Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SPEED Channel's Dysfunctional Family Reunion

It began with the drop of the green flag. Well, in this case, it was the camera pulling out to show the studio set. There, in awkward stiffness, sat Dave Despain's dysfunctional family. It was the "All-Star Weekend" in Charlotte, and the family was holding a reunion. Like most family reunions, once all the hand-shaking and back-slapping was over, things got ugly.

Welcome to the "All-Star" edition of Inside Nextel Cup Racing on SPEED. On the far right is Michael Waltrip, having the worst year of his life. Next to him is Kenny Schrader, who just lost his NEXTEL Cup ride to Bill Elliott, Jon Wood, or a combination of both. To his left is Greg Biffle, who is confused. He does not know if he should follow the conversation of Kenny and Michael, or the scripted droning of the host. To make the reunion complete, to Biffle's left sits Brian Vickers.

Mr. Vickers replaced Johnny Benson a while back and quickly proved that limited NASCAR experience on the track translates quite well into limited NASCAR knowledge on TV. By the end of the year, Waltrip and Schrader were openly mocking him unmercifully.

Finally, there he is once again, the loneliest man in NASCAR, Dave Despain. A great veteran broadcaster put in the worst no-win situation since Floyd Landis.

The sniping between Vickers and Waltrip began early, and was very real. Does SPEED know that these two guys do not like each other? We do. The decision to return Vickers to this set, and this show, is certainly an interesting one. SPEED gave Despain a nice substitute for Vickers in Greg Biffle. He is more experienced, older, and has a nice demeanor about him on TV. This helped to soften the blow of both the out-of-place Despain, and the horrible show format that he is locked into. Adding a fourth voice for this program made Despain's work a lot harder.

By the second segment, the battle over control was on full bore. There was lots of finger pointing, asking of random questions, and talking over-top of one another. Finally, it really did feel like a family reunion. Despain's nervous laughter hid the fact that this program had disintegrated into chaos. With a lot of racing in the "Open" portion of the "All-Star Night," SPEED once again chose to show only wrecks. Vickers tried to make a point, and Waltrip jumped right in and asked Greg Biffle a question as if Vickers did not exist. Despain was so flustered by the end of this segment he did not have a clue. Time for a commercial, and possibly some Valium.

"Why would I ever want to say anything when I have Mikey sitting next to me?" said Schrader to open the next segment. Waltrip talked over the host, his pal, and Vickers as if he was daring anyone to tell him to be quiet. As usual, no one did. Despain dutifully returned to the highlights, and Waltrip and Vickers continued sniping in the background. Kenny Schrader took a very, very deep breath. I think the thrill of this "TV stuff" is just about over for him.

In the middle of the next segment, Waltrip spoke over Despain and dragged Vickers into plugging the changes Toyota was making in their engines. It had nothing to do with the highlights, was not brought up by the host, and showed once again who has the ultimate power in this show. That person is Michael Waltrip. He continued to speak freely on topics not connected with Despain's script. As Waltrip has said quite often, this is "his" show. At this moment in time, he is certainly correct.

As if to prove a point, Waltrip forced a nice big dramatic sneeze in the next segment as poor Brian Vickers once again tried to make a point. Any point. Any kind of random wandering not really on the topic but I have to say something point. And Waltrip was having none of it. He then proceeded to follow a Goodyear Tire discussion by saying the opinions of Vickers and Biffle were um..."ill-informed."

At one point in the show, Scrader and Waltrip were talking among themselves, Biffle and Vickers were chatting, and Despain was trying to use his baritone to restore order and get back to the script. In TV land, we call this a problem. Make no mistake about it, this show was one hour of solid problem.

The finale came when Despain asked if Harvick taking the Segment 4 lead was "a big deal." After allowing Vickers and Biffle to give their views, Waltrip looked at Despain and said "I guess it was important, it was the last lead change." While some may have missed it, what Waltrip said in TV language was "that was the stupidest question I have ever heard you ask while you have been sitting in Alan's seat." Schrader chimed in with "seemed like it may have been a big deal." In TV language, that was "just what Mikey said!"

Waltrip took another broadside shot at Vickers about the idea of a "floating race" on the schedule, simply to make the young man look stupid. There was no other reason. Then, Vickers had his moment. In the final segment Despain said they had about one and a half minutes left. Without missing a beat, Vickers asked "would you like all of it Michael?" Despain almost fell out of his chair. The family reunion was officially over, and Junior had finally taken a shot at Pops. What a day to remember.

Since we have seen absolutely no changes this season, it must be assumed that SPEED is just going to let this series play out, and decide if they are going to bring it back for 2008. I think that is a shame. Why not make a move now to change the host, and try to re-energize the panel? Its like changing a crew chief, or a driver. If something is not working, make a change and give it a chance. Lord knows, Dave Despain won't mind.

This program has been on the air for over a decade. It was up and running just fine long before any of the current SPEED Channel executives were hired. Just because it got stale does not mean it should be allowed to wither and die on the vine. How about Randy Pemberton, Wendy Venturini, Steve Byrnes, or someone else in the SPEED stable who can pump these guys up and get a handle on Michael? What does the network have to lose?

Inside NEXTEL Cup is the only NASCAR review show of its kind on the air. ESPN does not have one, TNT does not, Fox Sports does not. What should be remembered was the time when this show was cutting edge on a small niche cable network called SpeedVision. The commitment of the crew, the drivers, and the host to get back to Charlotte and put together this program for Monday nights was amazing.

Over the years, it has featured tremendous guests, great interviews, and lots of absolutely hilarious moments. How about adding a guest each week? How about a bunch of fan video questions sent through Speedtv.com? There are so many easy and fun things to do with this show to freshen it up that I am sure the only thing it needs is some attention. For right now, it has our attention...for all the wrong reasons.

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


vroom said...

I use to watch the show religiously, now I barely notice it.

Anonymous said...

Great article! I totally agree! Every week it's how stupid can Michael Waltrip make himself look. Time for Mikey to go, I think he's worn out his welcome. They should keep Biffle and bring another experienced driver to replace Mikey and rotate people for the third seat or keep Brian Vickers.

Anonymous said...

why don't they just eliminate the problem, which is Mikey. He makes a fool out of himself at the track every week and still has the gall to show his face on TV, which I guess is the only face time he gets. I've always found him rude and condescending to others. He ruined the truck races for me, as he never shuts up during them.

GinaV24 said...

Great review of the program. This used to be "must see" tv for me. Now I never watch it live since I can't stand to be bored for that long. Motormouth Waltrip is a jerk. I love Kenny Schrader's humor, but Despain is out of his league with this bunch. What a waste. I've e-mailed speed channel with my opinion, but they don't care any more than NASCAR does what a "fan" or former "fan" thinks. I give Vickers credit for that zinger at Mikey, someone needs to shut him up -- he's a real bore and rude besides. It used to be a really great and entertaining show for my Monday night, now it's just a waste of time.

nancy said...

Maybe they should go back to Alan Beswick, Kenny Schrader, Mikie Waltrip and Johnny Benson. It worked for years and has gone downhill since they brought in "distain"

Rich Riedesel said...

Dave is not the problem. He has the unenviable job of trying to host a racing show in the midst of the "Look at Mikey" show. Mr. Waltrip long ago passed the witty and insightful stage, and proceded to the "point the camera at me, I'm important" windbag era. The show would be like a breath of fresh air without him, and my wife would quit asking "what's with that hair?" every week. Real race fans deserve at least one show that actually deals with racing. Send the clowns to the circus!

Anonymous said...

Mikey is the problem, and noone is going to be able to control him. Either replace him or discontinue the show.

Anonymous said...

Vickers doesn't know enough about the subject of racing (or is unable to express what he does know).

Biffle is fine, if boring.

But get rid of 'em both and let Mikey and Ken have fun, with Bestwick as host, That would be worth watching (again).

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time following the show anymore. Michael Waltrip is a waste. At least Schrader could comment on what happend during any particular race, because most of them he was in and where was Mikey? Oh yeah, plugging his sponsors since he couldnt be on track. At least Vickers has qualified for more races than Mikey. Maybe his youth has served him well.

Anonymous said...

I only watch the show for those too few times when Schrader is able to talk over Waltrip. Waltrip rambles too much, wrongly thinks his "I've been a bad boy" act is cute and sidetracks everybody else.

Despain is pointless. Biffle has been a pleasant surprise.

The show was much much much better in the past.

Doc Watts said...

Great article! I also liked your previous article on INC that tended to support Alan Bestwick as a better choice for host. It really bothers me that a true veteran NASCAR announcer like Bestwick gets fired from his own show, basically because SPEED was paying Dave Despain a full time salary for only doing Wind Tunnel on Sunday night. That and playing hockey (too dangerous - broke his leg) got Alan fired.

Alan Bestwick is the announcer on so many of the old vintage NASCAR races that I used to hear on XM radio last year that I actually have no idea when he started announcing races. I'm sure he has forgotten more about racing than many of the "new faces" will ever, ever know. I used to love it when he was in the booth and he would correct Darrell's obvious mistakes right on the air. Now we have to wait an entire week to learn that, contrary to Darrell's statement, brake fluid doesn't burn. When Alan was there, that would have been cleared up in a second.

The old INC crew was the best crew. I was always surprised that Johnny Benson was willing to put up with Kenny and Michael, but he did.

Bring back Bestwick!

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm in the minority.... I Love Michael and Shrader...they are the reason I watch... I can get the news elsewhere, I watch for the entertainment value... Vickers doesn't fit in, never did! Alan was great, Johnny was great... I enjoy Biffle....and I'm getting used to Dave now that he has loosened up. The old format was much better when they tried to cover all the races, squeeze in a viewer mail and a "hotseat" guest.... There wasn't a problem with the show at all until someone tried to "fix it" a while back. I will never understand getting rid of Alan.....NEVER....Why mess with something that was working?

Anonymous said...

I like Dave and Allen! Michael is a big mouth jerk and needs to go! Vickers needs to be replaced with someone more knowlegable!

Anonymous said...

INC used to be a blast with Alan, Kenny, Mikey & JB & especially entertaining when Kenny Wallace joined in. I faithfully watched every show. Since Dave Dispain took over, it is just awful. He is boring, boring, boring!! & I can just barely stand to watch it, but do so only out of loyalty to my favorite drivers Mikey & Kenny. Brian Vickers nor Greg Biffle can do anything to help improve it. How many times do the fans have to say....... Bring back Alan & JB!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, have to disagree with most of you - I tune in to watch the banter between Mikey and Kenny. Biffle and Vickers are OK but watching only the 2 of them plus Despain would be as interesting as watching paint dry. Sure Mikey's act can wear a little thin at times; and if he (and now Kenny) continue to not be in races that becomes a problem at some point but the fun of the show for me is the entertainment of Mikey and Kenny. And, yes, it is a crime no network motorsports executive can seem to see the talent of Alan Bestwick...

Anonymous said...

After viewing the show on Monday, I decided to send Speed TV an email expressing my thoughts:


I am writing to express my great disappointment with the show "Inside Nextel Cup Racing". I strongly feel this show has lost all its appeal and desperately needs a major overhaul or outright cancellation.

The most recent show discussing the NEXTEL All Star event was the rotten icing on the moldy, stale cake. Viewer were "treated" to outright sniping and antagonistic behavior between commentators. So called expert panelists were talking over each other and over the host numerous times. The host, Dave Despain, appeared to maintain control but it was a lost cause. The topics veered in uncontrolled directions more than once, discussing things that had nothing to do with the event being covered.

There is a word for this, and it's "trainwreck". Speed TV mgmt needs to understand their show is out of control and is losing long time viewers at an alarming rate.

At this point my suggestion is to replace most of the expert panelists starting with Michael Waltrip. Like it or not, he has outlived his welcome on the show and is no longer appealing or interesting. We all know he is having the worst year of his professional life but it is not fair for him to take it out on Speed TV viewers with his sarcasm and boorish behaviour. Speed TV has done a lot for Michael but now it is time to cut him loose. Please do so immediately.

I implore Speed TV senior management to regain control of "Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing" immediately by replacing the host and one or more of the panelists including Michael Waltrip. The show has been on Speed TV and Speedvision for a long time and it has many loyal viewers. The concept has merit and is viable. It just needs an extreme makeover right away. Please do not wait until the end of the racing season. We are less than halfway so now is a great time to make wholesale changes.

Speed TV is my favorite channel and I watch it more than any other network. But until major changes are made I will no longer watch "Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing".

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

Without a personality like Mikey or Tony Stewart or maybe Juan Montoya, the show would fade into obscurity. Mikey is right - the show IS all about him. He makes it entertaining, and even though I watch every race, I regularly tune into INC to see what Mikey (and Kenny) will say about it and how they will educate me in an entertaining way. A straight review of weekend activities without a colorful personality like Mikey would turn me (and the TV) right off.

I firmly believe the show would die without Mikey. Vickers adds very little value and his personality doesn't mesh with the others - dump him. He gets visibly upset with Mikey, and although it is fun to watch for a while, it won't work long term. More than three panelists also doesn't work and causes too much thrashing.

The thing that makes the show fun is the free-wheeling - you never know what you are going to get. Sure, it needs some kind of agenda and Dave is there to keep a bit of control, but let 'em go. The entire sport of NASCAR is becoming a bit of a puss sport and the more personalities and shows that just let-it-fly, the better.

So, in summary, definitely keep Mikey and Kenny, let them have creative freedom, and keep searching to find a guy that complements them (Bif is a bit dry). If they drop Mikey and don't bring in a guy like Tony, they've lost me as a viewer.

Oh, and Mikey did make himself look dumb with the "chronological" remarks on the all star episode, but you just have to laugh...

Anonymous said...

I emailed SpeedTV when I found out Despain was taking over for Alan Bestwick, way back when to complain. Despain is a little dull, Alan and Jonny Benson were entertaining and knowledgeable. I always looked forward to watching it. Now I cut the grass on Monday's. Schraders out of a ride so he'll be out of INC. Loved his stories when he was aloud to tell them. What has happened to Mikey? Maybe the dumpster can take him away, you know the garbage truck they can hear when they are taping the show.

Anonymous said...

Well, ol' Mikey wadded up the car during today's qualifying for the Coke 600. That's 11 DNQ's in 12 events.

Ol' Kenny wasn't behind the wheel at all. Bill Elliott qualified the Wood Bros car for the event. I don't know if Kenny's planning to run in the Truck race, but who cares?

So the two core "experts" of the show will be at home for the 600, watching on TV like the rest of us. Why should any Speed viewer listen to the analysis of drivers who weren't even at the race? At least Vickers and The Biff will be on the track, and Dave Despain will be covering the race. I can't wait to hear what Kenny and Mikey will be babblin' about but it sure as heck won't be about what they experienced on the track!