• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

BROADCAST NEWS

Well, well, well, as Derek Daly would say. NASCAR 2007 will feature new networks, announcers, producers and attitudes. Sounds like a good time to set-forth 20 suggestions and changes that would make the TV experience more enjoyable (and, in some cases, less irritating):

* Mr. Producer, teach your announcers that not every driver is a "great" driver, not every race is a "great" race, and that when a driver spins or wrecks without cause it is not a "tough break." When a mistake is made, say so. Let's call this the Phil Parsons Rule.

* Have them learn the difference between "strategy" and "tactics."

* No asking questions that presuppose the answer. ("You're OK, yes?") Call this the Jeanne Zelasko Rule.

* Ban the following maddenly inane questions: "How's your hot rod?"; "Can you do it today?"; How does it feel?"; "What would a win mean to you?" It's a firing offense for any pit reporter to say to an interview subject: "Talk about . . . " That is NOT a question. These people claim to be broadcast journalists and a basic journalistic skill is to be able to ask meaningful questions.

* Put a restrictor plate on Allen Bestwick's laugh.

* I like Matt Yocum, but Matt as Amahad Rashad to Tony Stewart's Michael Jordan has got to end.

* No cameras or microphone-holders in the vehicles with drivers during pre-race parade laps, which exist so the paying customers can see their favorites, and get a wave in return. That's the fans' time, not TV's.

* Rain can "postpone" a race, not "cancel" it. Again, learn the difference. Starts aren't hurried-up because "weather" is approaching. A sunny sky is "weather," too.

* Send "Wally's World" and its copycats to Pluto. A waste of time that does nothing to add to the viewer's knowledge. It does, however, pump-up some egos like an over-inflated Goodyear.

* Jamie Little would be very, very wise to try a different act in NASCAR than she did in the IRL. Otherwise, a certain constituency will have her run off faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr. sells beer, cars and jeans.

* Eliminate use of "we" and "our" as an attempt to attach the announcer to the sport. As in, "We award bonus points . . ." and "Our points leader . . . " NASCAR officials determine those competition issues, not the TV people.

* Stop making it sound like a driver might not want to succeed. As in, "He has to make that pass if he wants to win." Is there any doubt a driver wants to win? If so, now THERE'S A STORY!

* No more telling us how "exciting" the action is. We'll decide that for ourselves.

* When a driver or crew chief is kind enough to interrupt business during a race to speak to an announcer, they should not have to listen to a long-winded speech before getting the chance to respond. Get to the point and just ask your question!

* End the self-serving praise ("Great job you guys!") for the pit reporters and cameramen. Hey, it's their job to do a great job! And if it really is great, the Emmy voters will know it.

* Never, ever, again talk about a driver getting a "mulligan" during the Chase. That is a do-over. There is no-such-thing in racing.

* Except in the worst-case scenario, it is never acceptable to use the words "dead" and "killed." As in, "He came to a dead-stop." Or, "He killed that car." Think about it.

* No pre-race shows should be longer than what the broadcast networks do before a regular-season NFL game. That means a maximum of one hour from on-air to the green flag.

* Stop turning announcers into MCs. Interviews done for the TV audience shouldn't be blasted through the track's PA system, which only serves to turn the TV type into a cheerleader for the crowd. (Examples: Jerry Punch on ABC's IRL championship ceremony post-Chicagoland and SPEED's Knoxville Nationals production.) Those are two different kinds of interviews which serve two different purposes. Let the speedway's own announcer entertain the ticket buyers.

* Give every last remaining "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity" T-shirt on the planet to the NBC production crew as a parting gift.The news that SPEED suspended Truck series reporter Ray Dunlap for one week and Fox had fired baseball commentator Steve Lyons, both for "inappropriate" comments, came days after Fox-owned SPEED revealed it had signed Kenny Wallace to a new multi-year contract. Wallace will continue with Jimmy Spencer on NASCAR RaceDay and NASCAR Victory Lane. I not only remember -- I will never forget -- when Wallace appeared on ESPN2's old rpm2night a couple of days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on our country. Some 3,000 were dead and America was at war. NASCAR had properly decided to postpone that weekend's New Hampshire race. Appearing in his role as the show's NASCAR analyst, Wallace's reaction was to tell fans to "chill out." That statement was way beyond "inappropriate." It was forever inexcusable. To the best of my knowledge, Wallace has never apologized.

I will politely repeat my suggestion of the other week: SPEED should follow the example of other media organizations, including ESPN, and hire an independent Ombudsman as a viewer advocate.If you're interested in some TV behind-the-scenes intrigue, I suggest reading Desperate Networks (Doubleday, 2006) by Bill Carter, the New York Times' television industry reporter. Since I've long fretted over the lack of creative and innovative publicity in motorsports, the most interesting part of the book to me was how difficult it is to get "different" kinds of shows, like Survivor, Lost, Desperate Housewives and The Apprentice on the air.Here's the first of what will be several "plugs" for the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 13, at the Hyatt in downtown Indianapolis. I'm a co-chair of this event after serving as chairman of AARWBA's 50th Anniversary Celebration last year. Highlights will include announcement of the Jerry Titus Award winner -- the driver who receives the most All-America Team votes -- and, near to my heart, presentation of the Jim Chapman Public Relations Award. For tickets and program ads and Hyatt room reservations at a discounted rate, go to http://aarwba.org or E-mail President Dusty Brandel at aarwba@compuserve.com . Contact me for newsletter and other sponsorship opportunities.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday, if not before . . . ]