Monday, April 23, 2007

ESPN's "NASCAR Now" Scores With New Format

ESPN2 debuted a re-vamped one hour NASCAR Now on Monday night. Somehow, the finality that NASCAR fans are tired of the "fluff" and ready for some "stuff" has reached the hallways of Bristol, CT. Changes in this program were top-to-bottom.

Host Erik Kuselias threw to video highlights of the NEXTEL Cup race right-off the top of the show. With a good script, Kuselias made it work, but perhaps a more veteran voice might "sell" the highlights with authority. Luckily, the best decision was to go directly to soundbites of Jeff Gordon post-race. This allowed the only outstanding issue, about the Earnhardt flag tribute, to be addressed right away.

Stacy Compton showed-up and put the Gordon victory, and his tribute, in perspective. Compton is a very good historian, and his plain language and calm demeanor really helped to finally end the NASCAR Now hype. Nicely done by all parties.

At long last, ESPN used the cell phone to call Steve Letarte and get him to explain how his #24 team stayed-on the lead lap, how Jeff did in the car, and what the tribute meant to the team. This was a feature that NASCAR Now has to commit firmly to each Monday, and expand. Kuselias was absolutely told to avoid the type of "hype" and "drama" that has defined this program series up to this point. Good idea.

NASCAR Now seems to have grasped the concept that raw footage from the events of the weekend works as "in-bumps" on the show when returning from commercial. It was so nice to hear ESPN using announcer sound from the NASCAR on Fox gang, as if they finally acknowledged we are all in this together. More footage in this hour, for any reason, would be welcomed. Fans miss a lot by only seeing the final on-air broadcast.

Shannon Spake hustled to get JD Gibbs on-camera to address the frustration of Tony Stewart. Gibbs did a great job explaining what we all knew, Tony wants to win. Eventually, Erik Kuselias might discover that intensity is exactly what Tony fans love. Spake also addressed the Gibbs COT issues, and actually got a friendly sign-off from Kuselias. That is the clincher that times have changed, Erik was nice.

Tim Cowlishaw continues to be out-of-place on this show. He is the only non-experienced commentator on the set. His "conversational" comments are used only to address the "take it or leave it" sports radio questions poised by Kuselias. As in this program, Stacy Compton laughed at Cowlishaw, and put him in his place about Tony Stewart's "antics." ESPN needs to move Cowlishaw back to an opinion-based position on or ESPN The Magazine. Places where the hype still lives.

Shannon Spake and her Producer are still continuing to crank-out quality features like the one in this show on Hendrick Motorsports. Her low-key and laid back style really fits well, and she seems to be able to stay in the background, and let the information and personalities speak for themselves. She is a nice surprise this season.

Kuselias brought out Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis for the regular news segment. For some reason, NASCAR Now will not allow the two reporters to speak to each other. This is a problem that the show must correct. Marty Smith could easily host the entire news segment, bring-in the other reporters, and then pass-the-ball back to the show host when the news is done. NASCAR Now continues to deny the problem that two of their three co-hosts cannot engage in free-form NASCAR conversation. The individual scripted questions are maddening.

SportsCenter regular Neil Everett lent his voice to a fantastic piece on the relationship between Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. The core of this feature was the on-camera soundbites with Jeff after the Phoenix win, and Dale Junior speaking directly to Gordon's respect for Jr.'s father. The public does not get from NASCAR Now this type of "direct relationship" with the sport very often, and it was nice to see. This is the kind of understanding and preparation that will help fans to believe that ESPN knows NASCAR...once again.

Ryan Newman appeared live, but Kuselias conducted the scripted interview. This is the weakness of the show, and always has been. Newman has talked to non-racing journalists a lot, and he was calm and patient. Needless to say, the questions were horrible, bordering on the in-accurate. Even though this liveshot was a free promo for Newman's sponsor, it would have been a good time to ask some hard questions.

Closing with a promo for next week's Talladega race, the show left one big question on the table. What happened to Friday night's Busch race? Where were the highlights and winner interview? That is the only NASCAR series on ESPN2, it was a good race, and yet nothing made it to the "weekend recap" show? Did I mention the race was on ESPN2? Did I mention this show is now one hour long?

This new NASCAR Now format was a strong step by the network in turning a struggling program series into one with potential. The key will be if the thirty minute version of this show tomorrow can carry-on this new emphasis on hard news, facts, and footage. Time will tell, but this was a good start.

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


Anonymous said...

It was OK, but i still don't like Erik Kuselias. You can tell he know's nothing about the sport. For example when he's talking to Steve Letarte on the phone and they start to talk about the Boston Red Sox. You can hear Erik laughing in the background saying to himself"Baseball is my sport, not this NASCAR stuff". Tim Cowlishaw needs to stick to Around the Horn, because he kust knows the basics of NASCAR. I hate the scripted questions, they bug me. I'd rather see a host who knows about the sport, and doesn't need to look at his script all the time. I'd rather watch Trackside on SPEED, because they don't even have scripts. DW, Larry Mac, Jeff, Steve, all have a fun time, and ask the drivers "real" questions.

Anonymous said... is getting better. More Marty Smith...the better!

Anonymous said...

This is without a doubt the worst show about racing I have ever seen. They need to drop the show if it can be called that.


Anonymous said...

I know the show is not perfect, but it sure beats the garbage we had to endure on FOX over the last few years.

ESPN is rusty, but at least they know that the program is about the racing, drivers, owners and the cars and not about the announcers. Nothing drives me away quicker than the Hollywood Hotel and Boogity Boogity BS.

Keep commenting but make sure they don't go the other way.

Bring back the old ESPN crew. Jerry, John and someone who can at least learn from Benny's manner.

Anonymous said...

At least Tim Cowlishaw is a real NASCAR fan. I have seen the others laugh at him on Around-The-Horn forever, every time he brings up NASCAR, long before ESPN got back into it he would try to talk NASCAR.

Hookaville said...

Anonymous said that he would rather watch trackside, I agree, but I think we need some patience to let this show develop. Trackside and the whole FOX crew weren't this good right from the start, the FOX crew took some time to gel. If you've ever read the ESPN magazine then you understand where this shows roots come from, it's all geared towards the A.D.D. crowd. The magazine is 90% hype and drama with 10% being well thought out information that you have to actually stop, read and then soak in the information. Unfortunately people don't want to have to slow down to get entertaining information. We are sacrificing 90% of the information these days to get the 10% that can be delivered quick and short with key words to be exchanged cubicle to cubicle. I hope ESPN respects the sport that it helped grow years ago, and I hope it does that by not focusing on the DEI negotiations each week or why Tony Stewart stormed away from his car. Hopefully they can provide stories that educate the viewers about the inside business of the sport, and I don't mean rumors. I'm talking about the mechanics of NASCAR and all it entails. They need to do crew chief interviews that deal with how they are going to make the car of tomorrow turn through the corners, or talk about the new chevy R07 engine and why it's not being used by all the teams. I like information that goes beyond the drivers and drama, and give me an inside look at the interworkings of a NASCAR team.
I do like how ESPN2 plays the crew chief chatter during restarts for Busch races. I think they are doing pretty good job broadcasting the race.