Saturday, July 12, 2008

TNT's Summer Visit Worked Out Well

Saturday night in Chicagoland, the TNT crew tried to ease their way out of the Sprint Cup door with a solid telecast.

While featuring such things as Larry McReynolds doing a less-than-memorable magic trick and someone in the announce booth loudly singing along with the Viagra commercial, the night was actually a solid success.

The trademark of this six race series continued to be the teamwork between Producer Barry Landis and Director Mike Wells. This TV package offered fans the opportunity to see multiple cars racing on a consistent basis. Tight shots of cars running single file were kept to an absolute minimum. It made all the difference.

TNT never catered to Junior. They never gushed over Kyle Busch. In-car cameras never dominated the coverage and gimmicks like Digger were simply gone. These telecasts were enthusiastic and energetic from beginning to end.

Credit goes to Bill Weber who seems to have found a new peace and made it through the entire six race package without displaying the anger that was his trademark in 2007. Perhaps, the emerging presence of Kyle Petty in the announce booth helped Weber to manage his frustration level.

Petty came into this package with a lot more TV experience under his belt than last season. Petty did the TNT races in 2007 and is a regular on the Tradin' Paint series on SPEED. His ability to keep things loose and even poke fun at himself has transformed this TV package from very tense to very comfortable.

Larry McReynolds, magic tricks aside, has been an integral part of this team. Perched in the infield and running up and down the ladder to the TNT stage, McReynolds is the mad scientist who is always cooking up a new formula. Weber and his booth-mates have been confident in calling on McReynolds at any time during a telecast for strategy and opinion. After a long season on Fox and a continuing busy schedule on SPEED, McReynolds seems to be the hardest working TV guy in NASCAR.

No one has been through more changes than Wally Dallenbach. After working with several different play-by-play partners and analysts, Dallenbach has been able to relax this season. He is not in competition with Petty for information and has let Petty take the lead on commentary. Dallenbach's lower-key approach and increased level of comfort worked well for TNT.

The on-track production has featured effective recaps of the race using the pit reporters to go through the field. That group has worked hard and done their best in this rather short TV package. Veterans like Matt Yocum, Ralph Shaheen and Marty Snider navigate easily through the tangled world of the NASCAR pits.

One standout has been Lindsay Czarniak. For a second-year reporter who does not work in NASCAR outside of this six race stretch, she has been able to contribute to both the TNT and SPEED telecasts in a very solid manner. Her ability to interact with the drivers is clear and their reaction to her easygoing manner and professional demeanor has been rather remarkable. It should be interesting to see where her TV career takes her in the future.

No discussion of TNT this season would be complete without a good word for RaceBuddy. Offered free to broadband computer users, this application is made available through the website. It features four camera angles that can be viewed together or separately. Also available are two audio streams of either the "natural sound" of the race or team radio chatter. Finally, interactive text applications allow for such things as email to the announcers and a chat room.

RaceBuddy has been a smash hit. As an adjunct to viewing the race on TNT, it plays the role of the "wide open" coverage as fans turn directly to it when the commercials appear on TNT. It proves the point that going side-by-side with commercial breaks for all Sprint Cup races in 2009 is the way to go.

Fan feedback at The Daly Planet has been positive for the ability to make the video boxes into a larger single picture and also to zoom the video to a full-screen size. This has resulted in the viewer being empowered as a "mini-Director" choosing the video and audio mix they want to see and hear during the race. What a nice idea.

TNT Executive Producer Jeff Behnke deserves a good deal of the credit for organizing the diverse parts of this coverage. Innovations this season have included the TNT announcers appearing on the broadband post-race show. Live RaceBuddy questions from viewers have been worked into the telecasts and made for some fun moments at Chicagoland.

Looking in the rearview mirror, the 2008 NASCAR on TNT experience has been quite different than the Fox presentation. While it took one race to get in the groove, the overall package was actually interesting and fun. If the goofy fake restart pylons are the only thing to complain about from a TV perspective, that is a pretty good statement about what TNT brought to the table for this season's summer experience.

What are your thoughts on the Chicagoland finale and the entire TNT six race TV package?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to add your opinion.

In-Progress At Chicagoland: Final Sprint Cup Race On TNT

Here we go, it is the last TNT race for the season and several members of the TV cast will be moving on to other TV projects.

Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach are going to continue the CORR off-road racing TV package they are working on this season for NBC Sports. Kyle Petty will continue on Tradin' Paint, the media/talk show on SPEED each racing weekend.

Lindsay Czarniak goes back to her full-time job as a local TV station sports reporter in the Washington DC area. Matt Yocum continues to be the Producer of Tony Stewart's radio show on Sirius.

Ralph Shaheen and Marty Snider are both off to do other TV things for several networks in non-NASCAR sports. Snider is going to Beijing for the Olympics on NBC and will also be a pit reporter on the CORR off-road package. Shaheen continues on the AMA Supercross Series coverage.

TNT this season has been better than 2007 and the wonderful pictures have led the way. Working with Fox Producer Barry Landis, former ESPN NASCAR Director Mike Wells has shown the power of covering the race effectively by always showing groups of cars on the track. His persistence in helping TV viewers keep the same perspective as the fans at the track has not gone unnoticed.

This broader scope has allowed Landis and the announcers in the booth to always have a feel for the racing action. Wells is not shy in moving back into the field if that is where the racing is going on. The same could not be said for Fox, which has a philosophy of focusing on the leaders and the high-profile drivers.

The "wide open" TNT coverage at Daytona showed viewers that races could be run with limited full-screen commercials and showed advertisers that fans will stay during a commercial break if the race can still be seen. Hopefully, that message got through.

The star of TNT this season has been Kyle Petty. Everyone else has just become his supporting cast. In much the same way that Dale Jarrett can dominate a telecast on ESPN, Petty is the centerpiece of TNT and the person around whom all conversation revolves. It has truly been his breakout year as a TV analyst.

In this final race, it should be interesting to see if the Sprint Cup cars follow the example of the Nationwide Series and spread-out to race the track. Long green flag runs put the pressure on the pit crews and ultimately the crew chiefs to make the right calls in the pits. It also puts the pit reporters on the spot.

The lights at Chicago are great for TV and hopefully that will allow Wells and his veteran crew to make outstanding pictures as they deliver their final telecast of the season.

This post will serve to host your comments about the Sprint Cup race from Chicagoland on TNT. To add your TV-related comments, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.

Lots Of Pre-Race Shows But No "Victory Lane" Again

We have to begin this pre-race programming post with a picture of the bus race champion from Lowe's Motor Speedway. Last season it was Jimmy Spencer, but this year he was crushed by fellow SPEED announcer Wendy Venturini. She held-off John Roberts, Rutledge Wood, Spencer, Kenny Wallace and Hermie Sadler to claim the victory.

It will be NASCAR Now on ESPN2 at 10AM Eastern Time that kicks-off the Saturday pre-race action for one hour. This show features Ryan Burr and Nicole Manske hosting with multiple ESPN reporters checking-in from the Chicagoland track. NASCAR Now has bounced back from a tough Tuesday show on Richard Petty to recover quite well with wall-to-wall coverage of the Tony Stewart announcement and reactions.

Fans will have to take a break as RaceDay on SPEED does not come along until 4:30PM. SPEED does have Tradin' Paint at 3PM with USA Today reporter Nate Ryan as the media guest along with host John Roberts and regular panelist Kyle Petty. Larry McReynolds brings his NASCAR Performance show to the air at 3:30PM and Adam Alexander hosts NASCAR In A Hurry at 4PM.

Roberts then comes along with his big cast of characters for RaceDay at 4:30PM. This week at Chicagoland the program will have Casey Mears, Carl Edwards and Jay Frye who is the GM at Red Bull Racing. Venturini's Real Deal segment will be taking a look at Brian Vickers. News will include a review of Stewart's announcement, the most recent NASCAR penalties and a video highlight package of the bus race.

TNT is up next with NASCAR On TNT Live! hosted by Marc Fein. This season, Fein has finally gotten himself comfortable with NASCAR and being joined on the stage by Kyle Petty and McReynolds really has helped. This show will feature Richard Petty on his anniversary week of 50 years in NASCAR. Tony Stewart will also be along to update his 2009 team news.

Popular CNN Headline News anchor Robin Meade will be acting as a race official and riding in the pace car, so there is no doubt viewers will see her during the pre-race show as TNT and CNN are sister networks in the Turner Broadcasting family. Fans may remember Meade taking a ride on Wally's World a while back and loving every minute of it. She seems to be slowly becoming a NASCAR fan.

Allstate Countdown to Green is next at 7:30PM with Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach up in the TNT booth hosting the program. This is the final race for TNT, so look for Weber to talk about the overall TV package and his experience this season. This program leads into race coverage at 8PM.

As usual, SPEED is going to hold the airing of Victory Lane until 8PM on Sunday night. If you feel strongly about this topic, I would urge you to contact SPEED through the contact link on the website. Perhaps, next year the network will make a commitment to the fans instead of the schedule.

This post will serve to host your comments about the pre-race shows from these three NASCAR TV partners. To add your TV-related comments, click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

Richard Petty On "Trackside" - Your Comments Please

OK, I surrender. After the mess that NASCAR Now made of the Tuesday one hour special from the Petty Museum, fans apparently felt very strongly about the way SPEED treated The King on the Friday night edition of Trackside. Here is your opportunity to tell us all about it.

Reminder: Trackside will re-ar at 2PM Eastern Time on Saturday.

Petty was the only guest and host Steve Byrnes was outstanding. He even brought-up some video from well over a decade ago of Byrnes hosting Petty on the sidelines at a Washington Redskins game. Byrnes was overwhelmed that the players, in full gear and ready for a game, came directly to Petty just to shake hands. Many returned after the game for his autograph.

Panelists Jeff Hammond, Larry McReynolds and Elliott Sadler had obviously done their homework and asked informed and diverse questions. Petty discussed the past, the Petty Enterprises recent merger and other current NASCAR issues.

The King has lots of strong feelings and a very good sense of humor. Both of these attributes were on display in this hour-long program. If you watched the show and would like to relate your feelings, please do so below.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for stopping by.

TNT At Daytona: The Future Of NASCAR TV (over 100 comments)

There had to be a time during the TNT broadcast of the Sprint Cup Series race from Daytona where the various NASCAR executives had to all have the same thought. Why can't we do this for every race?

From the moment that the "wide open" coverage of TNT began, there was rarely a moment when viewers missed the racing action. This season, TNT used a relatively small-sized box positioned on the right side of the screen to show the commercials. It worked like a charm.

Veteran TV Director Mike Wells stamped his name on this race in no uncertain terms. The commentary was good and the graphics were fine, but the pictures were spectacular.

NASCAR nation had been watching the very different style of the Fox Sports gang this season. Races were filled with gimmicks like Digger and sometimes dominated by bumper cams and tight shots of the leader. Rarely did fans see any car finish the race live except the leader. After frequent complaints, Fox actually began to replay the finish for the rest of the field.

Wells came from the ESPN "old school" days where the racing on the track dominated the coverage, not a pre-conceived storyline or a high-profile driver. The camera work was outstanding all race long as wideshots that zoomed to provide a perspective were mixed with just enough low angle and speed shots to create a dynamic viewing experience.

Bill Weber was surprisingly effective at mixing-in the more frequent but less obtrusive commercial elements throughout the telecast. Weber still yells "Matt" a bit too harshly, but his performance this season has been tempered by the presence of Kyle Petty as the true leader of the TNT telecasts.

Petty has mixed effectively with both Wally Dallenbach and Larry McReynolds to form a rather unique team of analysts. Dallenbach and Petty both offer the driver's perspective, but in their own very different kind of way. McReynolds is not physically present "upstairs," but is as vocal a member of the TNT team as the trio up in the booth.

It seems that with one season under their belts, this TNT on-air team has become as comfortable with each other as viewers see with the veterans at Fox. Petty has played a key role with his ability to address any issue and even poke fun at himself. His role driving the pace car at the opening of the race made for some fun banter with the other announcers.

The fundamental truth is that by keeping the video of the race on the screen during commercial breaks, viewers are going to "consume" the content of the commercials at a much higher rate. The transition to a full-screen commercial in a normal telecast is a signal to either surf the other channels or turn one's attention to another activity for two minutes. Those who DVR or TiVo the race just hit fast-forward.

This race telecast is a model for the NASCAR TV coverage of the future. Sponsors got a terrific amount of exposure for their commitment and fans got a non-stop telecast that was visually better than anything they have seen so far this season. Despite the dissapointing finish, this time the pictures really did tell the story.

What were your views of the "wide open" coverage from TNT on Saturday night?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to drop by.