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Conrod, Straight: Issue 4

15/12/2005 10:07 (Michael Shaw) - Top Gear. Two words that mean a lot in UK television. Itís not that theyíre unheard of in Australia but, itís only as of last Monday, that free-to-air TV has finally shown this wonderful show. If this doesnít sound like the 4th issue of Conrod, Straight, then youíd be wrong, Ďcause this week weíre talking motor TV (hey itís the off-season).

For those that donít know, Top Gear is the best car show Iíve ever seen. It blows The Car Show on Channel 9 out of the water and halfway to Uluru. Drive TV, on Channel 10, takes a number of Top Gear elements (audience, style and ďhelmeted driverĒ) and a segment or two but it still falls short. One of the biggest reasons it doesnít work is Jeremy Clarkson, or more accurately, a lack of Jeremy Clarkson.

Let me give you an example of Jeremyís style. This is from his Sunday Times column in the UK, regarding the Audi A6 Avant Ė ďThe interior, especially at night, looks wonderful. But only because it looks like the bridge of a nuclear submarine. Everything is bathed in a lovely red glowÖĒ and ĒThere was one button that I didnít dare push in case it blew all the ballast tanks and I sank.Ē

Why arenít there any personalities like that on Australian Motorsport TV? Itís possible this may be a good thing. Channel 10ís motor sport coverage personalities generally suit the style of coverage that Ch10 has worked to build. As many of you know, next year, Channel 10 will be adding half an hour to many roundsí coverage to make them all a minimum of 3 hours. They will also be dropping V8 Superstars and Trackside.

Iím disappointed at the lack of V8 Superstars. Until this year, Iíd always enjoyed the show. Iíve been to most of the studio versions and they were always very entertaining, even more so than the broadcast was actually able to put across. Bill Woods kept the show moving along in one direction and the subject matter, while never taken seriously, was always of interest to fans.

Unfortunately Channel 10, in its reshuffle this year, decided to replace Woods with Leigh Diffey. Diffey just didnít have the same level of control over the drivers, especially Mark Skaife and Russell Ingall. Part of this is that he wasnít taken as seriously as Bill. All too often, Diffey was spoken over, interrupted and plainly ignored. This was very much to the detriment of the show, and meant that some of those on the panel rarely got a word in. For example, James Courtney on the last episode. Bill always tried to give everyone a fair chance to get their view across to the viewers. One can merely lament the loss, and move on, as it wonít be back, at least in 2006.

Tracksideís disappearance, on the other hand, could possibly lead to improvements for support categories. The various series had to pay to be shown on Trackside, and while Iím sure that the V8 Utes are paying to be shown on Channel 9, thereís good reason to believe it is money well spent. V8 Utes have a 15-hour commitment from Channel 9. This is a huge increase over the 3 hours they had in 2005, on Trackside.

The Carrera Cup is meant to be having their own show on Channel 10, and I expect them to get similar viewing figures to Trackside. It would be good if they also added the Porsche Supercup series to the coverage. This year there were only two 1-hour shows containing highlights from the entire season, despite the racing being very competitive.

This leaves the Aussie Racing Cars, Formula Ford and Performance Cars without television coverage. Theyíre probably all sorting out what they wish to do in the New Year, but if they are not shown it will be a great loss. Formula Ford suffered when, a few years ago, Ford decided not to pay Ch10ís price, and there was no coverage. There were other factors involved in the categoryís drop in prominence, but adequate national TV is important to many sponsors and some were plainly not interested without it.

All of this leads us back to V8 Supercars. The extra time on the normal coverage should allow Channel 10 to provide a better lead in to each roundsí coverage. If the producers are reading this, then make sure you have, at the very least, decent coverage of the shootout, Race 1 highlights for the 3-race rounds, special interest stories which are relevant and not just asking useless questions to random spectators and, most important (and related to my previous point), no more Tim Smith.

To keep viewers on their toes, Channel 10 are showing Saturday races on Saturday evening. While it wonít be live as an Eastern Creek race was a couple of years ago, it will at least be guaranteed to be shown on the same day (and hey TEN this is not an excuse for not showing Race1 highlights on Sundays). Itís not a perfect solution but as AFL is a major part of the Saturday line-up, itís a good compromise.

Of course, some people may be wondering why all of these changes. Some are just a natural evolution but the hidden agenda is that the V8 Supercar TV contract runs out at the end of 2006. Channel 10 is obviously aiming to strengthen their case for contract renewal, through improved coverage.

There were rumours earlier in the year that Channel 7 wanted to take the TV rights but itís hard to see how theyíd be able to compete. Theyíve had essentially no motorsport coverage since the last Super Tourer race at Bathurst. Of the Channel 7 sports crew, only Grant Denyer and Matthew White have any real experience with motorsport and that, frankly, wonít be enough to convince V8 Supercars Australia to change from the current host broadcaster.

Iím going to finish off by giving a small suggestion to Channel 10. Itís not going to be easy, but I think itís necessary: There needs to be a new commentator. Just one. Neil Crompton is great and should stay, Bill Woods makes an excellent anchor, Greg Rust and Darryl Beattie both cover the pits well but Iím not much of a fan of Diffey. To keep it short, he reminds me too much of James Allen from ITVís F1 coverage Ė he should be replaced too.

Maybe Iíll get around to watching the China round this week...

Release Date: 15/12/2005