Sunday, September 28, 2008
The biggest challenge of The Chase format has continued to be tough for the ESPN on ABC gang to handle. Suddenly, the TV crew has two storylines to deal with for the entire event. Sunday at Kansas, this issue was certainly front-and-center.
Trying to serve two masters is tough. From the drop of the green flag the network skipped back-and-forth between the Chase and the race. The results were not very pretty.
Allen Bestwick led a strong pre-race show that ran the gamut of topics and used Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace in a very effective manner. It included an interview from the Infield Pit Studio with Jack Roush. Bestwick also brought-in Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree for commentary.
Dr. Jerry Punch took the ball and ran with it once the race began, but it was the direction of the telecast that made it tough to watch early-on. Skipping the rest of the field and concentrating on The Chasers was tough for fans of the other 30 cars.
The first field recap was done with only The Chasers. Those cars were already highlighted on the scoring crawl and many were simply mired in the back of the pack. Fans really needed to get a full field summary, which has been the weakness of this TV crew in The Chase.
Bestwick presented video highlights at times during the race, but that is not the same. Once again, NASCAR fans who wanted to follow a team not in The Chase were motivated to move to the Internet, radio or DirecTV for more information. Perhaps, that was not the original aim of The Chase format.
Pit road proved to be a crucial location for action and ESPN struggled with the correct camera shots. The triple split was often not used and many incidents on pit road that should have been followed-up live were done through replays. Breaking the pre-arranged format and covering the action as it happens continues to be tough to do.
The pit reporters were aggressive and informative once the race began. There was a renewed emphasis on allowing them to talk during green flag racing and not just during pit stops or after incidents. The result was good information, but unfortunately it was tough to put in context.
It was clear once again that the emphasis was going to be on presenting The Chasers and tolerating the racers. Stories that included Chase cars were told in detail and followed-up. Stories from the rest of the field, including those of Casey Mears, Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs were not.
Just like the reality that trying to serve the "casual fans" last season did not work, this approach of featuring The Chase cars is also not working. Fans do not change their loyalties just because a driver did not make The Chase. Deciding to update and focus on only twelve drivers when 42 were running is not making the grade.
Bestwick again appeared during breaks in the action to lead discussions with all of the analysts, but then the telecast was once again turned-over to Punch for the play-by-play. This transition often resulted in a change from excited and animated conversation to the now familiar low-key approach of Punch.
Over-and-over again, Punch asked questions and made comments rather than call the action on the track and leave the analysis to Petree and Jarrett. The result was another race with no memorable moments of commentary or excitement.
ESPN once again made good pictures and delivered good sound. The network played seemingly random "bumper" music going into the commercials, even as the natural sound of 43 Sprint Cup Series cars boomed in the background. There was no theme to these selections, and this element really cheapened the program.
While viewers may see Draft Track next week in Talladega, the ESPN gang left it on the shelf for Kansas. This was one of a series of good decisions on this Sunday. Tim Brewer and the Tech Center did not interfere with this program and the Infield Pit Center gang was limited to being on-camera only under caution.
The commercial breaks did not cause any problems and viewers were well-served with the limited promos inside of the live race. ESPN also used some additional live radio traffic between crew chiefs and drivers. This is what fans want to hear, not the recorded and edited playbacks the network is now famous for doing.
At the end, the final few laps could have added a memorable moment to the ESPN NASCAR resume. Instead, TV viewers will probably be hearing the MRN radio call when the highlights are shown. Punch let Petree and Jarrett call the last two laps and never inserted himself to cap the race with an exciting call.
An extended post-race worked well to let the drivers talk about the afternoon in a casual manner. The pit reporters again did a good job of chasing down the stories and interviews to fill this thirty minute timeslot. Shannon Spake faced-off with a non-cooperative Kyle Busch and stood her ground. Next time, she may have some slightly better questions ready for the moody driver.
Closing out the program with Bestwick and the Infield Pit Studio crew allowed viewers to get at least a fundamental understanding of what happened to several teams in the race. Next week at Talladega should be another challenge to mix the race with The Chase for this TV crew.
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All the ingredients are in place for NASCAR this Sunday. Nice weather, good storylines and many Chasers starting from the back of the pack. The challenge for the ESPN on ABC crew is to translate that into a dynamic TV presentation.
Setting the table at 1PM Eastern Time will be Allen Bestwick and the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show. Joined by Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty, Bestwick will have plenty of good content for this hour.
Bestwick has made this pre-race show a solid program through the use of all four ESPN pit reporters and Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree upstairs in the booth. Last week, Bestwick welcomed drivers into the Infield Pit Studio and let Wallace and Daugherty interview them directly.
Wallace continues to voice his opinions on a regular basis. Love him or hate him, Wallace has added a spice to the program that it needed. Daugherty has been trying to escape his catch phrases and cheerleading, but it is a struggle. His opinions are solid when he allows himself to step outside the cheerleader role and offer his personal perspective as a fan.
During this pre-race show, watch for which pit reporters are paired with which drivers. As you may know from previous columns, pit reporters are assigned drivers in advance and stay with them all the way through the post-race show. Who has who should be interesting.
Bestwick will transition to Dr. Jerry Punch for the call of the race at 2PM. This is a great track for TV coverage with outstanding sound and pictures. Punch has the task of trying to keep viewers informed on two very distinct topics. The actual flow of the race vs. the location of The Chasers during the event.
Jarrett and Petree have not been shy about stepping-in and adding to the content of what is traditionally the play-by-play role. Both have contributed from their own driver and crew chief/owner perspectives to all of the Sprint Cup races since coverage shifted to the ESPN/ABC TV package.
Tim Brewer will be in the Tech Center with his own challenge. NASCAR fans have been watching the sport since February and do not need another introduction to terms like loose and tight and lug nuts. Since ESPN put Draft Track on the shelf, Brewer is going to be on-the-spot for adding information that TV viewers can use.
Between engine woes and on-track incidents, drivers who fall out of the race will not be in the best of moods where TV interviews are concerned. The challenge for the ESPN on ABC crew is to get these interviews and when a driver turns-down an opportunity, make sure to tell the TV viewers that fact.
When the race is in-progress, look for the triple splits on the pit stops, the double video boxes during Tech Center segments and how ESPN uses the team radio chatter. Drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. were outspoken on NASCAR Now earlier in the week about ESPN's use of team radios in a sensationalized manner.
This might be exactly the race that ESPN and NASCAR ordered. Good pictures, solid racing and lots of stories to finally get the fans involved in The Chase this season.
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Ryan Burr kicks the day off for ESPN with the Sunday morning preview edition of NASCAR Now on ESPN2. This hour will feature Nicole Manske reporting from Kansas and also the NASCAR on ESPN team previewing the race.
RaceDay is up next on SPEED. Host John Roberts is joined by Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace for what should be a very big show. The crowd is expected to be huge, but the same old RaceDay problems exist. The "swooping camera" thing is beyond old and the show has still not figured out how to deal effectively with the fans.
Wendy Venturini sits down with Jack Roush this week for her Real Deal segment. Roush has suddenly become a key player in The Chase and with Greg Biffle leading the way it should be interesting to see what Roush has to say on a variety of topics. Hermie Sadler will join Venturini during the program as reporters from the garage area.
Live guests on RaceDay will include Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. Perhaps, the program will also take a moment to honor the memory of Paul Newman who enjoyed stock car racing very much and owners like Richard Childress should have good memories of the man who said acting paid the bills but racing was his passion.
Also in the AM will be a re-air of NASCAR Performance on SPEED at 10AM and NASCAR in a Hurry comes along at 10:30AM. Larry McReynolds, Chad Knaus and Bootie Barker discuss the Kansas race from a crew chief's perspective while Randy Pemberton previews Kansas using the footage and highlights from the weekend on the second show.
This post will serve to host your comments about all of the morning shows on ESPN2 and SPEED. To add your TV-related comment, 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 stop by.