Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ESPN Returns To The Confusion Zone With Authority

Let me say one thing right at the top of the column today. Readers have been critical of my comments about NASCAR Now, the daily NASCAR-themed program launched by ESPN2 this February. Comments have been forwarded that ESPN needs time to get "back into" the sport, and that the new show hosts "don't really" have to know NASCAR. Many say I should not criticize the program, for fear that ESPN will cancel the only daily NASCAR show on TV.

Since the inception of The Daly Planet, there was never an intention to single-out for criticism one program series, one network, or one type of race coverage. This season of NASCAR on TV has simply proven to be an incredible mix of outstanding success, and mind-bending disappointment. Both of these elements have touched ESPN, SPEED, Fox Sports, ABC Sports, ESPN2, and NASCAR Images.

Now, we find this column addressing a thirty minute NASCAR Now program that aired on Tuesday. Only one day after perhaps the best NASCAR Now episode of the season, the network returned to its "bi-polar" existence. ESPN2 rolled-out a totally scripted program on national TV hosted by a person who is clearly unfamiliar with the sport. As so many readers ask me in email...how is this possible on ESPN? Would a non-NFL person host NFL GameDay? Would a non-baseball person host Baseball Tonight? Does everyone at ESPN just read a script now? The answer is no. For some reason, ESPN has decided that only NASCAR deserves this treatment. The real question is why?

When Doug Banks appears as host, NASCAR Now is a tightly scripted program read slowly with no errors. Its a bit like a fifth grader reading a book- report for a teacher. Banks has built himself an fantastic career, only it is not on TV and it certainly is not about NASCAR. In everything I have read, he is a caring and charity-oriented hip-hop urban DJ with a heart-of-gold. He has built a huge radio following, and is regarded as a stand-up guy. The only problem is, he is hosting a nationwide NASCAR show on ESPN2 that will help or hurt the sport at a very critical time. That, my friends, is a problem. Its not helping.

Compounding the host problems are the very strange decisions made by the production staff on a regular basis. NASCAR Now boasts as reporters Marty Smith, Terry Blount, Angelique Chengelis, David Newton, and Shannon Spake. ESPN also owns Jayski.com and ESPN.com, two sites associated with getting the scoop on the biggest NASCAR stories. Can you believe what happened to start this show?

As the first story, Doug Banks proudly said "The Associated Press is reporting that Junior is being offered 51% of DEI valued at 55 million dollars." The sound you heard next was the thud of the ESPN reporters hitting the floor. Leave it to the AP to get the NASCAR scoop on ESPN. I guess that begs the question of why we need all those pesky ESPN reporters? You know, the ones that the show is built around?

Official "ESPN.com NASCAR Insider" David Newton was actually brought on-camera to speak to the AP story. Think about that statement. Imagine asking your own senior reporter to comment on a story that lead a show where he is supposed to be providing the news? Why didn't Banks just ask Newton, "do you feel like a total failure now David?" What a memorable moment in NASCAR Now history. We get scooped...and report it.

From the beginning of this show, The Daly Planet has asked that the "experts" be brought-in to interview the NASCAR personalities. Tuesday, Kurt Busch was unfortunately interviewed by host Doug Banks in a poorly scripted exercise in bad television. After asking Kurt about his brother having Junior make some laps last week, Banks actually asked Kurt Busch if Dale Junior driving his car would be a problem. At that moment, I do believe the world might have stopped spinning just for a moment to watch his reaction. Give Kurt Busch a ton of credit for patiently telling the un-informed Banks that having the national spokesman and symbol of Budweiser in North America driving the Miller Lite car...might be a problem. Could anyone actually make this up?

Banks then led NASCAR veteran Tim Brewer through a painful interview about Jeff Gordon and Dale Sr., a story that is already old. Brewer made lots of references to things like Dale sending Jeff "the milk," and Earnhardt being "old school." Banks never comments on anything Brewer says, because it is clear he does not understand it. Brewer must be wondering just what his role is when he is quizzed one slow disjointed question at a time. No follow-up, no conversation, just answer and leave. This type of interview has defined this series since February.

Finally, ESPN rolled-out their new fantasy NASCAR league, which requires sign-up and registration on ESPN.com. It makes absolutely no sense, but that does not seem to matter. Users sign-up, and then pick one driver against another driver in the race. It makes no difference where they finish, just who finishes higher than the other. A very nice man was on with Doug Banks "picking" fantasy things that he had "made-up." Who he was, and why he was talking NASCAR was never explained. Another fantasy.

This thirty minutes of NASCAR Now brought back all the old memories of just what a struggle this series has been since it began in February. Hopefully, it also helped Daly Planet readers to understand that NASCAR deserves the same respect and knowledge that is given to the stick-and-ball sports by ESPN. This is a long-term commitment by the network to this sport. There are plenty of talented TV anchors available who can step-in and right this ship before the network enters the big time with NEXTEL Cup coverage. That will bring a whole new audience to NASCAR Now, and they will ultimately decide if this show will survive. Right now, its still a toss-up.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click-on the COMMENTS button, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping-by.


Anonymous said...

I think they took you off of Jayski, ESPN did! Anyways I really enjoy reading your articles, keep up the good work.

Shoop said...

I cant watch Tim Brewer. I'm sorry, but he's not made for TV.

He reminds me of The Joker, and that creepy smile and crazy hair make him look....well....cheesy.

His info is good, but the way he presents it is "too country" for the mainstream. He uses little sayings and phrases that someone in Nowhere, Idaho just simply will not understand.

Maybe I'm a little harsh, but get this guy off of my tv.

Joe from Philly said...

thanks for doing the hard work so we don't have to.

by that I mean subjecting yourself to such a horrible show daily.

I haven't watched it since the first week it was on.

It's just plain awful. Hopefully they eventually 'get it'

Anonymous said...

Good Article. Don't pay attention to those that say you are being too critical of ESPN. I have just about stopped watching anything related to NASCAR on ESPN except for the Busch races. I dont' even watch the pre-race for Busch. ESPN has been extremely disappointing in it's return to NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

Well, you're still on Jayski...

I totally agree with you about this. It is truly amazing to me that NASCAR Now continues to be produced like a Jr. college media class. Actually, some college students might do a better job!

The Monday show gave us hope. Tuesday gave us a headache. I don't know what the ratings are but unless something changes soon I can't see this program surviving...

MIKE said...

Just last night I was telling my girlfriend that I like NASCAR Now only because I like to get as much news about NASCAR as possible.

I went on to tell her that the show it self is really bad, but what the heck, I watch it to maybe learn something I did not already know.

Keep up the great work!! I will be adding you to my link list!!

Ryan Newman Fan

Anonymous said...

Keep up the analytical reporting on this show. ESPN needs to know how long time NASCAR fans feel about these types of shows. I have only watched it twice and will not again because I thought the content was insulting. If the show sucks, keep telling it like it is. What I want is PITBULLS to come back. Now THAT was an informative and entertaining show!

Anonymous said...

I have watched the program most of the time, but they don't broadcast at the same time, so I do miss it sometimes. I think they should do more on the Busch series, give more info and stats. Get rid of all of the hosts and put Alan Bestwick in. He, at least, knows about NASCAR, and knows how to ask the right questions. Ryan is ok, but not Banks and the other guy, can't think of his name. Thanks

Mike said...

I was ao looking forward to this Nascar season starting...Toyota, the COT, ESPN coming back....but now that we're several weeks in I couldn't be more disappointed. I don't have SPEED channel so I was excited that ESPN was going to be doing a daily show on NASCAR. I eagerly counted down the days until it came on and then when it did they give us hosts who clearly know absolutely nothing about NASCAR, or racing in general. ESPN did such a great job with RPM tonight, why not just bring those guys back? NASCAR Now is so disappointing that you have to question ESPN's actual commitment to NASCAR if they can't even get a host for their flagship racing show that knows anything about racing. I'm already fearing what they're going to do this fall when they actually start to broadcast the races.

Between ESPN, race broadcasts filled with commercials and mysterious debris cautions this whole season is quickly becoming a major disappointment. Keep their feet to the fire Daly.

C. Bell said...

I haven't seen this mentioned so I hope I'm not repeating, but I caught part of the NASCAR Now show late after the Phoenix race.

Unfortunately, it was right at the moment that Erik Kuselias questioned Stacy Compton on why Jeff Gordon retained the lead after that last pit stop. I swear he said, "Is it because he was on the POLE?"

It rather confirmed all you've been saying and if there are those who feel you critize too much (I often get the same comments), just tell them that if they don't give you the ammunition you won't have to shoot.

C. Bell

R said...

DALY, keep up the good work. The really terrible thing about ESPN's half-hearted, we-know-everything approach to racing and NASCAR coverage is that it keeps the pressure off SPEED to step up their coverage of racing during the week. Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

When I heard ESPN would take over Nascar coverage from TNT, I was elated. Although I wish Fox would keep their coverage for the entire season, I hoped ESPN would do a better job than TNT. But, if Nascar Now is any indication, and if their coverage of the Busch races is a precursor to what's going to happen in a few weeks, I'm not looking forward to what ESPN is going to do with Nascar. The people they've hired leave much to be desired. Is this the best Nascar can do? Is there any chance of "cross hiring" Nascar experts from other networks, ie. Speed? If not, it's going to be a very long season, and Nascar will see a huge decline in viewership.

And BTW, what's with the delay of this week's Busch race to 4am on Sunday morning? If ESPN has too much on their plate to cover Nascar properly, I think we need to tell Nascar that they need to look elsewhere for broadcast rights.

Anonymous said...

"Many say I should not criticize the program, for fear that ESPN will cancel the only daily NASCAR show on TV." ------------ THE WORST SPORTS RELATED TV SHOW ON THE AIR SHOULD BE CANCELLED, IT'S A WASTE OF GOOD AIR TIME!!! I'd rather watch WSOP reruns!!!

Anonymous said...

Has everyone here emailed ESPN and complained? I have several times, we need to all email and complain to get them to change!!!

Anonymous said...

Brewer is good, he knows his stuff. The reporters are excellent, but the hosts are jokes. They are definitely trying to attract a different audiance. Just like NASCAR, they are turning their backs on the folks who made the sport.
Keep up the pressure. SOMEONE must tell the truth!

Anonymous said...

thank you,, this show is a joke...bring back rpm tonight...still the best daily show devoted to racing..shake and bake....

Cheryl said...

For the guy who said the Dega Busch race would not be on until 4 a.m., you need to check your ABC affiliate; they are showing the race this week. ESPN is repeating it at 4 a.m.

John, keep up the good work! I cannot believe that guy didn't realize Kurt's car is sponsored by a rival beer company. Too ridiculous! Where did they dig up these guys and why can't their production assistants at least research this stuff before giving them their scripts every night. I haven't watched the show after the first 3 weeks.