Sunday, June 3, 2007

"NASCAR On Fox" Crew Scared Of A Little Rain

Thirteen races ago the NASCAR on Fox crew began their coverage of the NEXTEL Cup Series with the Daytona 500. Since that time they have logged a lot of miles and put a lot of content on our TV screens. The NEXTEL Cup race at Dover would have been the finale for the portion of the season that Fox Sports broadcasts.

This fourteenth race was postponed by rain on Sunday, leaving a multi-hour period of time for Fox Sports to show us the work they have done this year. Hundreds of hours of race footage, features, and interviews were ready to be used by the production team. Instead, they chose to run and hide from the rain. This was one of the worst TV programming decisions of the year for both the Fox Network and NASCAR.

Here in South Florida, Magnum PI was on my Fox station in full swing by 2:30PM. Ninety minutes after taking the air, the NASCAR on Fox gang along with the Fox Sports executives chose to "go away." On the final Sunday of their NEXTEL Cup race coverage, this decision remains completely puzzling.

Remember, this year Fox Sports does not telecast the Busch Series races. They also do not carry the Truck Series events. This crew was on-scene to telecast the NEXTEL Cup race only. The entire Fox Broadcast Network of stations had cleared several hours of time for them on Sunday. There were no football games to deal with, no college basketball in progress, and no other agendas for the Fox station group to fufill.

As the rain fell in Dover, the NASCAR on Fox telecast quickly became the type of slapstick comedy that drives viewers crazy. Chris Myers in the Hollywood Hotel had used every single bit of Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip's "racing buddies" comedy routine by the end of the first hour. It was clear that the strategic vision to deal effectively with this rain delay was lacking. Simply "continuing to talk" while the track dried was absolutely not working.

Think about this one point. Fox Sports and its parent company News Corp. had spent millions of dollars on the rights and the production of the thirteen NEXTEL Cup races the network had broadcast this season. On the Sunday of the final race, it was raining. The two choices were to review the content that Fox has spent millions to purchase and produce, or go have lunch. I hope it was a good lunch.

Beginning with Daytona, this season on Fox has been full of great finishes and good stories. From Mark Martin's heartbreaker at Daytona to Jeff Gordon's "Stanley steamer" in Darlington, fans would have liked nothing more in this rain delay than to re-live these moments with the crew that originally broadcast them.

Instead, viewers were treated to Darrell Waltrip in a turban answering corny questions and trying to fill time. The Hollywood Hotel should have become the headquarters for a season-in-review show that featured videotape played back of the best moments and the finishes of the previous thirteen races.

This is exactly the type of situation where Chris Myers becomes an instant problem. Only a veteran NASCAR TV "insider" like Steve Byrnes, Krista Voda, or John Roberts could have led a multi-hour highlight show. This was a chore for the infield team, and their leader was not up to the task.

Every driver's motor home, every team transporter, and even the Media Center would have been the easy-to-find location of everyone who needed to be interviewed about the season so far. Drivers, crew chiefs and owners could have watched the incidents, good and bad, and then appeared on-camera with a reporter to talk about the memory. They could have addressed what they learned, what has changed, or if they were still upset.

The decision by the NASCAR on Fox gang to leave the air after ninety minutes of "fill" time short-changed the one group Fox had already alienated this season. That would be the fans. This TV crew had missed Kyle Petty's third place finish at Charlotte. They had only shown the winner finishing as their new "TV technique" in the previous races. They had missed high-profile drivers finishing in the top ten as if a NASCAR team's efforts were "not worthy" of Fox unless they won the race. Suddenly, the Producer did not "get it," and the fans knew it.

There has been a lot of chest-beating this week about the quality and legacy of the NASCAR on Fox telecasts. There has been a lot of publicity generated by Fox about their crew, their awards, and the revenue-generating websites and special interests now enjoyed by many of their on-air personalities. One special interest group that this crew missed serving on Sunday was the millions of fans who set aside time in their lives to watch several hours of NASCAR programming.

What an opportunity to showcase the good things that the Fox team had done this year. What an opportunity to remind us of how many races, how much time, and how much effort had been spent by the production staff to show us the final TV product. What an opportunity to show us the technical toys, the TV compound, and all the behind-the-scenes things that viewers never get to see.

Finally, what an opportunity to send this TV crew out on a high-note. Viewers would appreciate the hard work it takes to arrange and then carry-out quality substitute programming like a NASCAR on Fox season-in-review show. But, that just did not happen and the Fox team this season went out with a thud.

My Magnum PI episode was about Vietnam buddies and their bond. Magnum and his pals were shown slogging through rice fields and dealing with the monsoon rains. It was somehow ironic that this TV show from the 1980's was on the air because the NASCAR on Fox crew did not want to get wet. Like the millions of other NASCAR fans in North America, I turned off the Fox Network for the last time this season, and moved on with my life.

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