zoomed-in on the leader of the race. After a moment of silence, Bestwick would be made to talk about the pictures. It was awful.
The restart with 27 laps to go saw ESPN shoot the leaders only and again miss a spin in the pack, this time involving Ryan Newman. It was a typical restart scenario for ESPN on this day. Zoom into the leader, then replay what happened that TV viewers never saw. Many fans seemed to be as frustrated as some of the drivers.
It's not rocket science to allow the cameras to show the cars racing on this short-track to the TV viewers. It's a track that has been covered on TV for a very long time by lots of different TV networks. Ultimately, it takes effort to make the kind of mess ESPN made Sunday.
The drivers offered a lot of action. The stories were unfolding at a hectic pace. It was a critical race in the Chase. There were multiple caution flags. Tempers were boiling. The TV response was single-car camera shots with forced storylines.
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