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Sunday, September 09, 2012

THIS WEEK

This promises to be a very interesting week in TV, politics and motorsports.

In the early days of this blog, I often commented on the hype leading up to Katie Couric's debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News. There was a Hillary Clinton-like "listening tour," signs on buses, full-page newspaper ads, logo souvenirs, etc. It was an interesting case study for publicists. Of course, it was for naught, because after a huge initial tune-in audience, viewership collapsed and Couric's five years-at-$15 million-a-year tenure was a failure. The most noteable thing that happened might well have been Celebrity Couric's guest shot with David Letterman in which she said Michael Jackson wanted to date her.

Couric attempts to get back into the daily TV game this week with the debut of her syndicated ABC talk show. It has cleared an impressive 93 percent of TV households. The Hollywood Reporter calls Katie "the most talked about, most anticipated, best positioned . . . the most expensive . . . (of shows) seeking to fill the 'Oprah void' in afternoon television."

Good luck. This time around, the PR campaign has been decidedly different. Promos included her previously off-limits daughters and a reminder that her husband died of cancer. It's a try to soften her image, create sympathy, and generally spark new interest, all very useful in bringing in the afternoon female audience. Her executive producer and business partner, Jeff Zucker, who produced her at the Today show, has a well-deserved place in the TV News Hall of Shame as a pioneer in more-overtly injecting liberal bias into "objective" reporting.

I would not be surprised if, despite more hype, Katie will have underperformed expectations by the end of its first season.

Over in the presidential race, we should have some new polls. As these will be the first after both the Republican and Democratic conventions, the numbers should give us a real good read on the state of the race. Next up: The Debates.

Speaking of hype, NASCAR's 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in Chicagoland. This version has the look of being all about Jimmie Johnson's attempt to reclaim the Cup and JUNIOR! The absolute best thing that could happen to NASCAR would be for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Chase opener and stay in the top three in points all the way to Homestead. IF that happens, the real strength of Junior Nation will be tested against the powerhouse programming that is football. Jeff Gordon's amazing second-place run at Richmond added a little pop going into the Chase, but Kyle Busch not being in it takes away a little excitement.

IndyCar's Izod series wraps with a 500-mile return to Fontana, Calif., and Auto Club Speedway. Hold your breath. While the Will Power-Ryan Hunter-Reay contest for the championship should be the event headline, I'll have two other things on my radar screen: Attendance and what my friend Bob Jenkins says will be his final race telecast.

After taking a financial bath with the rain-out of the U.S. Nationals at a track it owns, NHRA gives its six-race Countdown to one last Full Throttle series class championships another shot. If NASCAR is hoping to ride Junior to ratings success, so NHRA will be with rookie sensation Courtney Force. She needs to win early and stay in legitimate Funny Car title contention going to Pomona if drag racing is to make any impact vs. the Chase and football.

Let's see what happens this week. And how the media-at-large plays the stories and does -- or doesn't -- pay attention.


As one who has been calling for a unified American sports car series for years, I welcome last week's announcement of a "merger" between Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series. In strictly business terms, it was more of a "buyout" with Jim France and the NASCAR holding company that already owns Grand-Am taking control. Similar to when Tony George and the IRL effectively bought-out Kevin Kalkhoven and Champ Car. Be happy, fans, but watch for the details -- so many things have yet to be determined or announced. ALMS bet its house on manufacturers wanting to spend significant money on "Green" racing and that didn't happen. Certainly not in the headline Prototype class. NASCAR, of course, has been steadily increasing its "Green" PR campaign but I'd be cautious of going all-out the way ALMS tried to do. No one buys a ticket or watches on TV/Internet because of what kind of fuel someone is using! One of the highest priorities must be building a solid Prototype class -- without that, sports car racing is like drag racing without Top Fuel and Funny Cars. ALMS' existing GT class is terrific and should be continued "as is" as much as possible. But Grand-Am has had it right in a simple two-class structure while even passionate ALMS fans could not possibly follow or understand its complex and confusing multiple class structure. The new entity, which begins with Daytona in 2014, MUST AVOID THAT MISTAKE. Americans have a short attention span and it's not "sellable" to run so many different classes, so it's mandatory to combine where possible and eliminate where necessary. NASCAR's business resources, I'm sure, will be employed for this series just as for Grand-Am. I would suggest finding a significant role for my old friend, Ed Triolo, the longtime Porsche exec who now works for ALMS. Finally: ALMS' official association with the ACO, which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, provided international credibility and name value. But the ACO hasn't always understood that the needs of an American sports car series, its public and its corporate participants, aren't necessarily the same as those in Europe. Keep the tie-in with Le Mans ONLY IF it makes reasonable sense, but remember this: The "NASCAR" brand is way more valuable in the U.S. than that of "Le Mans."

[ more next Monday . . . ]