The Frontstretch: Couch Potato Tuesday: ESPN's Surprise and FOX's Continued Issues by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday March 13, 2012

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Hello, race fans, welcome back to Couch Potato Tuesday, where we endeavor to take a close look at the race telecasts that are available to us. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series both stayed out west to race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Before we start: On Monday, NASCAR announced that Paul Brooks, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President and President of the NASCAR Media Group, is leaving the company on May 4th. According to the press release, Brooks plans to “…focus on a variety of personal and outside business interests.”

Brooks will apparently still serve as a Senior Adviser to NASCAR for broadcasting, media strategy and innovation, amongst others. However, this is a fairly substantial loss for NASCAR in the TV department. Brooks helped to design the network TV deals that began back in 2001 for the then-Winston Cup and Busch Series. He also helped to launch SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (as NASCAR Radio) on Sirius in 2007. In addition, Brooks helped NASCAR acquire the naming rights deal with Nextel (now SprintNextel) for the Cup Series.

Secondly, the Izod IndyCar Series and DreamWorks Entertainment announced a new, somewhat racing related CGI film entitled “Turbo” that is scheduled for release on July 19, 2013. The film will follow the story of a snail named Turbo who dreams of racing in and winning the Indianapolis 500.

Three-time and defending Izod IndyCar Series Champion Dario Franchitti has been brought on as a technical advisor for the film. Franchitti’s task will be to help bring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 into the proper context and computer design for the film. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg and Michelle Rodriguez are on board to provide their voices for the film.

This is the first film based around American open-wheel racing since 2001’s Driven, the Sylvester Stallone vehicle that unfortunately was about two-tenths of a percent accurate.

Sam’s Town 300

The Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past weekend. How did FOX and ESPN fare in their broadcasts?

Saturday saw the Nationwide Series back in action. However, this past weekend was the climax of the race to qualify for the NCAA Basketball Tournaments (Men’s and Women’s). As a result, there was no scheduled pre-race edition of NASCAR Countdown, which, for lack of a better word, bites. However, the Southland Conference Championship game between Lamar and McNeese State was a blowout and ended short of the end of the time slot (a rarity, indeed). As a result, ESPN cut to Las Vegas early. I cannot remember a time since I’ve been writing critiques that this has happened.

The early start allowed ESPN to do a short introduction to the race telecast and an interview or two that they otherwise wouldn’t have had time to do.

ESPN had to deal with a lot of things going down during their scheduled commercial breaks, as the first two yellows flew during breaks. Luckily, since we have RaceBuddy available during all the non-ABC Nationwide races this year, we can at least get an idea of what was up before the ad ended. I inferred that Kyle Busch actually wrecked while watching Kenny Wallace’s roof cam. Frankly, I’m surprised that ESPN didn’t cut from their commercial to show Kyle’s crash knowing just how much they cover his exploits. Also of note, when ESPN came back after Kyle crashed, they showed his car in the garage, then didn’t even show what happened to his car to put it in the garage for what seemed like three minutes. The initial shots just showed Kyle spinning out and made it look like he didn’t hit anything.

Most of what we saw on Saturday was somewhat typical of ESPN. The focus was on the top-10 or so drivers without a whole lot of racing for position being shown outside of the periods right after restarts. Also, there was a dearth of information missing during parts of the telecast. For example, Kenny Wallace was busted for speeding on pit road during a round of stops under yellow. No mention was made of this penalty until there were only a few laps to go and Wallace was battling to keep his spot in the top-10. Roughly 20 minutes had passed before this was mentioned. You have to at least throw fans a bone in this case. If anyone gets busted for a pit road violation at any time, it must be reported on-air.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive. ESPN provided viewers with nine driver interviews, and a chat with winning car owner Jack Roush. The point standings (missing from the first two races) were displayed on top of the scroll as well. There was also plenty of wrap-up analysis before ESPN left.

Kobalt Tools 400

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series back out to play for their weekly affairs on FOX. Since it was Las Vegas, the gaming gimmicks came out to play once again. Since sports betting is legal in Vegas, Myers and Michael Waltrip had a little piece in which they had the odds to win Sunday’s race, adjusted them using the touch screen in the Hotel, then manipulated the screen by simulating the pulling of a slot machine handle. Of course, the screen’s pick of Harvick to win would have netted bupkis in our Mirror Driving picks. Then again, I didn’t do any better on Sunday.

The main feature of pre-race was a one-on-one interview conducted by Michael Waltrip with Denny Hamlin while the twosome were playing a round of golf. The topic of discussion was basically what happened at Phoenix the previous week and how winning so early in the year with new crew chief Darian Grubb has really put Hamlin at ease. Probably the simplest way to do a quickie piece with Hamlin, but I don’t think we really learned much about Hamlin. Other than the fact that Mikey apparently bites at golf and is Hamlin’s personal whipping boy on the links.

Once again, we only had one driver interview during the pre-race show. At this point, I’m not sure just how much of the race is really previewed during FOX’s pre-race anymore. Many of the pieces (Gas-n-Go, Double Trouble, etc.) are basically scripted segments. FOX’s pit reporters, who I believe are the best that we have in NASCAR, basically do nothing. It is ridiculous that they refuse to take advantage of that. I’m sure that the pit reporters are gathering some last-minute pieces for their intro pieces during that time, but they should be visible.

Also, I’m just not feeling Hammond’s roving reporter role. As I figured before the season started, he has taken to working with the touch screen pretty well. However, I just don’t see the benefit of having him all over the place during the race. For example, Hammond started the race in one of the luxury boxes, then moved down to pit-in before going back to the Hotel. I know that the roving reporter role has been used before (ABC used it on Indianapolis 500 broadcasts as far back as the 1970’s), but I just don’t think it works here. Having said all that, Hammond does well in his role, but the role doesn’t work.

During the race, much like on Saturday, I felt like I missed a lot during the breaks. FOX took their first one on Lap 12, and it seems like there were wholesale changes during that period of less than three minutes. It took seemingly the majority of the next segment to sort out everything that happened. Never seen anything quite like that.

The second caution came out during another commercial break. Granted, it was only a debris caution, but the break went on for so long that FOX was forced to replay the entire round of pit stops. Since this was a national break, FOX could have conceivably broken out whenever they felt like it. Ultimately, that round of stops had a big effect on the rest of the race (no, I’m not writing this from the point of view of an Earnhardt, Jr. fan). Having to backtrack and cover everything in that fashion takes away from the immediacy and results in the stops being covered in a blase’ fashion.

Since the race went over its time slot by quite a bit, it could be expected that post-race coverage would be truncated a bit. Luckily, most FOX affiliates weren’t airing all that much at 6:30pm EDT. As a result, FOX brought viewers a normal-sized post-race show with six interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings before they left the air.

FOX’s race telecast was not really the best on Sunday. I’ve already covered the Hammond issue above. Having Waltrip in the Hotel to replace Hammond isn’t really working, either. He only really contributes to the telecast during pre-race, and the whole thing is designed around his work with Darrell. During the race, he’s useless. I don’t know what to do here. I knew going in that FOX was going to play up the brothers angle, but this simply isn’t working for me. The fact that Michael’s an active Sprint Cup car owner doesn’t help either.

Also, outside of the time around restarts, the cameras are often zoomed on only one car, or two at most. This makes it difficult to see much of anything. You can’t see anything develop, like a “high-English” swooping move.

Finally, the side-by-side experiment on FOX last year at Dover was much welcomed. However, the side-by-side treatment that we’ve been given so far this season is really not much more than the aforementioned experiments. If this was meant to make ESPN shake in their little shoes, they have clearly failed. NASCAR NonStop gives FOX’s efforts a kick straight to the gonads. The plan supposedly was to use them in the last hour of the race. Seems like the last half-hour at best. Even with their rare usage, it seems to have jacked up the length of all of the other breaks.

What is likely true is that FOX may be having a bit of trouble convincing advertisers to go with their side-by-side packages. If so, that’s not surprising since NASCAR still has a much bigger audience than something like the Izod IndyCar Series. The side-by-side breaks are only 90 seconds or so, while the rest of the normal ones are the better part of, or more than three minutes in length. Another suggestion would be to try to spread the side-by-side breaks out a little bit throughout the race instead of clustering them at the end. The current setup is simply not ideal.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend marks the first real short track weekend of the year (yes, the Waltrips were claiming that Phoenix is a short track, but it is not). The Sprint Cup teams will be traveling back cross-country, along with the Nationwide Series, to race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Thursday, March 15

Time Telecast Network
9:30pm-11:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^

Friday, March 16

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-3:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
10:30am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
12:00-1:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
2:00-3:30pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:15-~5:00pm American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com$
3:30-5:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
7:30-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
11:00pm-12:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^

Saturday, March 17

Time Telecast Network
2:00am-3:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Australia Qualifying SPEED
9:30-10:30am Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
10:15am-10:45pm American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring ESPN3.com$
10:30am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
12:00-1:00pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:00-2:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00-4:30pm Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 ESPN
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, March 18

Time Telecast Network
1:30am-4:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Australia SPEED
10:30am-12:30pm NASCAR RaceDay Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
12:00-2:00pm American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring (Highlights) ABC#%
12:30-1:00pm FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
1:00-4:30pm Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 FOX
~4:30-5:30pm NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-9:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

#- Tape Delayed
%- Highlights
^- Available via free online streaming
$- Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your local television and/or internet provider for availability.

I will provide critiques for the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races in Bristol for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In addition, I will cover the Formula One race telecast from Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. For this week’s edition of the Annex, I plan on taking a second look at NASCAR Now on ESPN 2.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique,
feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Gordon85Wins
03/13/2012 08:57 AM
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I was watching a baseball exhibition on Sunday, and I switched over to the NASCAR race between innings. Commercial. Switched over again between the next inning. Commercial. Switched again later on. Teams coming out of the pits, then a commercial. Switched for a fourth time—exceedingly generous, I might say—saw a restart, seven laps and then a commercial.

Every time I casually flip over to NASCAR, they remind me why I’m not a big fan anymore.

Jim
03/13/2012 02:11 PM
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The Waltrips are one thing but Larry Mac has to go.

What a biased A-hole.

Steve
03/13/2012 03:52 PM
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I’m not sure what FOX’s obsession with the cameras on the wall is, but it is tiring watching those shots constantly. It gives no perspective as to what’s happening and all we see are cars coming at you. And since the cars change sponsors/colors every week, you can’t figure out who is who.

We know FOX likes to dumb down the telecast for the casuals, and it shows cars zooming by, which is apparently exciting to some, but to the real race fan, it doesn’t contribute anything to the race.

The side by side is useless anyway because they don’t show anything except those same wall camera shots. Why bother?

holliewould
03/13/2012 03:58 PM
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1 Waltrip (Darrel) somewhat tolerable, 2 Waltrips, NOT TOLERABLE. Bring back Jeff Hammond into the Hollywood Hotel.pleeeaaassseee. Fox has turned their broadcast into a Michael Waltrip (it’s about me) MWR, NAPA and AARONS informercial. He is the least expert on what it takes to win. Bubbles the Chimp could have driven those DEI cars to those 2 Daytona wins.

DoninAjax
03/13/2012 06:47 PM
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First commercial on lap 11. Second at lap 28. Third at lap 38. That was enough for me. The first commercial Saturday was lap 9. That told me everything I needed to know.

grumpiestoldman
03/14/2012 11:51 AM
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Love DW, can’t stand little Bro.
You are so right about Fox’s pit reporters. They are the best and just disappear for long stretches.