I’ve been spending way too much time following the endless buildup to the 139th Kentucky Derby. Anybody who sits glued to the tube for the pre-race coverage must be either a habitual gambler or someone with way too much time on his or her hands or … a media writer with way too much time on his hands (make that, mine).
I first watched the thrilling (and, to me, ultimately disappointing) Washington Caps’ 1-0 overtime Stanley Cup victory over the New York Rangers. Naturally, the soggy Derby preliminary had a tough act to follow. But leave it to NBC to milk every second of it.
NBC, as it does every year with this broadcast, had a big challenge: How do you make the Derby pre-race show relevant to a large TV audience?
Simple answer: You don’t.
At least with the Super Bowl, a network has the promise of having a great rock and roll halftime show (well, sometimes) and the much-anticipated lineup of commercials.
What does NBC have, by comparison? Well, there are the hats and mint juleps and Louisville tradition to fall back on. It’s a tough sell. But NBC did its best. It offered up what felt like a 24-hour preliminary — for a race that lasts roughly two minutes. Plus, it rained heavily before the race in Louisville so the network had a contend with that downer as well.
Maybe the best way to watch the pre-Derby on TV is to treat it like a regular-season NBA game and only tune into the final five minutes. That’s when we get the moving performance of “My Old Kentucky Home” — really, the best part of the build-up. Skip all the human interest stuff. Ever since Seabiscuit’s story became a big book and a well-received movie, everyone seems to think that a horse has a great back story and a winning personality.
Amazing! They expect us to sit through an endless pre-race show all for the pleasure of watching a two-minute-long race!
And you know what? A lot of folks probably do just that.