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Volume 27 No. 26
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Burnett, Downey Convinced NASCAR-Themed Drama Can Be Mainstream Hit

Positioning NASCAR as a property rife with the sort of compelling human drama that makes for great TV, producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey yesterday expressed confidence that their planned series on the sport can be a mainstream hit. Kicking off the '15 Daytona Rising/NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum at The Mirage in Las Vegas, the married duo revealed that the series, which was originally announced this past season, could be ready to debut in late '16 or if not early '17. The duo, who were joined on stage by NASCAR VP/Entertainment Marketing & Content Development Zane Stoddard, said that a writer for the series has been selected, but they did not reveal the writer or the names of any actors being sought. However, they did note that one example of a storyline viewers can expect to see is NASCAR life through the eyes of drivers' wives. Downey compared that to a scene out of their highly acclaimed series, "The Bible,” on History Channel, in which they recreated the story of the prophet Abraham preparing to sacrifice his own son, only showing it from the vantage point of Abraham's wife. Burnett, who is from England, said, "NASCAR is such a beloved brand. We've been here for 30 years in this country, despite our accents, and we love being American -- and there's nothing much more American than NASCAR. ... It's something that permeates our society; it's the only thing that runs 10 months a year." Stoddard added of the goal of the series, "While it can be about sports, we're talking about a general audience, so at the heart of it, it has to be about characters, relationships and families -- and our sport is laden with those things and some of the attributes that really drive great storytelling, like independence, rebellion and … family." Downey: "We think here with NASCAR that we can be trusted to tell the stories that come out of this world, and tell the stories in a way that connects to the heart. Yes, it's exciting, dangerous and thrilling, but it has to be people you recognize and care about."

SPONSORS WELCOME: Perhaps foreshadowing opportunities for NASCAR sponsors to get involved in the series, Burnett touched on how when he was starting “Survivor,” he wooed CBS President & CEO Les Moonves by finding creative ways to integrate brands into the show via product placement. He cited an example of having a Target-branded care package and parachute drop out of a plane to a group of contestants who used the parachute as shade and got Target weeks of media exposure instead of just the one week that the company had paid for.

STILL LEARNING FROM "PLAYMAKERS": Stoddard touched on the effect that ESPN's attempt at a scripted series, “Playmakers," has had on other sports properties when it comes to non-core entertainment ventures. "'Playmakers' sort of killed it for all the leagues,” he said. “Leagues are very shy about getting into this space. ... First and foremost, it starts with having partners like Mark and Roma, who have the same vision. We've talked about wanting to counter-program what's out there. ... Once you get into this, your work needs to drive ratings, so you have to have a shared vision about what you are comfortable with as a brand." Burnett added of some of his other shows, "We've proven that you don't need to go salacious and overly sexy to get ratings.” Stoddard added, with “Playmakers” in mind, that NASCAR will have script approval on the series, which could be ready for telecast by the fourth quarter of '16.

TV EVERYWHERE: Burnett also talked about over-the-top programming, saying, "It's a good time to be a great content creator, because it doesn't really matter to us how people are watching it as long as it can be monetized properly. I think to only focus purely on television would be foolish. ... The people providing content are in the most powerful position, and sports leagues' content is really, really valuable. Very, very soon, rather than paying the cable or DirecTV bill for 500 channels with 450 you never look at, I'm assuming that's going to change and it's going to be siloed. ... But it's good to be in content, because the more ways there are to consume content, the more stuff that needs to be made and made well."