Tape-delayed Indy 500 broadcast was race against time, too


May 24, 1991|By PHIL JACKMAN

No doubt the perception is that when the Indianapolis 500 was shown, via tape delay, about six hours after its conclusion a few years ago it was like a day at the beach for the announcers and technical people at ABC. Producer Bob Goodrich nearly gags hearing such a suggestion.

"Night and day," he says, intending the pun. "When it was taped, we'd show up just as early in the morning, do the entire broadcast as though it was live, including all the replays and hTC other inserts, and end up with about a three-hour package."

Already halfway to exhaustion, all hands would then get together and condense a three-hour package into two hours -- actually an hour and 40 minutes out of deference to commercials.

Mull that assignment for a moment: editing away nearly half the material. Assigned the same task, Moses would have come down off Mount Sinai bearing only six commandments.

"We were never finished when the show started," Goodrich said. "Here we had been at the track since sunup, it was just about dark and you had to be fresher than you had been all day long. We'd be working on the last half of the show as the first half was playing.

"The race is over, and between then and 9 o'clock [EDT] sounds like a lot of time, but it's not. Now we go in, crank it up at 11 [a.m.] and come 2:30, we're off the air." A virtual day at the beach.

Well, not exactly. All week long, ABC has been working on a score of interesting stories it will introduce to viewers before a God-like voice intones "Gentleman, start your engines." The net, of course, hopes against hope the stories won't have to be updated and the racing itself will carry the day.

"I know one thing," Goodrich said. "I'm much better prepared than I was last year. Then, I thought all these great drivers and machines were going to go out and race each other, which didn't happen." Accidents, yellow flags and other stoppages dominated before Arie Luyendyk sped in as an upset winner.

"We just didn't have enough close racing," Goodrich said. "This time we've got a number of things we can react with."

Either in the can or scripted out are stories on Willy T. Ribbs, the first black driver to make the Indy field . . . the Andretti Family, four of them entered . . . former winner Gordon Johncock making it into the field at the last minute and A.J. Foyt showing up behind the wheel for the umpteenth time.

Then there's the Penske organization, the Brothers Bettenhausen, the Alfa cars, the Buicks and, of course, the fact that this is the 75th cruise around the Brickyard.

"We try not to go to features under the green [flag]," Goodrich said. "But, at the same time, to appeal to everyone watching, we've said 'We've got a lot of interesting people here, so stick around and see how they perform.'

"Nowadays, there's a lot of flipping back and forth between channels and a lot of what we'll be doing might be repetitive, but we've got to bring the flippers up to date. Meantime, if we have a competitive race with competition for the 1-2-3 spots all day, that cuts down on the time for the development of stories."

That's bad? "No, that's good," said the producer. "After all, it is a race."

The announcer, Paul Page -- on TV the last few years after calling the race on radio for 33 years -- goes in about as confident as a guy can be faced with what appears to be a mind-boggling task.

"I'm always vastly over-prepared," Page said coolly. "Last year, I showed up with a stack of notes about an inch-and-a-half high and only got through about a half-inch of them. We've had so many 'what if' sessions this week, I can't see anything getting by us."

Page seems like a good man to offer an expert's prediction. He picked Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Rahal, offering up such solid reasons for each that the race could end up with its first triple dead-heat ever.

Such a happening would help the ratings, no doubt, as they've been going down the last few years: The ratings/share in 1988 was 8.5/29, followed by a 7.8/28 two years ago and 7.4/26 last year.

* Hey, how come Channel 2 doesn't rerun Orioles telecasts from earlier in the evening sometime after the late local news, a la Home Team Sports?

Speaking of HTS, it's living up to its commitment to carry all games of the Stanley Cup final live and will bounce tomorrow night's O's-Yankees meeting for Game 6 of the North Stars-Penguins series. The replacement game is next Monday's tryst with the Indians.

* Turns out there were almost as many people in the Pimlico infield Preakness Day as there were home across America watching the race on ABC. The rating was a ghastly 5.7, which is almost as shocking as the weak 8.3 the Kentucky Derby got two weeks before. Oh well, fewer folks to feel ill listening to Joe De Francis stroke Governor Schaefer, who in turn stroked Jim McKay, who in turn stroked a sponsor.

* The Soccer Show on ESPN next Wednesday (3:30 p.m.) will review the so-called greatest upset in World Cup soccer history, the 1-0 indignity the U.S. laid on England in 1950 . . . "Summer Skate" is a show "Wide World of Sports" will run in July pitting ice skaters (Brian Boitano), speed skaters (Bonnie Blair) and hockey players (Luc Robitaille) against each other on roller blades.

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