SPEED is a great idea for a television network. When it broadcasts material that showcases actual, you know, speed – i.e., live Formula 1 races – it offers unparalleled entertainment value. But most of the time, alas, its programming is about as much fun as pulling a cooked transmission.
The network debuted as Speedvision in 1996, essentially broadcasting all racing, all the time. What a concept! Motorsports obsessives went crazy, and the station was so successful that it was scarfed up by Fox in 2001. Since then, Speed has become a mainstream mainstay, but only by throwing hard-core racing fans under the bus.
The network’s programming is now dominated by reality-TV fare so lame that it makes Dancing with the Stars seem like Gone with the Wind. On one episode of Dangerous Drives, viewers ride shotgun while giant fan blades are trucked to a wind farm. Wrecked chronicles the wild and crazy antics of a group of Chicago tow-truck drivers. What next? A series about the daredevils who man the oil pit at the Jiffy Lube in Ypsilanti, Michigan?
A lot of critics gripe that Speed ought to be called the NASCAR Network because it airs so much stock-car material. And I’d agree that a broadcast schedule featuring more than two dozen NASCAR programs is overkill. Still, what really makes me cranky is all of the pseudo-racing junk, from the made-for-TV rivalries of Pinks to the contrived cross-country competition of Bullrun, which is about . . . well, you tell me, because I don’t have a clue.
And then there’s the Barrett-Jackson auction coverage. I’ve got no problem with really knowledgeable car guys talking about really cool cars. But does it have to air, like, eighteen times a week? The network is called Speed, after all, not Parked. And if auctions are so damn interesting, then why is Barrett-Jackson the only company getting any love?
I realize that races are expensive to cover, and aside from NASCAR and the Indianapolis 500, most of them are box-office poison. Still, Versus is paying millions of dollars to cover the IndyCar Series, which generates ratings that can be detected only with a microscope. And the World Rally Championship, whose American fan base is so small and cultlike that just about everybody in it is on a first-name basis, is carried on Discovery HD Theater.
Maybe all racing all the time is an impossible dream. But I’d settle for mostly racing, most of the time.