So, You Say You Don’t Like NBC?

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It’s a popular pastime for fans of the NTT IndyCar Series to blast whichever network is covering the series – especially the Indianapolis 500. For years, when ABC/ESPN covered five races per season, including the 500 – fans publicly yearned for the day that Versus/NBCSN or NBC could cover the entire series. Once they got their wish, fans suddenly regretted what they wished for.

NBC infuriated fans by switching practices to NBC Sports Gold – a streaming app that cost around $55 per year for IndyCar coverage only. Fans were incensed with the concept of paying to watch practice, which had been available on You Tube for free. Of course, the You Tube coverage was so very basic. You got a few camera angles, sometimes with stationary cameras – along with the IMS Radio Network commentary, which was actually very enjoyable once Mike King left the network.

The NBC Sports Gold practices came with a full production, identical to race coverage – minus the commercials. You also had the option of watching Qualifying live, without commercials, if NBCSN was to show it delayed. Personally, I liked the NBC Gold concept, but a lot of fans balked at the idea.

Gold was replaced by the NBC Sports App and ultimately by Peacock. It’s the same concept, except there are tons of more non-racing content on Peacock. Plus, we Comcast Xfinity subscribers get Peacock for free – as part of our package. Even if it wasn’t free, I would gladly pay the $5 a month for what we get. But still, a lot of fans hate NBC for charging some fans for what had been free. It’s just the way of the cord-cutting world, as more TV options shift to streaming services.

Of course, that’s not everyone’s beef with NBC. Leigh Diffey is an easy target from those that complain about his screaming or over-hyping things. A lot of people complained about Paul Tracy, while some are not crazy about Townsend Bell. James Hinchcliffe is still in his honeymoon stage, but I’m sure fans will turn on him before long.

But it’s funny how before 2019, ABC/ESPN was the devil and NBC was what everyone wanted. When NBC won the exclusive rights beginning in 2019 – suddenly they were the new devil.

Personally, I really like what NBC brings to the table. Like it or not, coverage of the Indianapolis 500 has to be different than any other race broadcast. The die-hards are already tuning in. They are going after the very casual viewer and gear their broadcast to appeal to the masses. I like the fact that they have Mike Tirico as host of the broadcast. He has a face and a voice that sports viewers across the board, instantly recognize. He has a very smooth and upbeat delivery that may make him the top announcer in all of sports. Viewers know when they tune in and hear Mike Tirico’s voice, that they are watching a major event.

When you compare Tirico combined with Leigh Diffey and the broadcast crew to what ABC served up in their last years with Lindsay Czarniak as host (up until 2017), and the sleep-inducing booth of Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever – there’s no comparison in my opinion.

Everyone likes to point to the days of Paul Page, Bobby Unser and Sam Posey as what race broadcasting ought to be. What many forget is that pairing was only together just a few times a year in the late eighties and early nineties, when ABC actually had the broadcast. When ESPN had the other races, it was Page paired with Derek Daly – which was good and informative, but not as entertaining has having Bobby and Sam going at it.

But if you are unhappy with NBC and the broadcasting standards of today, go back and watch some broadcasts from the eighties.

Back in April, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I subjected Susan to the full ABC broadcast of the 1986 Indianapolis 500. It was their first live broadcast of the event, and it showed. For the first time, Jim McKay had been moved from play-by-play (lap-by-lap?) duties and into the host roll.

This will be considered a sacrilege to some, but I was never a Jim McKay fan. He talked way too much and said very little. He seemed to love the sound of his own voice. This wasn’t because of the era, because the master of understatement, Pat Summerall, was in his prime during the same era. No, it’s just that Jim McKay never knew when to shut up. He seemed to think that a moment of silence on the air was sinful. He talked all over everything, never allowing the viewer to absorb the moment themselves. McKay had to constantly be telling the viewers what they were seeing – as if they were too stupid to figure it out on their own.

Moving McKay into the host role was not good. He realized that he would have fewer opportunities to talk, so he made the most of them when he could.

Into McKay’s former role went Jim Lampley. I never cared too much for Lampley on college football. He looked too much like Rob Lowe, who was at his peak in popularity as an alleged actor in the mid-to-late eighties – until his other career as a porn star surfaced, but I digress…

Lampley seemed to know less about racing than McKay did. He was paired with Sam Posey, who had no Bobby Unser figure to keep him in check. On the 1986 broadcast; Posey went off on flowery tangents, with very few IndyCar facts to go along. Lampley and Posey in the booth was a very lame combination, and they were hard to listen to. Couple that with the multiple obligatory shots of Debi Rahal in the closing laps, and it was a very forgettable broadcast.

The only thing really memorable about the broadcast, was memorable for the wrong reasons. Sam Posey was attempting the dreaded in-car interview with Kevin Cogan as he was leading, under the final caution of the day shortly before the final restart. Cogan’s replay of “I’m kind of busy right now, Sam. I’ll have to talk to you afterwards” was priceless. Posey’s on-air response was “I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either”.

In-car interviews proved to be as awkward thirty-six years ago as they are today. Like so many things, this falls under the category of “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. That may have been cutting-edge technology in 1986, but today it’s not noteworthy. Drivers never say anything earth-shattering during these cringe-worthy interviews – they just sound annoyed. I always feel like they are interrupting someone’s lunch.

Getting back to the Debi Rahal shots, they weren’t near as intrusive in 1986, as the shots of Dina Mears in 1982 or Teresa Fittipaldi and Shelly Unser in 1989. In those years, ABC seemed more intent on showing the emotions of the wives, rather than actual action on the track. It was mind-boggling the first time I saw it. Decades later, it’s still mind-boggling. Fortunately, NBC sticks to the action on the track. They did show the family of Helio Castroneves, when he was about to win his fourth – but that was on a split screen and they never left the action on the track.

Quite honestly, I wish ABC had spent less time focusing on Rahal’s wife, and more time on his car-owner, Jim Trueman – who only had eleven days to live. The way he insisted on being in the pits while his body was betraying him, was an inspirational story that was not even mentioned until Trueman showed up in Victory Lane.

Overall, I found myself getting frustrated watching the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Jim McKay’s non-stop blathering, Jim Lampley’s general lack of racing knowledge and Sam Posey over-romanticizing the sport, all far exceeded the lack of technology back then. I expect that and take that into account. I did not expect bad announcing.

For you Jim McKay fans out there, and I know there are several – my apologies. I just found him to be nothing more than an overrated motor-mouth. I’ll take Leigh Diffey any day.

George Phillips

19 Responses to “So, You Say You Don’t Like NBC?”

  1. I love Leigh Diffey and what NBC has done for INDYCAR. I wish they would not have Danica on the 500 broadcast.

    George…why take a shot at Rob Lowe? That is beneath you.

  2. The Wives and Girlfriends cam has never been more absused than it was in the final 8 laps of the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Nearly all of those closing laps were seen on a box taking up about 15-20% of the actual screen area. It was one of the worst presentations for one of the greatest finishes ever.

  3. George , Jim McKay did have prior experience announcing Motorsports , I am pretty sure he did the figure eight events from Islip Speedway shown on Wide World of Sports . I think he also did the demo derbies as well.

  4. The last few years I like it when Scott Dixon drives to a win and the network would shows Emma in shorty shorts jumping up and down.

  5. Bruce B Says:

    Jim McKay was an icon in that era. The Olympics, Kentucky Derby, The Indianapolis 500. Many viewers were not diehards like us. He added the human story to the broadcast. As an “old schooler” I’m a bit surprised you critiqued him so harshly.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I agree that McKay should be given some grace here. His chattiness and flair for being a bit overdramatic are products of a bygone era. Lest we forget, McKay’s job on Wide World of Sports was to keep viewers from touching the dial when the show was covering things like arm wresting in Petaluma or bicycle soccer from West Germany. Sure, the Indy 500 didn’t need McKay’s hype man act the way a lot of Wide World of Sports did, but his presence gave the broadcast a lot of credibility with casual and non-racing fans in that time.

      I think McKay had his moments, even for the die-hard race fan. “Over the roar of the engines you can hear the 400,000 people going hoarse!” from the closing laps of the ’82 race is a great piece of commentating, as is the “Where’s Foyt?!” pondering during the late race front straight wreck on ABC’s broadcast of the ’67 race. And I love his capper to Chris Economacki’s interview with Jigger Sirois in 1969. After Economacki tells Sirois that he would have been starting on pole with a time 4th from being bumped had he completed his qualifying run a week prior, a polite but pained Sirois jokes “Would we right now? I’m gonna go get a gun…” “I’m gonna go get a gun”, McKay repeats over a freeze frame of Sirois’ grimacing face, “No sadder words were ever spoken.” Fantastic stuff!

  6. I absolutely love that Mike Tirico is involved now. He is one of the absolute best.
    I suffered through Danica Patrick with Miami F1 pre-race coverage and I’m not looking forward to listening to her in future events. As long as it’s not Goodyear and Cheever……I’m good.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Most of the complaints about NBC that I see focus on the number of commercials aired and having to pay for Peacock (but still getting commercials when watching races on it). The complaints are understandable, no one much likes commercials and no one likes to pay money for what once did not cost them anything “extra”… plus Formula 1’s ESPN broadcasts quite popularly have no commercials (for now…) and are an easy point of comparison.

    The fact, unfortunately, is that the rule of “Good/Cheap/Commercial-Free, you get to pick two” is only going to become more pronounced as the era of nascent streaming comes to a close. Streaming platform owners are looking to move their services from being loss-leaders largely devoted to hooking new subscribers to being revenue and profit generators. This will mean commercials or fees much higher than $5-$15/month… and this is the way things have historically worked.

    Over-the-air TV programs used to have sponsors, not commercial breaks… that changed.
    Cable TV was originally promoted as being commercial-free… that changed.
    Youtube did not show ads for years… that changed.
    Streaming services will not be different, they’ll all either have ads or make you pay a notable extra amount to avoid them.

    Like the broadcast platform owners, Indycar too is looking for its television deal to be a revenue and profit generator and not a loss leader. This will also mean commercials or fees much higher than $5/month.

  8. I kinda like your Rob Lowe idea, maybe paired with Mike Tyson and Donald Trump in the booth, with Chris Rock and Will Smith as Pit reporters LOL

  9. I am very pleased that the network is broadcasting the entire pre, post and race or the GP Saturday. And the bonus of The Club, which I am truly looking forward to.

  10. “Viewers know when they tune in and hear Mike Tirico’s voice, that they are watching a major event.” same with McKay back in the day.

  11. Lynn Weinberg Says:

    I was thrilled when ABC/ESPN aired their last IndyCar race. For many years, it was apparent that they did not care about IndyCar. The mind numbing and idiotic voices in their booth were intolerable. The “Wives and Girlfriends Camera” was stupid.

    The first few years with NBC were good, and improved as the seasons went on. I’ve only had two complaints with NBC. One issue I had was the lack of a “pit clock” on the tv screen. I tweeted NBC several times about this, and I was pleased to see the pit clock added to the graphics last year. The other complaint I had is with the combo of Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell. Their incessant bickering was tiresome and detracted from the race. It wasn’t that I disliked one or the other, they weren’t good together, I think things are good now. I enjoy the coverage on Peacock, and I’m fine with paying for it.

    Having Danica on the F1 broadcast was ridiculous, but frankly, that whole race weekend was weird. I love Leigh Diffey’s enthusiasm calling the races.

  12. Peacock is the best deal you can possibly ask for. Cost me 60 bucks a year. Think about how much season-long IndyCar coverage we get for that. In the early 90s I used to pay that much to watch Tyson knock out some stiff on PPV in the first round.

  13. SkipinSC Says:

    I hope that with time, Kevin Lee moves into the anchor chair. Lee Diffey is a pro, but IMO can be a bit over-dramatic.

    As to Danica, I don’t know how much longer she plans to play the role she’s in, but as long as NBC wants to write the check, I’m sure she’ll cash them.

    I can’t help but feel that at some point either TK or Helio will be part of the show.

    Please, stop with ANY talk of “Bring back ABC.” F-1 snobs might throw rocks at NBC, but Liberty 8s calling the tune for the moment.

  14. Spot on, just like I imagined when I saw your tweet. NBC’s coverage is solid. It’s easy for fans, especially those that have never done live TV and/or sportscasting (yes, I have and know of what I speak) to critique every detail of a broadcast but in the main NBC does a really solid job of covering Indycar.

  15. The same people who complain about paying $5 per month for Peacock turn a blind eye to their $100-120 cable or satellite bill, receiving hundreds of channels they never watch. And those who don’t like Leigh Diffey probably prefer Mousy Marty Reid. If someone made a drinking game out of Marty’s cringey calls, they’d be blackout drunk before halfway from all the times he would say “in lockstep”, “right behind-eem”, “situation”, “we’ll step aside (for Side by Side)”, or completely lose track of an observation he was starting to make. Diffey is a pro, and is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and passionate about IndyCar. A fan should never be given reason to question any of those 3 things about a broadcaster.

  16. It is awfully easy to complain about what we receive from networks. Although we are paying for all it now, I still believe that for what it costs them to produce it we are getting a bargain.

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