Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TV Networks Cover Junior Like A Blanket

Fans had a very easy time finding out all the information available on the big Dale Earnhardt Junior announcement. On the Internet, on Sirius Satellite Radio, and all over the television world, the media played a big game of follow-the-leader all day long. Two of NASCAR's TV partners, SPEED Channel and ESPN, pre-empted regular programming to cover this breaking news.

For a wide variety of reasons, SPEED decided not to originate a daily motorsports news program this year. The network concentrated on building its presence at the NASCAR races, and has met with great success. SPEED originates multiple programs from the "SPEED stage" usually located just outside the track.

While this has been very popular with the fans, it sometimes leaves the network a bit short when a big motorsports story breaks during the week. With the Junior story, the network turned to the dependable John Roberts to anchor from the Charlotte studio and Bob Dilner to report from the field. The network carried the news conference live, and then did a thirty minute recap show in the evening.

One of the best voices on this subject was Jeff Hammond. Speaking on the SPEED set with John Roberts, Hammond offered a great overview of the entire Junior situation, and used his personal perspective to put all the pieces of this puzzle in place. Away from the Hollywood Hotel and Chris Myers, Hammond sounded every bit like a veteran spokesman for the sport. His honesty, and well-spoken commentary on this situation really capped-off SPEED's efforts.

ESPN also opted to cover the press conference live, and put together a special one hour version of NASCAR Now for Wednesday evening. The show called-in almost everyone from the NASCAR Now cast, and allowed a wide variety of personalities to chime-in on the Junior move. Reporter Marty Smith started with a recap of the days events and what is known, and not known, so far about the issues.

Rusty Wallace stepped-up and stated that it was Earnhardt Junior who was getting the better part of this deal. Wallace flat-out said Earnhardt could not win where he was, and Hendrick Motorsports was the place to be. Even with the recent success of Martin Truex Jr. on the track, Brad Daugherty agreed with Wallace and said that Junior's fans "expect him to be a champion."

As the new kid on the block, field reporter Shannon Spake drew the short straw and had to report on the Kyle Busch story. Standing alongside Smith and Wallace outside JR Motorsports, Spake relayed the official party line about Busch moving on with no hard feelings. As to the big question about Busch leaving his ride early, she made good sense in reminding everyone that Kyle might make "The Chase." Leaving early would only ruin the sponsor's ties to Hendrick and end the season on a bad note.

Leave it to the plain-spoken Boris Said to tell host Erik Kuselias that Kyle Busch will "drive the five car like he stole it" for the rest of the season. In hilarious fashion, Said suggested that Rick Hendrick should list Jeff Gordon as Junior's new car owner. He said it would be hard for the fans to throw beer cans at Junior's boss. Unfortunately, Kuselias did not understand the owner reference and went right back to the script, and the next question. Another host might still be laughing.

Reporter Angelique Chengelis stated that the DEI company itself is "moving on." With Kyle Busch now open for offers, it would be interesting if he winds-up swapping places with Junior. Chengelis was never given an opportunity to speak about Greg Biffle possibly filling the Junior seat at DEI, and what that would mean to the fans. That was a shame, as it is the hottest topic following the Junior news.

Halfway through the show, to "reset" the scene for viewers who tuned-in at the normal time of 6:30 PM, NASCAR Now broke out their "heavyweight piece." Everything else up to that point proved to be fluff when veteran reporter Mike Massaro delivered an exclusive interview with Rick Hendrick taped immediately after the announcement. Massaro "speaks NASCAR," and delivered the questions to Hendrick that fans wanted answered. When Hendrick told Massaro that Junior "fit with him, and that this was not a new relationship" it was the best statement about this deal from any reporter or network.

Massaro continued to allow Hendrick to speak slowly and carefully about how Junior would mesh with his other superstars. It was clear that Hendrick was comfortable with Massaro, and Hendrick's explanations gave a great perspective on how things had transpired, and what was expected in the future. It was amazing that the NASCAR Now producer did not "tease" this interview earlier in the show. Just one small soundbite or two would have kept any viewer waiting for the full conversation.

Incredibly, the interview was cut-off rudely with no closing statement or "wrap" from Massaro. Erik Kuselias in the studio never even mentioned Massaro's name at the end of the interview. With the news that Massaro will be hosting the qualifying show and also NASCAR Countdown this weekend from Kentucky, perhaps Kuselias is not the happiest camper. Kuselias was tried, and removed, from that position earlier this season. Good luck to Mike Massaro this weekend, after all the hard work he has put in at ESPN over the years, he deserves a chance to "step-up."

This season, reporter Terry Blount has been delivering good content and mixing it with veteran perspective. His analysis that Ginn Racing might be in the mix for Kyle Busch was interesting. When he coupled it by saying that Ginn believes Mark Martin might be a great mentor for Kyle, and help him with the issues he is dealing with, it made even more sense. What a curious "father-son" dynamic that would be.

Its been interesting that an ABC-owned company would allow an NBC personality on the air, but CNBC financial reporter Darren Rovell has been a regular on NASCAR Now. In this show, he referenced the fact that Budweiser needs Junior. The other professional sports leagues do not allow their athletes to represent alcohol brands. He also answered the question of why Bud would not want to leave Junior for another driver, because the "Red Army" backlash would only result in a decrease in beer sales. His point, which was well made, was that Budweiser would be crazy not to follow Junior wherever he goes.

It was at this point in the one hour show that NASCAR Now unleashed the bombshell. Since the beginning of the show, it had never been mentioned. It had never been "teased" or shown. The host had never said the magic words that fans wanted to hear until he introduced it. Fans that had grown tired of recaps of the same information from different perspectives had left.

It seems incredible that NASCAR Now, the only daily NASCAR TV show, had an exclusive interview with Junior and did not mention it once in forty five minutes of show time.

Right out of commercial, Kuselias read the script and there was Mike Massaro talking with Junior. "I'm thirty-two years old" were the first words from Junior in this heartfelt interview. "I would not dodge the pressure...because of fear of failure" said Junior. Massaro let him talk about Jeff Gordon, and Junior started the process of letting fans understand how things would work between them. When Junior told Massaro he was looking forward to "the risk" of this new deal, it was great.

Then, as with many things this season on NASCAR Now, disaster struck again. After Massaro asked Junior how close he came to going to RCR and driving the three car, the tape abruptly stopped. Erik Kuselias appeared on-camera and started talking without ever saying why the interview was ended early. Technical problems? Short on time? At least tell the viewers why the one interview with the man the entire show was about was suddenly cut short in mid-sentence.

Kuselias went on to read "viewer mail." But, the posts were not about NASCAR Now, they were about Junior. They were just comment posts from ESPN Sports Nation, their forum. We missed the end of the Junior interview for email from fans about Junior? After all the effort and manpower that went into this show, it was a bittersweet closing segment.

The journalists, reporters, anchors, analysts, and interviews in this special one hour show created a large amount of sold content for the network. They all delivered very well done pieces, and reported carefully on a news story that was still a moving target. They showed exactly what NASCAR Now can be when the resources and manpower of ESPN are harnessed for one purpose. No doubt we will see many segments of this show posted on the ESPN and Jayski websites for the next several days.

Perhaps, one of those segments will be Junior's great interview with Mike Massaro, which was interrupted. Many long time fans of NASCAR with close ties to Earnhardt Sr. would like to know just how close Junior came to a deal with RCR. Seeing Junior in a black number three car, even if it was Budweiser sponsored, would have stood the sport on its ear. Hopefully, that question will be answered sometime.

ESPN put on an impressive display of what they can do when focused. With the NEXTEL Cup races only a couple of weeks away from migrating to ABC Sports, this cast of reporters and journalists might find that today was a good rehearsal for the kind of effort the network will have to put together on a daily basis when "The Chase" is in full swing.

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


Anonymous said...

Well I'm glad to hear that my DVR didn't have the hiccup I thought it did during the Junior/Massaro interview. I had a passing thought that ESPN screwed up again.

Don't worry though, more than likely you'll see this interview in its entirety on the ESPN BUSCH coverage on Saturday because as we all know, they never talk about the actual Busch competitors during the Busch broadcasts.

As long as I'm typing away here, while I know you were a little hard on the TNT broadcast, I thought it was a nice change of pace from the ESPN coverage. TNT didn't mention Junior all that much, but it seems as if ESPN mentions Junior on every third word that is scripted. Evidently, they think that the entire series rests on Junior's shoulders. (Yes, I am a Junior fan, but I do know when I'm being pandered to.)

SophiaZ123 said...

As a fan of Jr (and many other drivers) I enjoyed the interview with Rick Hendrick. But the major bomb to me was the HORRIFIC ABRUPT ending to the JUNIOR INTERVIEW!!

WTH? If there is ONE THING I wanted to hear was the specificity of why Jr did not go to RCR, or at least what Jr wanted to share. But my tv screen froze in an awkward manner, as Jr talked a few more words, then bam, cut off midsentence.

Uh, HELLO, Erik. Are you even LISTENING or WATCHING your own show!?!

The entire media had this Junior Jamboree today and what might have been the best interview was hacked off abruptly.


PammH said...

I am happy to say that the special ESPN did at 8:30 on their Gameday show had the Jr interview in it's entirety. And it was worth the wait. Jr. was very anguished about going to RCR, because of the comparisons w/his father. It was heartbreaking to watch...

TCBritt said...

i just wish ESPN would get a normal schedule for this show, my DVR never knows if it should record a 30 or 60 minute show

Anonymous said...

You talked about the wonderful job Jeff Hammond did on Speed yesterday. Why did you fail to mention Hammond got the story WRONG two weeks ago when he reported on FOX that Earnhardt was going to Gibbs? He said it was a done deal. He was wrong. You should have brought that up in your blog today.

Vince said...

I have to agree with sophiaz123. Being a long time NASCAR fan since the mid 60's and a Dale Sr. fan, what I really wanted to hear from Jr. was how close he came to signing with RCR. And his comments get chopped off with no explanation. If it was a technical glitch, FIX it and re-air the interview. Since ESPN started NASCARNow back in Feb. I have been astounded at the lack of quality in their production. Is this show produced by the Bristol, CT high school AV Club??? Come on guys!! The one thing we all wanted to hear was how close he came to signing with RCR and what was his though process in not signing with them.

This show totally frustrates me. I can not believe Erik K. is still the host. Do the ESPN Execs ever watch this show?? I guess not. I know Allen Bestwick has other commitments during the week, but couldn't he host the show a couple of nights? And Ryan Burr the rest? And PLEASE find some technical people that know how to run the video playback equipment. I'm hoping the Jr. interview will be posted some where on the Internet or replayed in full on tonights NASCARNow.

Anonymous said...

Did you notice that, within the live press conference, there was not a single mention of the fact that ESPN was also carrying it live? Only the SPEED channel coverage was referenced, several times.

That's telling.

And Erik is unwatchable. So didn't watch ESPN's wrapup; now, hearing that they--to use a word ESPN seems to know--fumbled their exclsuive interview, I can't say I am surprised.

Anonymous said...

John, Wonder why you didn't mention the the e-mail addy that E.K. announced during the show? I'll be using it to send PLENTY of feedback to them!

Tom in Bristol

Anonymous said...

NO! NO! You've got it all wrong!

Don't you see? ESPN, in their continuing need to take credit for everything in tv, decided that the Sopranos ending (cut to black) was actually a copy of the ESPN style of exemplified in the "ending" of the Jr interview.

Anonymous said...

The cool relationship between Erik K. and the rest of NASCARNow must allow ESPN to save a lot of money on air conditioning for the NASCARNow set in the other Bristol.

The two minutes of NN that I did manage to stomach had Angelique C. being asked scripted questions (not interview) by Erik K. and at the end, Erik K. thanked Angelique but received no warmth or thanks back. Erik K. seemed flustered for a minute as if he was expecting her to say "Thank you Erik for reading so nicely".

This is not the first time that Erik K. has received a subtle jab from one of the reporters - Marty Smith has done the same thing.

Oddly enough, the few times I do tune in to NN, this seems to be happening - and I doubt that I am just tuning in for those "rare" occurances.

One thing I wonder about, with characters such as Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, who are not above picking on those poor hair-sprayed poofs in the booth or the studio - why haven't they said a word about Erik K? Or is he just such a non-issue with the drivers that a mention of him would give him credibility that he does not deserve?

ESPN itself has gone from a "must watch" in the morning, to a quip spewing, drama creating, self-important monster that is best just surfed around and ignore.

NN is painful for me to watch in large doses - if I want NASCAR News I come here, go to Jayski, or turn to SPEED. Thanks to enduring NN's kabuki-like drama and madness.

Desmond said...

I was also dismayed by the abrupt end to the Dale Jr. interview. Whatever caused it, ESPN owes us an apology.

As for Darren Revell's appearance, remember that he worked for ESPN before coming to CNBC.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't ESPN try Dr. Punch as the host of "NASCAR Now" to give it more credibility? It's obvious that EK doesn't like racing and probably accepted the hosting position of the "NASCAR Now" program to make his way up the ladder to hosting a comeback version of "NHL Tonight".

I would also like to see more of Allen Bestwick on ESPN.

I just discovered this website and really enjoy it. Also, as a longtime Kyle Petty fan, I enjoyed your blog on FOX's lack of covering Petty's finish at Charlotte. That blog led me to this site.

Anonymous said...