Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fox Sports Caught In A No-Win Situation

NASCAR fans are certainly familiar with the logistical challenges that ESPN faced last season. The network struggled to present Saturday NASCAR practices, qualifying and races up against live college football games.

Saturday night, the Fox Sports executives found themselves in the same type of position. Major League Baseball on Fox was in a rain delay and threatened to run long into the scheduled NASCAR race from Phoenix. During the NASCAR pre-race show the tarp came off at Fenway, and Fox switched to the live baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the NY Yankees.

Give credit to the Fox TV crews at the NASCAR race and in Boston. Ultimately, it was made clear to both baseball and racing fans that the Fox executives had made a decision. Baseball would continue on the Fox Broadcast Network right up until the lap before the green flag in Phoenix.

Since baseball can go very long, it would then be switched to the FX cable network. In fact, viewers checking FX found that the game was already being simulcast. Things were explained well, and everyone knew that Fox was trying to make the best of a tough situation.

Unfortunately, live sports has a way of humbling even the best made plans. Literally, there was a full count in the ninth inning with two out as the NASCAR flagman told the forty-three cars there was one lap to green.

As we all know, the outcome was the worst scenario for both sports. The network switched over to NASCAR, but missed the start of the race. Fox's own Larry McReynolds was the celebrity who waved the green flag that was not seen. Viewers saw that on replay. For the first time in a long time, there was no "Boogity" on Fox.

Baseball fans who did not switch over to FX also got shortchanged. Moments after the switch to NASCAR, the long baseball game was over. Fox has missed the moment they came back on-the-air to capture. At least the FX coverage was solid and even contained a post-game segment.

As the race panned-out, it was clear that Fox had decided to reduce the "Digger" camera use. This tool was used effectively on replays and worked well as a bumper into commercial break under caution. The Director resisted "cutting" this camera into regular laps and focused on the racing action.

The race was a typical Phoenix TV scramble that several times forced the TV crew to use replays to sort-out the on-track action. Fox is very good as serving up the exact replays in a timely fashion and did so again in this event.

Triple video boxes and double video boxes worked well to show either live racing or replays. Fox has become good at this element, but the four video boxes during pit stops still costs the viewer a good perspective of the race off pit road. In this category, ESPN has it covered on their Nationwide Series coverage.

Fox has struggled to figure out how to approach the finish of the race. This Saturday in Phoenix, the network followed the regular format they have used for several seasons. The winner was shown, his pit crew was shown and the remainder of the field was ignored.

None of the stories that both the booth and pit road announcers were following were paid-off. Fox has determined that this is their format and it will continue. As winner Jimmie Johnson did his burnout and took his victory lap, it was clear that he was not about to run out of fuel. The "other" story of the race was going to be how the teams that stopped for fuel finished the race. None of them were seen.

After a tough start and a good race it was hard not to see the drivers who were up-front all-day finish. Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were two good examples. Their interviews after the race showed how hard they worked and how much of themselves they had left on the racetrack. The Sprint Cup Series has a weekend off and then moves on to Talladega as the NASCAR on Fox coverage continues.

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In-Progress At Phoenix: Sprint Cup Race On Fox

This should be an interesting race as the transition from the heat and light of the day into the cool temperatures and the dark of the desert night will be on display.

Phoenix is a unique track for TV as this transition also puts the technical crew in a bind. Starting in the bright sunshine, the crew must continually work on the video from all the cameras as they move into the Musco Lighting of the track at night.

Chris Myers will kick-off the coverage on Fox at 8PM Eastern Time from the Hollywood Hotel with Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond. It should be interesting to see if the ESPN the Magazine story about Aaron Fike and his "high while racing" admission is discussed. The future of Petty Racing will also be on the agenda.

Waltrip moves-up to the booth and joins Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds for the race coverage. Pit road reporters are Dr. Dick Berggren, Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and Krista Voda.

Viewers should know that this track is prime for a lot of "Digger" exposure because of the frequent cautions and the location of the camera. Under the lights, the in-car cameras at Phoenix are spectacular. Hopefully, there will be a good crowd on-hand as well.

This single biggest issue with Fox continues to be the coverage of the final lap of the race. Last week, the network had a disaster once again. The live coverage shows the winner as he crosses the line and no one else. The camera zooms into the NASCAR flagman and then cuts back to the in-car camera of the winner even as the rest of the field continues to race to the line. It has been this way since 2007.

Even at the small tracks like Richmond, Martinsville and Bristol the NASCAR on Fox crew has continued this practice of isolating the winner and then replaying the finish of the rest of the field later. It should be interesting after last weekend's complaints from viewers if this practice of manufacturing "drama" instead of covering "racing" continues.

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In-Progress At Phoenix: "Tradin' Paint," "NASCAR Performance" And "RaceDay"

SPEED has an extensive block of NASCAR programming as the lead-in to the Phoenix Sprint Cup race on Fox.

Tradin' Paint comes along at 4:30PM Eastern Time with John Roberts and Kyle Petty. The media guest is Tom Jensen, the Senior NASCAR Editor for He is the former Executive Editor of NASCAR Scene Magazine.

As most fans know, Petty and the 45 team missed the Cup race at Phoenix. This should be an interesting show, as the issues of drug testing and the future of Petty Racing should be on the menu, regardless of who is on the panel.

Next up at 5PM is a show that is growing on us. NASCAR Performance used to be strictly tech talk, but host Larry McReynolds has used the current NASCAR topics in the news as issues to expand-on in his own way. Using Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker in a very smart manner, McReynolds has addressed issues from the COT to tires to bumpstops. If you have not seen this show, check it out.

At 5:30PM is the quirky NASCAR In A Hurry show. Truck Series veteran reporter Adam Alexander provides a "wrap-a-round" that ties together the best TV content from SPEED's NASCAR coverage of the previous 48 hours. It is kind of an Entertainment Tonight meets SportsCenter.

The franchise is up next, as the two hour live NASCAR RaceDay takes to the air at 6PM Eastern Time. Jeff Gordon will be a live guest on this show, and Jeff Burton is the subject of Wendy Venturini's Real Deal segment.

John Roberts hosts this highly-popular show with Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace alongside. Hermie Sadler will be taking an in-depth look at PIR, and the show will review the past PIR winners. RaceDay will run up until 8PM, when the live coverage of the Cup Series will begin.

As usual, Victory Lane will be taped Saturday but will air as scheduled at 8PM on Sunday night before Wind Tunnel.

This post will serve to host your comments on the block of NASCAR programming Saturday on SPEED. To add your TV-related comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.