Tuesday, May 1, 2007

SPEED Channel: "Inside NEXTEL Cup" Continues To Survive


Many NASCAR fans remember that Monday nights on SPEED used to be "must view." The hilarious and irreverent Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing set the table for several hours of great NASCAR programming. It was a powerful block of TV that re-aired right away, and sometimes was fun to sit through twice. It was almost perfect, and it put SPEED on the map. This was long before the Craftsman Truck Series, RaceDay, or Victory Lane. Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing was a cornerstone of the network.

Alan Bestwick was the "ringmaster" for three naughty and misbehaving NASCAR drivers who barely had a clue to the format of the show. Johnny Benson, Kenny Schrader, and Michael Waltrip were often like three guys "just sitting around talking." They liked to play with the remote control machine, loved to harass the guest on "the hot seat," and basically talked about the weekend from the perspectives of three guys who were there. Every year when NASCAR President Mike Helton was a guest, Waltrip or Schrader would always ask him how much he made...just for information purposes. It was plain and simple and fun.

Then, change occurred in the most unusual way. A new SPEED TV executive decided to put his "mark" on this program by "freshening it up." Instead of quietly making changes in the off-season, he demanded change immediately. Bestwick and Johnny Benson were summarily dismissed from the program in an awkward and demeaning way. Alan was dignified as always, and Johnny was hurt. It was ugly.

Installed by the new regime was WindTunnel host Dave Despain, and NASCAR newcomer Brian Vickers. The program format was changed to reflect a tightly scripted environment where Despain was in complete control, and spoke over-top of anyone who dared to pipe-up out of turn. He often times looked very distressed on the air when it was apparent that his "control" was slipping away.

Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip were the surviving "Musketeers." They related directly to each other, and secondarily to Despain and Vickers. As the season progressed, they could barely contain their disgust for what the program had become, and began a hilarious campaign of purposefully throwing Despain off his train of thought. It wasn't all that hard to do.

Poor Brian Vickers was put in a no-win position from the beginning. Other than the one perspective that detailed "his car, his race, and his team," he had absolutely nothing to offer. Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip just spoke right around him, often completely contradicting what he had just said without even batting an eye.

Now, in late April of 2007, the current group of "survivors" soldiers on alone and uninspired. After Talladega, both Schrader and Waltrip speak on the panel as non-participants. Greg Biffle, the current third panelist, patiently answers the scripted questions put to him by Despain, who is the ultimate survivor.

There is no laughter, there is no fun, and there is no "new" content to attract NASCAR fans. Any regular SPEED viewer has already seen the NEXTEL Cup highlights on The SPEED Report, Victory Lane, and Wind Tunnel before Inside NEXTEL Cup hits the air. When you tack on NASCAR Now, SportsCenter, ESPN News, and the local TV station sports, its pretty much assumed that the last thing fans want on Monday night is the same highlights of the same race...again.

When the show is over, there is no additional NASCAR programming. There is no "block of NASCAR" for fans looking for original shows. NASCAR Images and SPEED have not re-built the Monday night line-up, and that is certainly a shame. Inside NEXTEL Cup now sits as an island, surrounded by Pinks and the re-airs of car auctions. Once a cornerstone, now alone and desolate.

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6 comments:

Joe from Philly said...

I agree with you.

I like Despain. I just don't like the direction he's been given to keep a tight leash on "the boys".

The race highlights on this show should simply be used as fodder. It's great listening to two friends bust on someone who messed up.

I don't like Biffle as a drive but I do like him when he's on this show.

They really need to let these guys run wild a bit. I don't blame Despain for this at all. He's just doing as he's told. Despain would work with a looser format. Just put a rod and reel in his hands instead of a tight leash. Just reel them in a bit when they go too far off. They aren't broadcast pros so they need someone like Despain to guide them along.

Also, part of me likes this new format for the reason you stated. Kenny and Mikey obviously are going out of their ways to be smart a**es and I find it funny. But I normally only watch the first 30 minutes as the structure bores me.

Shoop said...

I'm going to disagree with you, for once. I think the show is funnier now, without Benson. Mikey is the loudest, but Schrader is the true gem of the show.

Having Despain over Bestwick is a bit too much Dave Despain. He's better in moderation, and Wind Tunnel just enough.

Back to Benson, he really did nothing for me. Vickers started slow, but eventually came around.....and I think Biffle is doing the same.

The reason I watch the show is for the comedy factor, and honestly I've been pleased with this year's show.

The ONLY thing I'd complain about is what you said about Despain and his script. There are times when they should just "let them go" when Mikey, Kenny, and Greg are having an opinionated conversation or are joking back and forth.

I think the bigger questions with SPEED are: Where did Beyond the Wheel go? Or hell, what about a Truck/Busch Series show similar to Inside Nextel Cup?

Anonymous said...

I like Despain in a lot of things, but it's apparent he's been "locked down" on this show.

The overall energy level is ready to go subterranean, and so is the interest level. It's still on my Tivo, but I'm not quite sure why.

Southprose said...

After a decade of not caring (I'd followed NASCAR since the 1960s) , discovering "Inside Nextel Cup" in 1997 brought me back to the sport.

I have several old shows on tape that serve as proof of what Chris Long and his minions at FOX did to eviscerate the soul of the show.

Mike and Kenny continue to soldier on bravely, but Dave (who I've also followed and liked since the 70s) and the "other guy" - whomever they choose to sit in the third chair - just don't match the old chemistry.

Knowing a little about the inside workings of the TV industry, and human nature in general, I hold little hope that anything will change for the better.

All one has to do is search the archives of the SPEED.com message boards to see the outpouring of outrage from the show's fans when the changes occured.

They probably will have pulled those threads by now, sniveling , backside -covering empty suits that network executives are.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I really like Dave Despain and the show. It's loosened up a bit lately. And like Brian V., Biffle is loosening up a bit. I'm sure it takes time for those other than Kenny and Mike to feel comfortable. I love the inside comments and it's just a fun show. There is enough of the serious, really scripted stuff, so this always seems like a breathe of fresh air. NASCAR ain't curing cancer. It's racing, which I love, but isn't life or death!!!

Anonymous said...

The whole problem at SPEED is Chris Long ... He got hired & the network's NASCAR programming turned into dog poop. He's the one who canned JohnnyB and Allen Bestwick. Since Chris Long has been at SPEED, we've seen too many shows come & go -- NBS 24/7, Beyond the Wheel, Inside Busch Series, 7 Days, NASCAR Nation, etc ... Granted, NASCAR Nation sucked & then changes were made & it sucked even more ... 7 Days had promise, til they did an episode on Lee Spencer (UGH!!) ... I met Allen last year ... He's a nice man who's very knowledgeable about the sport and was definitely NOT happy with Chris Long.

Inside Nextel Cup was good when it was 1 1/2 hrs long and they could focus more on the Trucks & Busch series ... But, they got burned by the standalone Busch race in Mexico City when the Cup & Truck series were not running that weekend ... Now, the whole show is just too rushed, especially since they added those Z-Max questions ...

Vickers added absolutely nothing to the show ... He's still too new & doesn't have a lot of experience to compare things to ... It was horrible when he tried to compare something in a Cup race to something he had done in a Busch race at a completely different track ... He was a total suck-up for Hendrick, who couldn't see the forest for the trees ...

The fill-in "experts" like David Stremme, David Ragan, Reed Sorenson, etc just do NOT add anything to the show ... They just don't have any experience and offer absolutely no insight to what happened during the race ...

I got to meet Greg Biffle last year & he's really great guy ... I like him on INC ... Greg offers views from the more technical side of NASCAR that we don't always get to hear/read about in the mainstream media, but he can explain stuff in layman's terms ... Schrader & Mikey get along really well with the Biff ... Greg's also got the experience of having run full-time in all of the top three series ...

The real problem with INC is Dave Despain ... It became very obvious last year on an ep of Wind Tunnel that Dave does NOT watch the races ... A viewer had called in asking about how the racing surface had been narrowed at Vegas ... Dave didn't understand & thought the guy meant the number of grooves, as opposed to the whole paved surface ... Had Dave watched the pre-race show for the Truck race at Vegas, he would've seen Ray Dunlap's segment on the repave and how the actual width of the track's racing surface had been narrowed as Ray had pictures & graphs showing the old & new surface dimensions ... Dave is extremely limited with the script and things get lost because the boys aren't allowed to wander off script ... When Allen was still on the show, one of the boys would start wandering & would bring up something that happened that was NOT going to be covered and that is what made the show great ...

The show is better this year with Biffle on the show ... But, it's not as great as it was during the first half of the 2005 season when Allen & Johnny were still there ...