Monday, May 28, 2007
"NASCAR Now" Lets Mike Massaro Talk
ESPN has returned to NASCAR with many millions of dollars tied up in "rights fees," production costs, and technical equipment. Among the production costs are the fees paid to the announcers both at the races and in the studio. While there are usually nine announcers working on each Busch Series race, there is only one announcer who hosts the ESPN2 studio program called NASCAR Now.
Last week, we saw that the name of Doug Banks had been left off the ESPN media list of announcers who host NASCAR Now. Without any comment, ESPN shrank the studio announcer list to Erik Kuselias and Ryan Burr. Kuselias is still the man, and without knowing a thing about NASCAR, continues to host this program at least five days a week. Ryan Burr pops-up occasionally, and then is gone like the wind.
When ESPN first started this studio venture, the names of Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro came immediately to the minds of many. Bestwick was a radio and TV veteran, perhaps best known recently for his NBC Sports work in both the announce booth, and on pit road. Many cable viewers watched Bestwick host Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup on the SPEED Channel for over ten years. At one time, it was the highest rated weekly show on the network.
Massaro had carved-out a niche for himself by serving as ESPN's "NASCAR guy" after ESPN lost the rights to televise the races. No fan can forget his determination to deliver driver interviews and news while very unceremoniously being shut-out of many tracks. Massaro showed himself to be a determined and well-balanced reporter, never mixing his personal feelings or his surroundings with the news of the day.
Bestwick has recently been given an opportunity to host NASCAR Countdown, the ESPN pre-race show for the Busch Series. Meanwhile, Massaro has been stuck on pit road as a reporter and occasionally files a trackside report for NASCAR Now. Monday, on the one hour edition of the show, Massaro was given the opportunity to finally "step outside the box."
Mondays normally mean show host Erik Kuselias dragging analysts Stacy Compton and Boris Said through a lengthy recap of the weekend action. Kuselias reads the script, then Compton and Said offer actual racing insight on a variety of topics. Clearly not a racing guy, Kuselias is not sensitive to the right topics, and likes to hype stories that are minor in nature. Its an endless cycle of dysfunction.
Also every week, Kuselias moves over to "speak" with various NASCAR Now reporters via liveshots on a studio wall. The pattern is that Kuselias reads a scripted question, lets the reporter answer, and then reads the next scripted question to the other reporter. After about four minutes of this, a sharp stick in the eye almost becomes a viable option. Its horrible. This week, it was less horrible because Marty Smith had good hair. Angelique Chengelis, a close second.
Then, a moment of clarity came to this troubled show. Mike Massaro appeared from an undisclosed location to introduce a story. He led into a piece on Casey Mears and his big win on Sunday night. From the word go, something was different. Massaro was happy and speaking to the viewers directly, without even a reference to the host.
He "framed" the story of Mears crew chief, Darian Grubb. Then, Grubbs joined Massaro by phone for a live interview. Watching a racing guy like Massaro talk to Grubbs was just great. Mike hit on all the key points by asking the right questions, and listening to the answers.
The best part was that his NASCAR knowledge allowed him to "talk racing" with Grubbs in sophisticated and informed terms. This is exactly what this program needs to do all the time. Allow informed reporters to speak with NASCAR guys, and not just the clearly un-informed host. Did I mention it was great?
When it was over, Kuselias would not even acknowledge the great job that has just been done. He picked up his script with "Mike Massaro reporting" and then moved on to some more reading. Anyone who watched this interview could not help but ask themselves why Massaro was not hosting the show, and Kuselias was not back talking stick-and-ball sports with the talk radio gang. With everyone else on the show neck-deep in NASCAR knowledge, Erik Kuselias is a fish out-of-water.
Hopefully, NASCAR Now will soon give Marty Smith the chance to host his own stand-alone segment dealing with news items. Smith does not need scripted questions, and his style of delivery works best with the fans when its off-the-cuff.
Change seems to be coming to ESPN, only very slowly in this case. NASCAR fans can only dream of Mike Massaro hosting, Stacy Compton and Boris Said in the studio, and all the news and feature reporters ready-to-go with good stories and info. Come to think of it, that might be easy to do with one more little change.
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