By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
10:36 AM EDT, September 5, 2011
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was very busy this weekend on Twitter sending out self-serving, tune-in messages of congratulations on how good the City of Baltimore looked in TV coverage of the Grand Prix.
Here's one from about 1:40 p.m. Sunday: "Baltimore City skyline, landmarks and fans showing very well on National TV Grand Prix coverage on Versus. Tune in!"
Here's another a couple of hours later: "I am excited the (sic) see the sweeping views of my home town on national TV today. Tune into WMAR at 4!"
The mayor is right about most of the images: By and large, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, downtown and Camden Yards areas did look good on TV. The overhead shots were characterized by tons of sunlight, blue water, deep blue skies and interesting architecture. And don't forget the green trees, festive crowds and an international cast of racing professionals. The TV cameras got much of the good stuff.
And there were plenty of post-race interviews with drivers like Tony Kanaan singing the praises of Baltimore and saying how they could not wait to come back next year.
That's all good and well, but let's wait and see how many were watching those nice images or listening to the words of praise about Baltimore before we start patting ourselves on the back.
It is one thing to broadcast positive images, but it is a tree falling in the woods if only a small audience is watching them. And it has been my experience that sporting events shown live on cable channels like Versus or on a one-day tape delay on ABC on holiday weekends as the Baltimore events were tend not to draw huge audiences.
That's not to say the weekend won't be judged a success of several levels, barring some post-race crime story or some such development prior to our out-of-town guests departing. And that's not to say the ratings won't be strong -- or strong enough at least to put a positive spin on anyway.
But let's not get too excited about the TV images until we see the ratings -- if and when the cable channel and network decide to release them.
I'm sorry if I sound like Mr. Negativity. I was prepared to be all lollipops and sunshine until one of the mayor's tweets led me to a special advertisement she says she had created allegedly for our visitors this weekend. You can see it here.
Here's the press release about the commercial from the mayor's office :
Today, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a new commercial promoting the City of Baltimore to the tens of thousands of spectators visiting Baltimore for the first time at the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.
The commercial, produced by Baltimore-based greiBO Media and the Mayor’s Office, is playing repeatedly on JumboTron screens in front of visitors throughout the Grand Prix race area. The 30-second spot asks, “What Drives a City?”, and celebrates Baltimore’s history, culture and diversity as a world-class American city.
“The Baltimore Grand Prix is a great opportunity to promote the City of Baltimore to new audiences and visitors from across the country and the world,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake.
Baltimore-based greiBO Media generously donated its creative and production team to to produce the ad. “greiBO is proud to be part of such a historic project that highlights the beauty and excitement of Baltimore,” said Shelonda Stokes, President and CEO of greiBO Media.
The race course features sweeping views of Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor and Downtown, and can be seen on local and national television. The American LeMans Series will be broadcast live today at 4:15 p.m. on ESPN3, and IZOD IndyCar qualifying will air at 6:00 p.m.on Versus. On Sunday, the Baltimore Grand Prix and IZOD IndyCar will be broadcast live on Versus beginning at 2:00 p.m., and locally on ABC-2 at 4:00 p.m...
Here's what troubles me at the ad, for openers, nothing or no one gets more time in the 30-second commercial than Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. And the manner in which she is depicted makes the spot essentially a campaign commercial for her -- a free campaign commercial less than two weeks before an election.
In the ad, she is shown on a stage waving to the crowd as a victorious candidate might do on election night. That's the visual depiction of her.
The theme of the ad is "What drives a city?" And as her image plays onscreen, the answers offered in voiceover are "our passion, our drive."
TV Production 101 says the message is: Rawlings-Blake = passion-drive. That's the stuff of which campaign commercials are made. Don't talk to me about this being a celebration of the city.
I understand the advantages of incumbency. But given that the mayor could only see her way clear to participate in one TV debate, an act that any self-respecting TV news community should see as a slap in the face, I am troubled by the way she has used this ad, and by extension, the race to promote herself in an election year.
Like I said, I'd like to be all lollipops and sunshine about this, but ...
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