Power Levels Part II: The TV Personality Strikes Back

Unlike most sequels, I had absolutely no plans to continue on this specific topic.  However, I awoke this past Saturday morning to find that somebody had left a comment on my previous post.  I am bringing it into its own post so my response does not get buried in the comments section just in case more than ten people ever come to read this blog (probably something about as likely as this person and I ever coming to full agreement but, hey, I’ll play out the string just in case).

Steve Byrnes
2012.04.28

I don’t regard myself as a “Personality” or a celebrity…just a guy doing a job. I work in a subjective business where making everyone happy is impossible.

I’m glad you stand by your words. Nobody is trying to discredit you, or your opinions. Your finely worded essay is impressive. You seem to feel that because what you want, or demand, isn’t being implemented, we are ignoring you, and those like you. You cite falling ratings, yet week after week we are the highest rated sporting event of the weekend. twisting the numbers? extrapolating demographics? Nope. Raw numbers.

Are there things I would change sure? Of course. are we perfect? Far from it.

Defending our product is a waste of my time,and I’m tired of the battle. As broadcasters, we will never make everyone happy, I get that. To imply we produce television in a self-serving vacuum is incorrect.

Steve Byrnes/FOX Sports/NASCAR on SPEED

Well, after I tried to be discrete in my previous post to keep this from resulting an any unwanted blowup, the cat is out of the bag now, isn’t it?  Yes, this is indeed the Steve Byrnes of Fox and Speed, a fine pit reporter on NASCAR on Fox, the final host of the Monday night three-ring circus that ended its life being called This Week in NASCAR, and surely still a proud Maryland Terrapin among many other accomplishments.  I believe he is one of the best pit reporters on what is the overall best pit reporting crew of any racing series currently being telecast in the United States…and one of the reasons I am so upset with Fox’s NASCAR coverage is how that crew has been terribly under-used over the past two or three seasons…but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Unfortunately for most people reading this, they are coming in well after the movie started and it would take me ages to fill it all in.  In the name of brevity, I am going to leave the details out of how I became a critic of the television presentation of NASCAR all the way back in 2001.  The one detail I will put in is, back then, my complaints were only about side issues.  Today it is about the race telecasts themselves.

I have been mulling over my response and thought about taking it in a few different directions.  I could indeed respond with various points directed solely at Steve that would include things such as him being correct that NASCAR on Fox remains overall the highest-rated sports telecast every weekend…followed by my counter-point that those ratings are still down significantly from several years ago and continue to drop, some by as much as 20% from the same race run at the same time last year (and all at a time when TV viewership should be rising since so many can no longer afford to go to races in person).  We could play with numbers all day and what the expectations for them should be but that doesn’t get to…well, let me give some credit before I go any further.

I hate to admit this because he is often accused of merely getting the group that calls itself the “Planeteers” to follow in lockstep with his own opinions. However, I must be honest. It was the esteemed John Daly of The Daly Planet NASCAR media blog that made a tweet to me that helped me tremendously in remembering what is important as far as this situation goes.  His reminder of what this is all about and — most of all — who is involved helped inspire me on how I truly want to react to Steve’s comment along with his previous tweets to me.

I admit in advance it might seem to some that I am mostly avoiding answering Steve’s comment.  That is sort of correct but I am instead using his comment as a springboard to get to things that maybe both sides of this argument should consider…and, why not start this from a different perspective since see-sawing back-and-forth with Steve will not accomplish anything. I would also hope, just in case anybody of note actually reads this, that it might also give people reason to pause and think about the recent trend set by other Fox on-air employees that are starting to tweet and even remark on camera that people like me are not real fans, want to see nothing but wrecks, plus make excuses for bad production decisions and generally getting some of us to start feeling as if this is turning into an “us versus them” situation.

I believe it is time to pull back from the day-to-day details and look at the bigger picture of why people like me are so upset over how Fox is covering NASCAR.  Oddly enough, the answer would be the same on the other side whether it would come from Steve Byrnes, Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy, or anybody else in those types of positions.

We all care about this sport and we hate seeing it fall into ridicule — either from the media or by regular fans commenting on social media — after so many of its formative years having been spent being denigrated.  We all enjoyed the tremendous rise of NASCAR through the 1990s where attention, attendance, and respect began to rival the king of all American sports entities, the NFL.  We all do not like to see it slipping back so much after years of hard work by television to make it look good, decades of fans spreading the word, and the life’s work of NASCAR itself trying its best to always put an entertaining product out on the track.

Those are the reasons we care and complain…and I mean all of us on both sides of these arguments.  On the fans’ side, just like anybody in TV, we have also invested years in this sport with our time, money, and love.  We complain not for the sake of complaining, but because we see something of value being tarnished and lost because of some skewed ideas about television production as well as, in some eyes, proper conduct.

So…before I turn and start a fresh view on why I and others complain, it is only right and fair that we all remember everybody from Steve Byrnes to Darrell Waltrip also cares about NASCAR. If they didn’t, it would be easy for them to just keep quiet about the “complainers.”

There are some basic things that we “complainers” see as violations of our trust, unwanted views of the race, and — for those of us that have the training — incidents that run contrary to Television Production 101.  This is why The Daly Planet’s “NASCAR TV Bill of Rights” is so popular every time it is brought up there (another long read but I hope all NASCAR fans will go check it out if they have not seen it before).

These are not thoughtless demands being asked for by unreasonable, ignorant, or uncaring fans and should not be dismissed as such.  We that agree with the “NASCAR TV Bill of Rights” are also not asking to fully turn back the clock and eschew new times and technologies.  What we do ask for is a race telecast that, in its own way, is as informative and enjoyable to watch as what we saw when NASCAR made its rise in popularity.  With what we get now, fans such as myself feel we are being cheated out of enjoying NASCAR by having to deal with coverage that does not give us as much information as we used to get.  This includes the failure to recognize every driver at least once during the action, leaving good action uncovered simply because the drivers involved are not supposedly popular, and spending so much time on close-ups of cars that, all too often, causes almost every single moment of interest from passing to an incident on pit road to have to be shown on replay.  It wasn’t always that way and we don’t understand why it has to be that way now other than perhaps some producer’s misconstrued idea that tight shots look better on HDTV and that’s all that matters now.

Some accuse we “complainers” as not remembering things correctly.  Here is the best piece of proof I can provide on the “constant tight shots” complaint (with thanks to Maverick24 of the Planeteers for digging up this clip).

Here’s a few laps from the old “Bob, Benny, and Ned” days of ESPN’s coverage.

Notice the wider shots showing more action and giving a fuller view of the overall status of the race.  See how they were not afraid to immediately move back behind Dale Earnhardt to note a pass by Mark Martin and show it live, not on replay (which was noticed and focused on much easier thanks to the wider camera angle that was used).  Hear how the color commentators do not take over the broadcast and allow the play-by-play man to properly set the scene.  Look how, even on the last lap of the race, a broken car is noted rather than ignored or shown later on replay.

As for my counterpoint, I would have liked to embed a video showing the manner in which Fox currently broadcasts a race especially on a short track.  However, the only decent clips I could find were full races and I don’t want to be a part of such a blatant abuse of copyright.  However, I will say this…one can go to that certain popular video sharing site and enter the terms NASCAR, Martinsville, and 2012 to see a prime example of the difference between the clip above and today.  These will be easy to identify by their length being well above that certain service’s normal ten minute limit.  Go watch a few laps anywhere within the length of the video and, whether one agrees or not that the new way is bad, it must be admitted that the differences I have pointed out are real and noticeable.

My final summation is this.  Maybe, just maybe, if there was a return to the way races were telecast just a very few years ago — wider shots, using in-car cameras as a delicate spice and not a main ingredient, focusing on action instead of leaders, less forced yukking it up by the announcers, and commenting on action rather than telling an old story that often has no relation to today — it might avoid things like the current controversy over whether or not NASCAR racing has become boring and bring some of us back to the fold that have been skipping races, turning to radio, or have basically given up…because we could then see the full scope of the event, the actual passing that is happening, and how hard it really is to get these race cars to handle and not wreck every single lap — all the things that made so many people enthralled with NASCAR during its rise.  I strongly believe if those things were to happen instead of somebody upstairs at Fox believing that tight shots, forced story lines, and other antics are what the public wants, then the only need to use the word “trash” on any fan’s side would be about a car overheating due to an errant hot dog wrapper getting stuck on somebody’s grille.

NOTE: As this post might bring some attention to KoHoSo.us that it has never had before (or sought), a couple of things on the comments section.  Unlike The Daly Planet, adult language is allowed here.  However, comments that are threatening, libelous, or that use nothing but cookie-cutter talking points will be removed at my sole discretion no matter at whom they are directed.  Other than that, have at it.

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