Wednesday, May 9, 2007

ESPN's "NASCAR Now" Gets Lost In Translation

Quite possibly, it was the story of the year so far on the NASCAR landscape. ESPN Insider Terry Blount showed-up with breaking news that perhaps JR Motorsports was going to get a new driver...and that it might be Dale Earnhardt Junior. Blount indicated that perhaps Junior would leave DEI, bypass other teams, and move his own JR Motorsports operation up to the NEXTEL Cup level. Wow! Even in theory, this is a huge story.

For host Doug Banks and NASCAR Now, this story would require live on-air flexibility, open conversation with the NASCAR Now reporters, and a scramble for more information and interviews. What a great story to have dropped in your lap on a "slow news" Wednesday. This would be a great test of ESPN2's new daily show, and serve to set-up the news conference to be carried live on the network the next day. NASCAR Now's response to this breaking news situation was simple...just don't mention it again. Pretend it did not happen...and that is exactly what they did. The network that showcases SportsCenter, ESPN News, Gameday, and Emmy Award winning news coverage chose to "bail."

Banks returned immediately to the scripted program, and left NASCAR fans staring at the TV with open mouths and in complete shock. NASCAR Now moved on to "confront" Kasey Kahne about "standing by" his comments that David Stremme was fat. This was the story that followed the Junior bombshell by Terry Blount. Kasey says David is fat. That called for NASCAR "expert" Brad Daugherty to speak in completely pedestrian terms about what every fan already knew, tough season so far for Kasey. Did we mention Junior might leave DEI? Oh wait, Kasey says David is fat.

SPEED Channel's Inside NEXTEL Cup panelist Greg Biffle then stopped by on the phone to answer scripted questions from a host who knows nothing about the sport. It was horrible. Doug Banks just says "all right" when anyone ends their response, and then moves on to the next scripted question. Not only does it make things stiff, but it often makes things hilarious when the person being interviewed goes "off track." Banks is helpless, and it shows through. He never asked Biffle about Junior or the breaking news.

Incredibly, Daugherty then came back to comment on Biffle as if he himself had never been there. Nothing that Daugherty spoke about was brought up by Banks in the interview. Why didn't Banks ask Biffle the questions that Daugherty raised? Why didn't Daugherty interview Biffle? What is going on here? Did we mention Junior might leave DEI? Did you know that Kasey called David fat?

Terry Blount returned at last to update this breaking story. Well, maybe not. After yet another feature on the fact that Hendrick has won the COT races, Blount was only asked scripted questions and allowed to only address the COT problems. Incredible. Banks then stumbled into the commercial promising a preview of Darlington. Did we mention that Junior might leave DEI? Did we mention that this was a story NASCAR Now was obsessed with for months before this? Why didn't Brad interview Biffle? Did we mention Kasey says David is fat?

Banks then updated the Darlington Busch field, Mark Martin's status, and then tried to return to the breaking news. But, he did not know what to say. He got the time of the press conference and the location correct, but could not add anything about the actual "content" of this breaking story. Terry Blount was no where to be seen. The show simply ended...just like that. One could almost feel Banks letting out a deep breath and saying "that was a tough one."

With all the resources of the world's leader in sports television, perhaps the budget could have allowed a cell phone call to Marty Smith for some background. Shannon Spake could also have filled in some details, or provided some background on the JR Motorsports operation. As viewers remember, both Marty and Shannon were on-scene for the new JR Motorsports facility opening ceremonies last week. By the way, they were on-scene reporting for ESPN...and this show.

Sometimes, words just cannot describe the bi-polar disfunction of this mess called NASCAR Now. Fans were patient through February, bothered in March, and amused in April. Now, in May, ESPN has a full-blown disaster on their hands.

No matter what it took, including going live with ESPN News, bringing in the experts on-the-fly to be interviewed, or making any kind of last second arrangements, this story should have been the theme of the entire thirty minutes. The reporters, analysts, and experts should have been on the phone, on the liveshot, and in the studio to address this breaking news. No matter what it took, the "Worldwide Leader In Sports" should have been there for NASCAR fans. And they "bailed." Did we mention that Kasey called David fat?

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Anonymous said...

Wow! I would not have believed it if I had not seen it live. Surely there are people at ESPN who understand how big the DE Jr story is and how much they blew their chance at the first TV coverage of this story. Even if all they could come up with was speculation and an articulation of the possible scenarios to be announced tomorrow. After all we already had a big tip-off when we heard that DEI was talking merger with Yates (and Ford) -- so we can make a pretty good guess what Dale is going to say.
How can ESPN's NASCAR Today continue without a major overhaul??? Like tomorrow ...

Anonymous said...

I totally agree!! I figured that they would have Marty on & devote the whole 1/2 to the story!! Unbelievable...

Anonymous said...

I think it just goes to show that this show needs to be in charlotte with racing people running the show. the folks up in bristol ct don't understand this sport. they never have! does anyone remember the weekly rpm2nite vs the weekend rpm2nite? the weekly show blew the weekend show out of the water. the only reason they show hilights in sportscenter now is because they have a vested intrest in it. if it wasn't for cash and some high ranking execs telling the sportscenter producers what to do...they would go right past the nascar news.
so...let's hope all the folks up in bristol do a better job of handling today's news after the press conference is done. let me steal a phrase from one of ESPN's favorite sports...STRIKE ONE!!!!! or is STRIKE 3?

Anonymous said...

NASCAR Now is awful. I was just watching First Take. The first story was Derek Fisher, the second Jr. Dana Jacobson introduced the story, then just asked Marty Smith what is the latest on Jr. She listened to him and asked open ended follow up questions that let Marty show his stuff. Just shows you don't need to have a lot of NASCAR knowledge (though it helps) to be a good host. A good reporter who listens to the "experts" in a serious way would be better on NASCAR Now than what they have...

GinaV24 said...

NASCAR Now is such a joke -- a pathetic joke at that. I got home in time to catch the show after listening to Sirius radio talking about this story and expected to see a much better take than what we got! Kasey said he's fat! If it weren't so awful it would be funny, but it's not. ESPN is just as bad as NASCAR at listening to its viewers/fans. Idiotic.

Anonymous said...

Tears are streaming down my face. In laughter. I just reread your column out loud to my husband and he is doing likewise. We had the show Tivo'd. When I saw "David is fat" Kasey I started forwarding through the show. I didn't see "RED" until the news conference announcement. We were both stunned. My comment was "That's it". Tivo'd the news conf. and when the questions start they move to ESPN NEWS, which of course we didn't TIVO. Why did they even bid for NASCAR. Possibly the biggest story since SR's death and they can't figure out what to do with it. Sad, sad.

Josh said...

ESPN's coverage of NASCAR has been mostly hilarious. None of the Sportscenter anchors seem to have a clue about the sport. They use euphemisms from other sports that make no sense at all, they seem to be completely clueless.

For the past several years, ESPN would not even mention NASCAR, now due to the TV deal, suddenly it is the greatest sport ever. The opposite has happened to the NHL and ESPN.

NASCAR has become nothing more than an advertising medium, the racing so secondary. It is sad. This sport is going to die a slow and painful death. I remember in the 80s and 90s when a driver was interviewed they would rarely mention the sponsors, manufacturers or anyone else they currently suck up to.

I told someone the other day, if Hendrick wins another COT race I am going to buy a Wheldon t-shirt and call it good...

Anonymous said...

Just how long is the so called "Premier" sporting network called ESPN going to allow this train wreck of a program to continue?
Apparently they have the assumption that NASCAR fans are just stereotypical hicks?
I have given up on this show, so I can't comment on their coverage [or lack thereof] from today. All I know is this, if they choose to favor a "Low Level" Tennis competition one more time, and BARELY make it to the Busch race before the green flag flies, I'm gonna SNAP.
Fox has the chance to "show their stuff" this Saturday as well. There's a Cubs/Phillies game just before the Darlington race. Let's hope they handle it better than ESPN.
To me, THIS is the bigger problem.
It's just sad. I expected SO much more from ESPN!

Anonymous said...

Up to now ESPN's handling of NASCAR Now has been laughable, juvenile, pedantic, and as schitzophrenic as 90 year old on LSD.

So on Wednesday night, when rumors were flowing fast and furious in the NASCAR Nation, the Worlds Most Over Inflated Over Rated Sports Network decided to focus on the fatness of one of the series drivers.

The mind boggles at the decision makers behind NASCAR Now.

After all, ESPN is the network that broke into regular programming to announce that Terrell Owens had attempted to commit suicide and covered it ad infinitum for weeks. They even had "SPECIAL" coverage of everything from interviews with TO's stuffed animals to Tuna and all they do is devote a few minutes on NASCAR Now to Jr. leaving DEI?

When the Fonz jumped the shark in that infamous Happy Days episode, you knew the series was in trouble. ESPN's NASCAR Now hasn't jumped the shark, it has fatted the David.

SophiaZ123 said...

I was flummoxed at the bomb dropped at the beginning of the show as well, regarding Jr, and then moving on to the next insipid segments (Kasey Kahne, etc)

I have NOT liked Banks since day one on this show. Sorry but if you have to squint so BADLY we cannot see your eyeballs, you have a face for radio, NOT TV. And the response he has to questions answered are sometimes cringeworthy.

Does ESPN ever watch their own shows? How shall they fix this bipolar show (great description, by the way :-) )

I can NOT believe they will not move this show to Charlotte to fix it and get it on track. I hope they do not go the route of the now defunct NASCAR NATION and hire some cleavage showing babes to host the show.

This is embarrassing. I shall tune in tonight to see if they devote the entire show to the Jr announcement. If they do not, I am so done with this show.

ESPN has been a MAJOR disappointment in their NASCAR COVERAGE.

On a side note, they ALSO need to get rid of the &^%$#! ANNOYING FULL THROTTLE non sense on the Busch races restart.

SophiaZ123 said...

Wow...Just turned on ESPN and they must have an hour version of NASCAR NOW tonight...starting off with soundbites of Jr from the PC.

Too many annoying EXCESSIVE graphics though...I can see ESPN 'learned from Fox' (rolls eyes)

At least squinty eyed Banks isn't on but . . .

Anonymous said...

People are still watching this show?

I only gave it 5 minutes back at Daytona.

Brian S. Banks, M.D. said...

ESPN can be given a lot of credit for helping develop NASCAR in the mid eighties and nineties. I will be the first to admit that the coverage by the network at that time was as good or better as any I have seen since. Bob Jenkins and that entire crew always found a way to showcase great racing without a lot of bells and whistles. However, the network is currently out of touch with the average fan in all sports. They truly believe that their on air personalities are more important that the sports they cover. That is why they have sports anchors that think they are part time comedians. That's why when you want to tune into a great basketball game like Duke vs UNC, you have to listen Dick Vitale yell, scream and dominate the broadcast. It's just ridiculous. Tony Kornheiser on Monday Night Football just makes me want to vomit. He is truly the anti- John Madden. But that's not enough. You also have to sit through a hit parade of lame network television stars tell you why their show shouldn't jump the shark. I am fortunate enough to have a sirius radio, and I love their NASCAR coverage. I think the NASCAR will follow the lead of the NFL and create its own network within the next five years. The network will cover the sport in more depth than ever before, showcase classic races form the past, and focus on local racing throughout the country. Think about it, you will be able to come home from work and watch some form of racing every night... how cool is that!!!!! Then, we can let ESPN have the