Thursday, April 19, 2007

ESPN Mulls NASCAR Changes


Since February, the TV story of the NASCAR season has been the return of ESPN to the sport. Along the way, The Daly Planet has spoken about both the positive and negative aspects of this new venture. We have also received and published selected comments from readers who feel strongly about these issues.

As reported by Anthony Andro of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, ESPN is continuing to look at changes in their NASCAR line-up. The quotes in the article, which is listed on Jayski.com, come from ESPN's Julie Sobieski. As the Network's Senior Director of Programming, Sobieski is clearly the point person for NASCAR issues. She said "we just had a big meeting this week with all our different groups. You'll be hearing about talent additions that haven't been announced yet. We make changes and take advantage of the opportunities."

This is certainly a positive thought for the portions of the ESPN NASCAR package that have struggled. In every new effort, there is a group dynamic that has to be given time to form, and then changed if it does not succeed. We see exactly the same thing in the racing dynamic of a NASCAR team. Regardless of the best qualities of the individuals involved, if a team just does not gel, change is the only solution. One thing is for sure, the ultimate goal is to help the team itself succeed.

ESPN has rolled-out an excellent group of production folks for the Busch Series races. The telecasts have been right on target, with strong performances from the large cast of announcers. This past week, Dale Jarrett debuted to positive reviews as the color announcer on the Texas race. Andy Petree has been strong all season, and has proven to be the "sleeper" of the bunch. His information is first rate. Both Dr. Jerry Punch and Marty Reid have worked hard to carve-out their niche as the lead play-by-play announcer. ESPN continues to use both, and Reid goes over to the open-wheel world shortly as Indy approaches.

There are, however, some issues that have been difficult for the network to even acknowledge, much less address. At the track, Brent Musburger is a fish out-of-water. He knows it. We know it. ESPN knows it. There is absolutely no disrespect in these comments, because Musburger does not need to prove himself in the TV world. I was present when he first walked into ESPN, and the feeling was electric. This role, however, puts a fantastic stick-and-ball guy in the position of hosting several hours of nothing but NASCAR. It just does not fit.

On the other hand, Tim Brewer is so under-used it is a crying shame. With the credentials that he brings to the broadcast, clogging up the infield set with other ESPN announcers is just wrong. Given the chance to assume the "Jeff Hammond" role, Brewer could finally show the depth of his knowledge and experience. When guests like Ray Evernham and Richard Petty come to the ESPN set, Brewer is at his best. When ESPN finally realizes what they have, perhaps he will not be banished to the parking lot pointing at a sway bar. It is, however, hilarious when he calls Musburger "Brett."

ESPN needs to define the role of Brad Daugherty. They know it, he knows it, and we know it. There are experts, analysts, and reporters on both the pre-race show and NASCAR Now. Then there is Brad. He is not allowed to do feature reports. He is not allowed to do interviews. He seems to be boxed-in by the very people who are trying to promote him. Give him a chance to be involved in the TV aspects of the ESPN coverage and let him prove what he can do. He always tells us who he "just talked to" or "just visited with" or where he "just stopped by." Can someone at ESPN give him a Producer and a cameraman so he can actually "show us?"

Finally, let's talk about the NASCAR Now situation that has drawn the most email and viewer comments from NASCAR fans around the nation. Its time to stand-up and say that this is a mess. For a network with so many outstanding and award-winning studio shows, this has to be the number one priority for change. It is unrealistic to think that "anyone" with TV experience can host this show. This has been painfully proven by Doug Banks and Erik Kuselias, both of whom seem to have been put in very bad positions by ESPN. Talk about being fed to the lions.

Many NASCAR fans have visions of John Kernan, Alan Bestwick, or even Bob Jenkins dancing through their heads. What they are all saying is, we need NASCAR credibility from the host of NASCAR Now, not a script reader. Just as Jayski built-up his reputation through hard work and endless hours, fans are looking for someone with a racing resume to fill this role. And the time to change this position is before ESPN ventures into NEXTEL Cup coverage. That clock is ticking.

It has been fun on NASCAR Now to watch Marty Smith, Terry Blount, Angelique Chengelis, and Shannon Spake deliver the mail day-after-day. Without their credible and timely news reporting, this show would be history. Spake has worked very hard to become a calm and efficient on-scene reporter with a good style and great camera presence. Hopefully, as NASCAR Now re-vamps itself, the reporters will be given more time in each show to relay what the fans want...real information. As one emailer said, "less fluff and more stuff."

The odd man out to me is Mike Massaro. During the "dark years" at ESPN, we saw Mike reporting from helipads, parking lots, and access roads. This one guy single-handedly kept ESPN and NASCAR together. His tenacity and dedication should have been rewarded with the host position on NASCAR Now. There is no one currently on-staff at ESPN that has more credibility with the NASCAR fans than Massaro. To see him as a pit reporter on the Busch Series is tough. After watching one episode of NASCAR Now, one might suggest it is tragic.

We shall see over the next several weeks what changes come from the network, and how those changes affect both the studio and field production levels of the entire ESPN/ABC family. Hopefully, positive change is just around the corner.

Since you have taken the time to read my views on these issues, please feel free to add your opinion to The Daly Planet by using the COMMENTS link below. If you would not like to be published, email can be sent to editor@thedalyplanet.tv anytime in confidence. Thanks again for taking the time to read The Daly Planet.

11 comments:

Vroom said...

The thought of ESPN making the needed positive changes is exciting...you are spot on with your analysis!

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that you never mentioned rusty wallace in this blog. It's a known fact that ESPN is paying somewhere in the range of 2 million dollars a year to have rusty. they even paid him last year to keep him off the other networks for a year. we all saw his IRL work (ok, maybe we didn't). I understand that TV booths need time to come together and this one might in time, but as I see it right now. rusty wallace is heading down the road of first round bust!
I see you were a big fan of DJ. was that because he was so much better then rusty? how many times did DJ say UMMM. he does it in his interviews and now he is taking it to the booth.
I'm going to give ESPN some time to gel. I remember not liking larry Mac the first time I heard FOX and I think he has really done a great job of getting better and is now someone I like to listen to during a broadcast.

Mike said...

I believe NASCAR has grown so large and the ceos' running the show could give a rats behind what the fans think. The amount of true talent out there is abundant, but the powers to be choose to"DO IT THERE WAY". This is really frustrating and maddening as Im a long time fan over 25 yrs. I have no recourse but to stop going to races, this is my last year to attend Daytona which Ive been to so many times I cant count. I dont use that annoying web site NASCAR.com any more, jasyki is the place for info. why cant they just get rid of the sound as you open it. Ive sent many letters to the powers to be about my feelings but as usual no response and of course no changes. Im just a fan....a fan that that is going back to the day. Good ole dirt tracks.

Shoop said...

I was watching Baseball Tonight last night when it hit me: the reason that this is the number one show with baseball fans is that they spend the entire show talking about the GAMES. They dont try to stir up controversy or get into the personal lives of the players, they gives scores and highlights and talk about the GAMES.

Baseball Tonight should be the model in which the NASCAR Now show is molded. Understanding of course that NASCAR doesnt have races everyday of the week, but thurs-mon there is wall to wall coverage of practice and qualifying on SPEED, but pretty much ignored on the current version of NASCAR Now. Instead, we get to hear the NON-STORY of Jr in the 5 car for 5 days now.

An idea I have to to have tuesdays and wednesdays dedicated to the Truck Series. It would be the perfect lead in to the trucks taking the track on thursdays and fridays(on most weeks).

The point is again, use Baseball Tonight as a model. You dont see Barry Melrose on NFL Live and you dont see Peter Gammons talking NHL Playoffs. So put NASCAR people on my NASCAR show, and your ratings will skyrocket.

Anonymous said...

It seems ESPN is trying to turn Nascar into a soap opera with Nascar Now. It is a really bad show. Shannon
tries hard, but she doesn't have much to work with, with the morons back at the studio asking 3rd grade questions.

Jimm57 said...

What I can't figure out is why the show originates from Bristol Connecticut? Sure, thats where ESPN HQ is, but the teams, drivers, and cars are in North Carolina! The old RPM Tonight originated in Charlotte and had the resources to visit the shops, and drivers. We dont care if its a HiDef studio, I'd watch a good show even if it was in black & white! Bring back people who know the sport to host, give us decent info, and we'll watch. NASCAR NOW is painful to watch and mostly ignored in our family of 4 fans. Now if Jayski had a TV show.......?

Anonymous said...

NASCAR Now is the poster-child for the direction in which all of ESPN seems to be going. When given a choice between covering a game or covering a soap opera, the soap opera wins everytime. Just look at the Virginia Tech story. They've been trying to contort a human tragedy into a sports story all week, and it comes off as sensationalism.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was alone in the realization that this show is broke. I can't imagine what Marty Smith thinks as soon as he hears "Thanks for the lesson, Marty" and the screen goes blank. I know what I think.

I was very excited at the beginning of the seaon at the thought of more NASCAR shows throughout the week, but was utterly disappointed. Where is Alan Bestwick? He is one of my favorite NASCAR voices, either on pit road or in the booth (prefered).

Rusty does not do it for me. I thought he was to conceited as a driver and he is too high strung for the microphone. I listened to his IRL broadcasting and I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He doesn't have the good ole' feel that I want froma NASCAR broadcastor.

Bring in the NASCAR heavies. There are plenty of guys out there that are very capable of broadcasting a show worth watching. It works extremely well for SPEED and Fox.

After 2 months, I have stopped watching NASCAR Now. If they get smart and change their people, I will try again, until then...

Anonymous said...

If you look other news update commentary shows ; there is always a personality and then an analyst to round out the proceeding. What they out to do is get a strong personality from nascar with lots of knowlege and then have massaro be the second guy chiming in with real news and comment . There are numerous people that could do this ,ed hinton ,Geoff bodine , Rick Carelli;That would all relate to todays fans and viewing habits.

Ian said...

The reasons you list as to why NASCAR Now stinks so bad are spot on. Anyone remember what happened to NASCAR Nation?

Alex said...

I think that Jerry Punch to me seems somewhat out of place. I hate being cruel to someone beloeved by the NASCAR community (including me), but he seems to be slow behind the microphone sometimes, and his thoughts often race ahead of the words coming from his mouth. Don't get me wrong, he's a great TV personality, but I think that his best years came from analysis as the lead pit reporter. Allen Bestwick is quick-witted and I think can tie in the analysts who have been doing a great job and provide a sense of balance in terms of providing entertainment with brilliant race commentary, something Jerry hasn't really been able to master.