Versus Can Do So Much More
If you have listened to Trackside With Cavin & Kevin recently, you’ve heard them talk about the lack of ancillary IndyCar programming on Versus. I happen to agree, not that they needed me to validate their stance on anything.
When the Versus deal was first announced, we who were soundly questioning such a decision were told that there would be a variety of different shows and promotions similar to what SPEED does for NASCAR. We were led to believe that after a couple of years, we would wonder why we ever wanted the series on any other channel.
On the plus side; Versus allows at least a three-hour window for all races, allowing for a lengthy pre-race show and plenty of interviews after each race. There is also a one-hour qualifying show, usually shown at the same time each day before the race – sometimes taped, sometimes live. Their coverage for Indy 500 qualifying weekend is excellent as they go pretty much flag-to-flag throughout the weekend and have good programming throughout the month of May, culminating with a post-race show after ABC/ESPN wraps up their coverage.
But that’s about it, unless you want to count the obligatory Danica Patrick infomercial they run prior to the beginning of each season. What I was hoping for – if not expecting – was some regular in-season, mid-week programming along with off-season programming. At the time the deal was signed, Versus acted like they were giddy to get major sports programming that they could build their brand around, along with the NHL. If the IZOD IndyCar Series is considered the cornerstone of the Versus franchise, they are being neglectful of their supposed most prized possession.
Quite a bit of criticism arose regarding the quality of the Versus race coverage toward the end of this, their second season. I’ll agree that their effort slipped considerably after their inaugural season in 2009, but I still prefer watching the Versus coverage over ESPN. Bob Jenkins made many more gaffes than the year before, but you learn to forgive a few mistakes for the overall presence of a good broadcaster. The voice of the SEC football telecasts on CBS, Verne Lundquist, probably makes more mistakes on any given broadcast than most other sportscasters – but he is also one of my favorites. That’s the way I feel about Bob Jenkins.
I also like the other guys in the booth, Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl, and I think the three of them mesh well together. ESPN probably has a slight edge in pit-reporting. Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston both slid back some from their debut season of ’09. Jack Arute could be good if he would forget the ridiculous props and his feeling that we tune in to see him. We don’t. Nor do we recognize Jack as the next Barbara Walters. His black & white “In Color” segments are borderline creepy. Jack needs to give up his aspirations of being a stand-up comic and get back to basics. That’s what got him to where he is – not being a pit-side clown.
But getting back to Curt Cavin’s complaint of no ancillary programming from Versus – there’s so much more that they could do. I don’t think that the Versus slate is so full of high-rated quality programming, that they couldn’t devote some decent air time to the IZOD IndyCar Series. And when I say decent air time, I don’t mean airing a show at 2:30 am. It doesn’t even need to be that creative. All one needs to do is look at the plethora of NASCAR related shows on SPEED to get an idea on what to do. Lindy Thackston would probably relish the opportunity to dress in something besides her trackside weekend attire. She would probably do an excellent job in some Wednesday night show in a magazine format.
Last year, I floated an idea that was generally shot down in the comments section – that was for Versus to air classic races from yesteryear. ESPN has built an entire channel around sports re-runs. Surely, I‘m not the only one who might want to watch the 1984 CART race from Phoenix or the 1991 Michigan 500. On a cold dreary night in February, I would certainly watch an old classic race over a late-night basketball game from the Mountain West conference. I’m sure something could be worked out with ESPN to allow airing of these old races. IMS Productions could open up the vault to show the many films of past Indy 500’s. that would make winter seem shorter. Although the idea was roundly criticized, I still think it’s a great idea. There are no production costs involved and it builds interest in what they claim is the franchise product of their fledgling network. NFL Films has flourished by splicing old clips together and laying down a soundtrack narrated by the late John Facenda or the late Harry Kalas. ESPN actually had a show in the late eighties hosted by Bob Jenkins and the late Larry Nuber that was focused on past Indy 500′s. Maybe conjure something up along those lines.
Who knows what the future holds for Versus? Now that it looks like the Comcast purchase of NBC will go through, maybe Comcast can figure out how to leverage NBC to enhance their struggling sports channel. Most believe that Versus will be re-launched as the NBC Sports Channel. Of course, Versus is already the product of a reincarnation – having been known as the Outdoor Life Network. Many say that they should move some races over to NBC. My understanding is that ABC has an exclusive contract for network broadcasting of the IZOD IndyCar Series. I believe that contract runs for at least two more years – possibly more. In the meantime, there are eight more years to go with the Versus deal.
Supposedly, Randy Bernard has his concerns about the current Versus programming and has had several meetings with Versus. He is well acquainted with them from his days at Professional Bull Riding, so maybe he can get them to see that they need to do more. Unless he can convince them to enhance the series with additional programming, the series is stuck in TV purgatory. They are saddled with ABC who wants the 500, reluctantly puts up with four other races – but will not allow another network to carry races. Their cable alternative is a channel that regularly features fishing, deer-hunting, bull riding and cage fighting as their main line of programming.
Randy Bernard has faced a lot of challenges in his first year on the job. Most of them, he has met head-on and dealt with them favorably. The television situation may end up being the most critical to the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Let’s hope he can get some results there, as well.