CUP: ‘NASCAR Wives’ Show Lacked Conflict

By Michael Smith, SportsBusiness Journal

NASCAR’s attempt to ride the wave of “docu-soap” dramas hit a glitch when “NASCAR Wives” never made it to the air and the project was eventually canceled.

TLC had ordered at least eight half-hour episodes of “NASCAR Wives” last year, including a one-hour launch show in 2009, with production handled by NASCAR Media Group. But the project was dropped because the shows weren’t controversial enough.

“The network wanted situations created that were not true to how these women normally act. They wanted conflict, and we just weren’t willing to go down that road,” said Jay Abraham, NASCAR Media Group’s COO.

The project cost NASCAR Media Group close to $200,000 in production costs, according to industry sources. Abraham wouldn’t confirm specific figures, but said his group had invested production expenses into filming and editing the first 60-minute episode.

Multiple messages left for TLC officials were not returned. TLC is a Discovery Communications channel.

Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University, said the genre of “Wives” shows are built on the drama between the cast of characters. If the show wasn’t interesting enough, it more than likely was a reflection of the women featured in the show, Thompson said.

The subjects of “NASCAR Wives” were DeLana Harvick, wife of Kevin Harvick; Kelley Earnhardt, sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Angie Skinner, wife of Mike Skinner; and Shana Mayfield, wife of Jeremy Mayfield, the driver who later sued NASCAR in a dispute over a failed drug test.

“What makes these shows work is compelling characters,” Thompson said. “Compelling often manifests itself in high drama and high conflict. The fact that intriguing people end up on these reality shows is not by accident.

“When they’re casting these shows, they’re looking for someone to do things without a script that’s interesting to watch. It’s a lot harder to make a hit when it’s about women who don’t have hissy fits.”

In addition to eating those production costs, NASCAR Media Group sacrificed the revenue it would have received from TLC, the amount of which is uncertain.

“We just had to go our separate ways,” Abraham said. “We were never able to agree on the creative approach for the project. We simply were not going to do anything to undermine the credibility and the relationships we have with our drivers. We were being asked to do things more in line with traditional reality programming and it wasn’t true to the nature and personality of our sport and the women involved.”

At the time, the “Wives” genre of documentary shows ranged from Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” followed by New York City, Atlanta and New Jersey iterations, to Lifetime’s “Army Wives.”

TLC’s more recognizable docu-dramas have included “Jon & Kate Plus 8” and “American Chopper.”

Amid heavy pre-show publicity, the series was considered a big break for the sport because it would have put NASCAR programming on a network where it would have access to scores of new fans.

Thompson said “The Osbournes,” the MTV reality show about Ozzy Osbourne and his family, re-introduced the British rocker to younger fans who probably weren’t familiar with his earlier work as lead singer of Black Sabbath and his subsequent solo career. The show represented a rebirth for Osbourne’s music and showed the power of reality TV, Thompson said.

“There were probably millions who had maybe heard Ozzy’s name, but had little idea of who he was or what his music was about,” Thompson said. “The reality show became a huge hit and it was a delivery system for a niche performer to a group of fans not familiar with him. NASCAR, likewise, could have been presented to tons of new viewers through this show and in a way that’s different from your typical Sunday afternoon race broadcast.”

TLC had planned to launch the show with a one-hour special immediately following its broadcast of the Miss America Pageant, with more episodes scheduled for the spring and summer. That initial show never aired and the show just evaporated as TLC and NASCAR Media Group failed to resolve their creative differences.

While “NASCAR Wives” never got off the ground, NASCAR Media Group has two other promising projects that will launch this year.

The first of eight one-hour episodes of “Changing Lanes” will air Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. on BET. The show chronicles the struggles and successes of NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” drivers at Revolution Racing.

Also this fall, NASCAR Media Group will release “Petty Blue,” a 90-minute movie about the life of hall of famer Richard Petty that’s expected out on DVD in October. The movie will air on CMT in November as a two-hour program. • Tony Stewart’s ‘Prelude’ charity race scheduled for Wednesday