Saturday, February 10, 2007

Fox Sports: Bud Shootout - Part 2

Halftime of the Bud Shootout only served to reinforce the belief that Jeff Hammond is ready to step-up to the Hollywood Hotel host position. Chris Myers, once useful in keeping order, has become outdated. Hammond is now a polished television professional, and deserves the opportunity to be featured as a host, which would allow a more focused infield presence.

Dick Berggren continues to be a racing character as well-defined as the great Chris Economaki. His countless racing knowledge seems to be somehow mis-matched in the world of thirty second pit reports and young drivers speaking the corporate language of today's sponsorship. One defined pre-produced feature from "Doctor Dick" would be a welcome addition to the regular season racing coverage.

With fifty laps to go at 9:15 PM Eastern Time on a Saturday night, the NASCAR on Fox crew had a great opportunity to re-set the scene for new viewers in primetime, but again chose to take the easy way out. There were no highlights of the first race, no recap of what this event was, or how the participants got here. This should have taken place, and is pretty fundamental TV 101.

This season, we are going to eventually have some sort of agreement on who speaks when something happens on the track. Right now, its a group effort. Both DW and Larry Mac have decided to voice their excitement when something is in progress, relegating Mike Joy to becoming the patient father who waits until his excited children pipe-down to restore order.

Fox continues to shine on their coordination of pit road reporters and their seamless integration of the members of the broadcast crew. They also continue to send quality audio from not only the track, but the individual in-car cameras and pit road area. Mixed with the quality digital video, this bodes quite well for the technical aspects of the shortened Fox Sports NASCAR season.

For some reason, Ryan Newman continues to be the invisible man where Fox is concerned. If this inability to even mention Newman in passing comes from his Alltel sponsorship, it would certainly cut into the some-what marginal credibility of Fox when it comes to sales and sponsorships affecting the program content. Newman's exit from the Shootout was noted only in passing with a brief glimpse of his car coasting into the garage. What a shame.

This program may be noted for the first mystery caution of the season. Thrown immediately after a national commercial break, Fox casually mentioned never-seen debris as the reason for the caution. Apparently, it was an easy way for NASCAR to give the teams an opportunity to get tires, whether they chose to or not.

As we move toward the season, let's hope that Fox decides to focus on the racing as a whole, instead of continuing their obsession with who is leading the race, regardless of how many laps are remaining. Before the last thirty laps, the stories are in the pack, and not at the front.

With five laps to go, the dye was cast in the event, and the curse of Daytona reared its head. Passing for the lead, without friends, was not going to happen this season once again. This race served as a good tune-up for the Fox gang, but really helped to re-focus race viewers on the fundamental issues that the TV crew needs to address before the season begins. The most pressing issue is, with three announcers in the booth, two in the Hollywood Hotel, and four on pit road, are we in for another season of endless self-absorbed chatter...or quality storytelling from nine professional sports broadcasters? Only time will tell.

Fox Sports: Bud Shootout - Part One

Mike Joy continues to be the best traffic cop on television. Surrounded by the tired lines and endless chatter of "Larry Mac and old DW," Joy not only quietly controls the booth, but re-sets the race for the viewers on almost a lap-by-lap basis.

Fox Sports continues to make good pictures for HDTV, but even on this first effort, it seems like they are overwhelmed by their own toys. Race fans want to watch the event with some feeling of continuity, which is tough to do when as many as ten different camera angles are used on only one lap. In-car cameras need to have graphics identifying who viewers are seeing, as often it also takes the announcers a moment to get their bearings.

This season Krista Voda is a wonderful addition to the Fox NASCAR coverage. She is a versatile and credible announcer who navigates the tension and personalities of the Nextel Cup Series with ease and grace. Her addition will pay dividends far beyond her pit reporter duties on raceday.

Fox Sports has decided to exclude the new or casual fan of NASCAR in this year's coverage. The format of the Bud Shootout was never explained, highlights of the participating drivers were never shown, and it was simply assumed that viewers knew who drivers were, including the likes of David Gilliand and Boris Said. Perhaps, addressing the issue of new fans might be a positive step for Fox before the actual Daytona 500 broadcast. This is a wonderful opportunity to do just that in primetime on a Saturday night.

Fox Sports Bud Shootout Pre-Race

Any NASCAR season that begins with the confused tones of Chris Myers can't bode well for Fox Sports. Myers continues to look and feel like maybe his medication needs to be adjusted slightly. He is just fundamentally not at ease in the NASCAR environment, and it shows time-and-time again.

For NASCAR fans returning to network television coverage of the sport for the first time since 2006, it seemed strange for Fox to rush through the NASCAR news in order to get to a country singer. With two country music channels on my cable system fulltime, perhaps viewers would have been better served with a pre-produced recap of the 2006 action, including how the Bud Shootout drivers got themselves into the event. Dierks Bentley can wait.

In a flashback of 2006, the Fox announcers began the process of slowly pounding their personal sponsors and interests into the viewers brains, which was the chief complaint heard nationwide last season. Its very clear that any other network would have excluded Darrell Waltrip from speaking in factual terms about Toyota, a company he endorses and is compensated very well to represent. This is a conflict of interest that should not be tolerated, but Fox seems to be unrepentent in their continual merging of truth and opinion.

The pre-race show provided a wobbling start to the 2007 season, it will be interesting if the ultimate professional Mike Joy can pull the race telecast up to an acceptable level. The only positive note is that this progam was a full thirty minutes without any on-camera presence from Toyota's Michael Waltrip.