May 07, 2006

So... How did I feel after watching the Las Vegas broadcast?

I wanted to hurt someone.

That was part of my reaction after watching last night’s Supercross Finale broadcast live from Las Vegas. I mean, I was looking forward to a FANTASTIC night of racing, and in all honesty, the qualifying races were great. Too bad the 450F main turned into a boring procession. But it wasn’t the race that angered me, it was the coverage.

And let me be clear, I wasn’t pissed about the technical coverage. I thought the technical execution was superb. The great camera angles gave me the feeling that I could see the entire track. The director and technical director seemed to capture the action at just the right time; their timing was nearly flawless. And whoever was able to talk Kevin Windham into wearing the helmet cam deserves a bonus! It was great to see what it’s like riding with one of the fastest riders in the sport. I could have watched even more of that, despite the signal breakup whenever he went down “Thunder Alley”.

And the graphical information offered on screen was nearly perfect. The scrolling position chart that alternated between laptimes and gap times was just great, and the color coding to show who’s in qualifying position… very cool. Laps remaining, point standings, rider number and name titles… the crew did a great job. They were on point and I have no complaints about that aspect of the broadcast. So what was it that made me squirm in my chair for three hours?

One, the show was visually boring. A three-hour live sporting event cannot afford to be boring for 15 seconds, but last night’s show became uninteresting whenever the racers left the track. I COULD NOT BELIEVE that the only cutaway available was a shot of the fans in the stands. A heat race would end, they would show the winner ride off the track, then they would cutaway to people in the stands as the announcers wrapped up the race and transitioned to a commercial. USING THE SAME CUTAWAY FOR THREE HOURS = FRIGGIN’ BORING!

My God, how many other things are there to shoot at a supercross race? How about the pits for one example? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when a factory rider returns to the pits after just missing a qualifying spot? There was not a single shot of the pits… and the factories spend a ton of money to make them visually appealing to fans. I mean, were the pits closed to the Speed camera crews? I think not.

Or how about a shot in the tunnel as the riders and mechanics make the trek to the starting line? Or how about a shot of the announcers in the booth?? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a good idea to show the television audience the size of the sellout crowd… once or twice. We get it after that!

Pre-taped packages were another problem. I missed the first 20 minutes of the program, so maybe I missed the killer, kick-ass package, but the ones that followed were basic at best. I mean, another mini-interview with one of the top three, telling us how important the championship is? WE’VE SEEN THAT ALL WEEK, for chrissakes! There was ample downtime to run more 1 and 2 minutes packages. How about one showing the riders preparing for the week? You know, send a crew out to the factory practice tracks; show RC pounding out the miles on his road bicycle; see Stewart pumping iron in the gym. How hard would that have been?

And the commercials. Oh my god, I am SO GLAD the supercross season is over so I don’t have to see those same three commercials again! I was actually grateful that the local cable station was running some bullshit car sales commercials, just to break up the monotony! Would it have killed Amp’d mobile to produce a new commercial for this huge broadcast? I guess it was out of the budget… cheap bastards. Either that or they just didn’t care. Which one is it? And even Thor would have benefited from running something new… even if it was one of their older commercials from years past. Yes, advertising if more effective when repetitive. But there is a point of diminishing returns when the target audience gets sick of the same old message. I believe that point was overtaken months ago…

And the announcers… I still don’t like them, that’s not a surprise. But what really did surprise me was the fact that the announcing team has not “gelled” in the least bit. It’s like they’re still strangers to each other. There was absolutely zero sense of camaraderie. Denny Stephenson has a well-earned reputation for being a bit of a smartass, that’s a large part of his appeal, but his personality never shined through. There was even a moment when Ralph took an uncharacteristic jab at Denny, regarding wearing pink gear, and Denny refused to strike back. And Ralph gave Denny PLENTY of opportunities because Ralph said things that give the impression that he has no idea what he’s talking about. And Denny should have blasted him on it every time. That would have been entertaining as shit.

One example happened right before the start of the 450F main, when Ralph called the siting lap the “warm up lap.” If there were any NASCAR fans watching, they would have scratched their heads in confusion, wondering why those racers were trying to “warm up” something at walking speeds (there was another “cutaway” opportunity: show the riders in the pits, warming up on their stationary bikes). Denny should have corrected Ralph immediately. Yes, they eventually explained that the riders were looking for changes in the track condition, but Denny missed an opportunity to assert his personality. The sad part was I don’t think he even noticed.

The field reporters were no great shakes, either. There was a moment when Greg White talked about the hardpacked dirt in Thunder Alley. He pointed out some “lines” in the dirt, which were obviously ‘dozer track, and he compared them to “cobblestones”. Why he didn’t just identify them as ‘dozer tracks I’ll never know (is it possible he didn’t recognize them?), but then Ralph adlibbed that the mechanics were “working furiously” to address the traction issues. Um, okay. Picture Alan Olson in the pits, “furiously” changing tires. It never happens; the tire company guys do all the tire changing; Alan would change wheels, but “furiously”?? Instead, the producers missed a great opportunity to spend 60 seconds with Dunlop tire rep Broc Glover, letting him explain the fact that they use special, limited-use tires for supercross races. And Dunlop was one of the advertisers! What could have been a win-win turned into yet another missed opportunity, and a better visual alternative to a cutaway shot of a guy picking his nose in the stands.

I’m not even going to say anything about Krista… ah, who am I fooling? First, why a white belt with black shirt and pants? Was she trying to convince the nation that she has absolutely zero fashion sense, or was she trying to shame CBS into hiring a wardrobe person? She seemed lost throughout the entire broadcast, as if she was having trouble finding things to talk about. There was a great shot of racers preparing their starting slots by packing the dirt with their feet. Would it have killed Krista to get a rider or mechanic to explain exactly what they were doing? To a casual fan it must have been confusing.

I think, seriously, that Krista could benefit from sitting in a room and watching all of her “interviews” for a few hours, and then be forced to write better questions for each situation. She appears to “wing it” whenever she’s confronted with interviewing a rider, and she usually gets it wrong. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and who am I but just a guy with a blog, right?

But the last straw that broke my camelbak was the “ceremony” during which the top official of the AMA and the FIM presented their respective number one plates to our exalted champions. Did you see it? I just couldn’t believe it. After hyping up the title chase for three hours, the actual title presentation consisted of a few mumbled, un-microphoned words by Whitelock and Gallagher, while Ralph talked over them, adding absolutely nothing to the process.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Supercross Champion of the World!! Here, take this piece of plastic, good job, now scoot…” Unfriggin’-believable. If I were a casual fan, I would be perplexed; as a huge fan, I was hugely disappointed and embarrassed.

And what was the deal with the stadium announcers? Why were they on the stage interviewing the racers at the same time? DID NO ONE TELL THEM THE RACE WAS ON LIVE TELEVISION? The fans in the stands seemed to know it was on live TV… why not let the television announcers handle the entire podium presentation… for the television audience AND the stadium audience? Whose idea was it to pretend this was just a regular race being taped for cable? At that point, I turned off the TV…

What it comes down to is this: I feel an unbelievable opportunity was wasted. There was enormous publicity and anticipation heading into this final race. The stage was set, but the production team dropped the ball bigtime. It was as if no thought or preparation went into this special program. I know that isn’t true, but the end result, to me, suggests that the preparations were insufficient. Either that or the people doing the preparations were in over their heads. Of course, this is just my opinion, and again, who am I? Just a guy who loves motocross and is not afraid to tell it like it is.


Anonymous said...

This is spot on. All the things you have written are true and correct. What a wasted opportunity the this great sport. Someone needs to be shot!

Paul said...

Thanks, anon. I know you're only joking about that last sentence, but I have to say it... no one needs to be shot. Maybe severely reprimanded?