CHAMPCAR/CART: An interview with TV broadcast, production team, part IV

An interview with: Derek Daly Tommy Kendall Scott Pruett Calvin Fish Bob Varsha Terry Lingner DOUG SELLARS Q Finally, maybe the television people can come in on this, half the season now is during football season. Do you have any concerns ...

An interview with:

Derek Daly Tommy Kendall Scott Pruett Calvin Fish Bob Varsha Terry Lingner DOUG SELLARS

Q Finally, maybe the television people can come in on this, half the season now is during football season. Do you have any concerns about losing viewership to the mighty broadcasts of the NFL?

DOUG SELLARS: That's always a concern. I mean, competition on any given weekend is difficult, and during football season even more so.

We need to make sure that by the time September rolls around we've given people a pretty good reason to continue to want to watch CART racing on SPEED. I mean, that's all we can do, continue with promotion.

I think that SPEED Channel, as it continues to grow, the great thing about the SPEED Channel at the end of the day, if you're watching it, you'll see promotion for racing, you'll get more in tune with the CART schedule and the other racing schedules on that channel.

Your question, I'm not avoiding it, yeah, it's going to be difficult, it always will be. But, as I say, if we can present a program that people already know before we get to football season, is a great show to watch.

Q How do you do that, Doug? What kind of program, other than racing, do you continue to try to deal with the personalities of the drivers and hope that that is strong enough to bring people back? How do you make a broadcast that will get somebody to turn back from the 30-second violence of the NFL to the two hours?

DOUG SELLARS: I think we continue to build on what we started in Mexico. A lot of that has to do with the drivers themselves, absolutely, with us presenting races in an entertaining format.

We continue to work on things like Terry was just talking about in terms of how we better interpret and present on the screen the data that makes the entire experience of watching a program what people come back for, not just for the race, they come back for the flavor of the event, they come back to listen to our five experts, to hear who TK is going to give a hard time to this week because that driver may deserve it, or Calvin and Derek and Scott, what are they going to bring out of this race today.

I think it's not easy to pinpoint on one particular thing. When you do a successful television show, it's a combination of several things. We need to continue to hone our craft and our skill. As the guys talked about, hitting our stride at some point, both from a commentator's comfort level on the air to the behind-the-scenes people and how they direct and produce those people on the air and the package you see. It's how we continue to make the in-cars interesting. We go from Canada to Mexico. What can we do in Mexico, people watch, say that shifter camera was interesting enough, I'm going to come back next time and see where they're going to put the camera next week? The thought buzzing through my head right now, maybe we do an Internet, interactive thing where we ask, "Where do you want to see the camera go race to race? "

There's no easy answer.  You just have to produce what you believe
people want to see.  And I think that's what we did coming out of the box in
Mexico.  Terry and I didn't get to answer the question what do we do between
races.  We think about all these kinds of things.

Terry Lingner: I will say, Doug, everybody, it's the beauty of our sport, and I have, you know, been able to cover for a bunch of years, it's the beauty of our sport is that we do have access. The fact that people saw someone that's running race control physically talk to Tommy and Bob during the broadcast was unprecedented.

Where he would need to keep going, we need you guys' help, too. We know this because we love the sport, and, you know, we can get in the locker rooms, we can get in the team briefings. You're not going to do that in the NFL, and you're certainly not going to do it in the NBA. We're going to present these guys as real human beings that love what they do, that's not protected by a bunch of public relations folks that are always beating you away.

I hate to bring it up, but I was doing stock car racing when there was nobody in the stands. All we had to do was put Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Richard Petty, the biggest and brightest stars that NASCAR had, and people start noticing, people start talking, people start saying, "I'm really fired up." I can't even tell you who is on the Colts any more except Peyton Manning.

Those are the things we're going to continue to exploit that cost us nothing, that makes us just use our common sense, and the ball and momentum gets rolling, and you start creating more fans and more viewers.

DOUG SELLARS: That's the challenge for the broadcast team, is being -- I mean, TV is going to make or break the series, and the people, the drivers, the crews, the team owners, those are the guys that have -- that really understand where we're at, as well. For us to come up and make the viewers want to stay on and see and come back the next week and what's happening, "Wow, that's cool, that's exciting, that's neat," really make them feel like they are there behind the scenes, not just there, but they're behind the scenes, being a part of the actual action.

I see that being a huge challenge for all the broadcast team, going out and getting that, and making the viewer feel like they're truly a part of something special, because it is special and it's exciting. And we have to learn how to present it and be willing to adapt and change and move. Just like a race team has to do on any given weekend, they have to come up with a new challenge for the track, what can we do to get ahead, to be a little better in our competition? That's the way we have to approach, certainly the way I'm approaching the whole broadcast, continue week in and week out, okay, we did it this way last week, what was good, what was bad, let's make it better for the next week and for the next week and for the next week.

Calvin Fish: One final point on that. I think with the time slots that we have, we've certainly got a lot more opportunity to get some of these personalities and connect with the audience at home. When you have people in the series like, you know, Max Papis and Tony Kanaan and Paul Tracy, we now have enough air time to allow the folks at home to meet these people. I think they're going to connect to these folks.

I mean, we're fortunate.  I mean, everyone on the broadcast team's
job is made a lot easier.  We don't have that clinical F-1 kind of mega
attitude.  These guys want to work with us.

You know, the other thing is, like Terry said, we have a unique sport in that we have the access. Like Tiger Woods making a bad shot, hitting a golf ball in the water, doesn't do it that much, but you can't speak to his caddie and ask him why that happened.

You know, Paul makes a move like he did on the first lap, Jimmy got tagged, whatever, Townsend, you have the ability to go up to their caddie or team manager or engineer and say, "What did he say?" I think that's what is unique.

DOUG SELLARS: Like to circle the wagons and back to the SPEED Channel model. At the end of the day, what SPEED Channel allows for CART is to directly speak -- is allows them to directly speak to a lot of marginal CART fans. Let's say that. Because of the heavy NASCAR on SPEED Channel, which we know, but all the other racing series as well, people are going to start seeing CART promotion on SPEED Channel, they're going to start saying, "Maybe I better check that out, see how things are going to with CART." Then it's our job to hook them in.

We start with race fans and build from there. It's going to take us some time to build. We have to do it fairly quickly. But to create buzz within the racing community, number one, racing fans, the not CART racing fans, to get them over, and that's what SPEED will allow us to do.

Then we need to get buzz in terms of promotion, you know, in the media, that we kind of bounce off what we saw the Mexico reaction, becomes a buzz that, "Hey, CART is cool."

So that's kind of the overall picture. It's not an easy battle. We're battling this 500-channel universe, not to mention Internet, video games, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So that's the basic plan, as I see it.

Tommy Kendall: My thoughts on that, I mean, I have a lot of faith in people's intelligence. People try to spoon feed people. But I think, if given a choice, some people -- football is a tough competitor. But I think if given the chance, some people, as they get to know what we do, if you want to party with Max Papis and Paul Newman in Surfers Paradise, or do you want to be transported to Buffalo? Do you want to hang out in Baltimore with Art Modell or do you want to be in So Cal in November with Dario and Ashley and Max Papis? Some people would rather be in Baltimore. I'd rather be in So Cal. We're looking to attract those kind of people. There's probably plenty for both.

Q What you're talking about here is doing as much a television show as covering a race?

Tommy Kendall: The race is essential. Some of the other things that maybe get through to people, get them to maybe take a closer look. I think once people look at it with an open mind and it's presented in the way that it is now with much greater depth, I think those people -- I believe in a lot of them that they will like what they see.

Bob Varsha: I think the operative point here is, remember, ultimately it's the racing that sells the show, which is something I was referring to earlier. There aren't a whole lot of things that you can come up with to make the show interesting if the racing itself is not. After that, you know, it's nothing but bells and whistles.

As we've said in this conversation, the racing is definitely there, as Tommy says, it has been for a long time. When we see we're looking for innovative and different and more penetrating ways to hook these viewers and bring them in, ultimately it has to be racing related because it seems to me at least that's our fundamental mission. CART is the show.

Moderator: If I could respond quickly on behalf on the CART side of things, we spent the early part of this call talking a little bit about the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I think it's going to be CART's effort to try and get as many early-season events like the one you'll see in St. Petersburg, to try and fill that gap early in the season. We're certainly going to make every effort to make sure there aren't so many of the down weeks as we move about forward in the development of the schedule for 2003 and beyond.

Q Probably on the programming side, local sponsors, venues, TV could perhaps do more to entice and give value back to the local communities and sponsors that would be a part of the events. Are there any plans to do that, maybe follow a driver around as he visits various areas in the community, et cetera?

Derek Daly: The only reason I want to kick off is, Gigante began in Mexico was a new sponsor introduced to CART and Champ Car racing. We made it our objective to show them for an involvement as deep as they've gone that there are multiple returns. One of my pieces was specifically from their suite where they entertained hundreds of people on race day.

So as regards to mixing and connection, the local sponsorship there, you know, I think we were aware of it certainly in Mexico and went out of our way to make sure we recognized people who are supporting the series. Now these new people, down the road they'll recognize and support us and continue to support us.

Q Good luck at Long Beach.

Moderator:  I'd like to throw it open to anyone we haven't called on
thus far if anyone has any questions.  Feel free to jump in.

Q Has there been any consideration given to maybe doing what Formula 1 does in terms of post-race press conference, televising a portion of that? Is that something you think people want to see? Any plans of doing that?

DOUG SELLARS:  The big difference between Formula  1 and CART,
having done both, I much prefer the CART way, is Formula  1 will not let you
talk to any driver until the press conference.  The questions are always
stilted.  They never ask what I want to know.

Whereas in CART we get the flavor. If you saw Mexico, obviously you did, it was chaos down there. We'll get a little better control. You get the flavor of this guy getting his helmet off, adrenaline pumping, we did the top three right there and top five within about ten minutes.

I think that's better than a press conference, from a programming and presentation standpoint. Derek doesn't like it because he gets run over down there.

Derek Daly: It was good fun. One of the reasons F-1 has to do it is there are so many people who would want to get that immediate interview, that there are so many people, nobody gets it. They have to have this clinically staged and honestly quite boring press conference at the end of it. I mean, anybody who's ever heard Mika Hakkinen interviewed, I doubt SPEED would be running over to get his quotes to entertain the people.

Hopefully we can stay with the live action.

DOUG SELLARS: He's sort of a Finnish Sterling Marlin.

The other thing we do between races is look for potential new announcers, too (laughter).

Moderator: Thank you very much for your questions. I want to see if there's anybody else who would like to ask a final question of our guest.

Q Are there certain things that you can or cannot show on your Sunday broadcast? For instance, I know Bob mentioned racing is the show, and racing has to sell this overall atmosphere to the audience, but when Scott mentioned something about, "I'm into grapes now," these guys have lifestyles that would also be a good sell. I like the idea of behind the scenes with the driver on the weekend, hanging with his crew members. Can we do more of that, time permitting, on the Sunday show?

Calvin Fish: I don't know if you saw the prerace from Monterrey. I tried to get Terry to let me go into the port-a-potty.

Q That was hilarious.

Calvin Fish: He wouldn't go for it.

Bob Varsha: Rule number one, don't ever ask for permission.

DOUG SELLARS: I don't think there's anything in terms of things we wouldn't try to do. Terry, you're trying to get something going with Kenny Brack there in Indy with the blues club, maybe some of the other stuff.

Terry Lingner: It's a tough question. Since the action never stops, it's the kind of thing that I've always -- in trying to set a tone for the way we produce motorsports in general, unless the material is really good, I've always felt like there's somebody running even 18th or whatever with his foot as firmly on the floor as the guy running in first. He's just not -- I'd rather search on the track during the race as often as possible. If I'm doing a Purdue football game, it's 45-3 against Wisconsin, and I think, "This football game is boring, I'm going to give them a lifestyle piece on Drew Breeze," we'd get so much hate mail for missing one snap. I try to take that same philosophy into racing.

Certainly we need flavor, we need to tell stories. Hopefully that can be communicated by Bob and Tommy, if there's a yellow or whatever. Let's face it, here is the difficulty we have: we want a popular sport, we want it to grow, we want it to be profitable. I've seen this happen with NASCAR, quite frankly. You know, when these guys go on the air, they have so many sales commitments because it's so popular and people want in, you know, before you know it, there's a race that just happened at least in some instances it feels like 50 percent of it was cut out.

It's just a matter of common sense again. If the material really drives the story line, if you're sitting there as a producer, you have all your elements there, you're saying, "Gee whizz, Tommy just brought this up, now if I just show him in the vineyards," I'm waffling on it somewhat because you want people to care more. That's really what the pre-race is for. In my opinion, that's what long yellow flags might be, as long as nobody is hurt. I've never wanted my people to feel like the only way we're going to get people turned onto this sport is by showing more up close and personals.

Derek Daly: Just to give you an idea of the type of things we talk about, about how to get to places that people have never been to before and bring action to it, having been involved in a serious crash myself, it's a very scary time for a driver.

What I'm trying to do is engineer a situation, and it's in discussion right now where let's say an oval track might be easier. If there is a big crash, we've never been up close before to an event like that. I'm not saying we want to go and report on gory details, but we're discussing right now how I could possibly go with a crew, go the scene of the accident, when you recognize it's not life-threatening, actually do a report on what goes on from there. It is an unbelievably emotionally charged scene that we've never been privy to, and we're going to try to find a way to get people there because it's never been done before. That's the type of versatility we discuss openly about trying to take people to unusual places they've never been to.

Moderator: Thank you very much. That will wrap-up our teleconference for today. I appreciate you sticking with us as it was little longer than we anticipated. I think we enjoyed hearing your comments today. Thank you for joining us on our call today. We'll look forward to these guys' next assignment, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Sunday, April 14th, air time again scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Thanks to all who participated in today's call and have a very pleasant afternoon. Thank you.

-cart-

Part I Broadcast inverview

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Mika Hakkinen , Sterling Marlin , Max Papis , Tony Kanaan , Scott Pruett , Calvin Fish , Paul Newman , Richard Petty , Derek Daly , Tommy Kendall