Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TV Police: Sprint Cup Series On TNT From Sonoma

It might just take a legendary detective with an unorthodox style to crack this case. The scenery was beautiful. The weather was great. The crowd was large. Unfortunately, the telecast was awful.

His rumpled coat, cigar and constant stories about his family members made Peter Falk as Columbo a cherished TV character. He always came back for one more question that seemed to turn the entire story upside down. Falk will be missed.

Despite having all the personnel and equipment available to get the job done, TNT got off track early and never recovered. There has never been a NASCAR race that got more instant negative feedback than this one.

The pre-race show hosted by Lindsay Czarniak was as crisp as usual. Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds contributed good comments and TNT had another outstanding Pride of NASCAR feature on Rex White.

Once things got underway on track, the coverage started without showing the two folks giving the starting command on-camera. That was kind of important. TV and movie veteran John Ratzenberger was there as part of a huge promotion of the "Cars2" movie. He was with the national winner of a Toyota fan contest.

In fact, Ratzenberger and the movie director had been interviewed during RaceDay on SPEED. The "Cars2" exhibit was there and it was clear this was a big promotion. The mistake was never mentioned.

Once underway, it became very clear that the on-air dynamic this team had enjoyed on an oval track had not carried over to this road course. There is a lot of information that has to be passed along by Alexander on a race like this and he never accomplished the task.

Time and time again, Alexander referenced things that were never explained, never followed-up or never shown in replay. As the race went forward and incidents happened, TNT became buried in the this growing amount of unexplained incidents.

Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach Jr. offered comments on the race, but the two drivers are often echoing each other's perspectives. Larry McReynolds tried to contribute, but having him down in the infield makes for a disjointed presence. It is even more disjointed when he plays the Tim Brewer role of pointing at auto parts.

Just like last season, the race became an ugly series of paybacks between pitstops under green. In the New World Order of NASCAR, this behavior is encouraged and fighting is mentioned over and over again as something that built the sport. There were no penalties for anything done in the race.

The commercial load seemed particularly brutal. Timing of breaks on a road course under green is tough and often it seemed that the racing was a distraction between the commercials. TNT has always battled this perception.

Pictures were fine and RaceBuddy was a nice addition, but the announcing team never kept the fans updated on information despite lots of hard work from the pit reporters. Alexander never told the basic story of what was happening and often seemed to be just reacting to the TV screen.

This is the only road course TNT handles in the six race package and Sonoma has a long history of throwing this TV network for a loop. Back in the Bill Weber days, this race was simply an exercise in frustration that often resulted in Weber losing his cool on the air.

By the time there were ten laps to go, the paybacks were continuing and the chaos was in full swing. Fans either loved or hated the rough racing. Perhaps, the ratings will ultimately be the judge. Either way, the race ended under green with the fastest car winning.

The checkered flag flew at 6:15PM and TNT stayed for the full 15 minutes of scheduled NASCAR TV time. What a nice change. Post-race consisted of several key interviews and the winner. Good questions from the pit reporters chased down a lot of the issues left hanging during the race.

Despite the chaos of the race telecast, it was nice to see TNT change direction and offer a complete post-race show on television. It might have been the bright spot.

This post will serve to host your comments about the TNT coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race from Sonoma. To add your TV-related opinion, just click on the comments button below.