Saturday, August 25, 2007
Saturday's "NASCAR Now" Avoids The Obvious
The comments on the ESPN.com website say it loud and clear. Adding-in the posts on The Daly Planet, Speedtv.com, and some other NASCAR-related websites hammers the point home. NASCAR fans are tired of bad TV.
Friday night, ESPN lost their Busch Series live feed from Bristol, TN with four laps to go at the end of an exciting race. The production team on the ground did they best they could when things returned to recap the action, and still try to get in the post-race interviews. Viewers, however, never really had a handle on what had transpired when the technical problems intervened.
Saturday morning, ESPN's one hour version of NASCAR Now took to the air. Finally, we would be hearing from the ESPN Producer, or perhaps an ESPN spokesman. They would probably apologize for the problem, offer the official explanation, and then NASCAR Now would fill-in the blanks for NASCAR fans of what happened over those last several fantastic laps.
It never happened. It was never addressed. Viewers got the latest "Junior says don't yell at Theresa" news right off the top of the show, but not a thing about what actually happened on Friday night. This is the new reality that ESPN says you must accept. A reality that they craft in production meetings, with public relations people, and with the overwhelming mandate that ESPN cannot be wrong...ever.
The Busch Series highlights did not even appear in the first segment of this show. When they finally did, they did not feature a replay of the last four or five laps. The entire NASCAR Now highlight coverage of the big Busch Series night race at Bristol consisted of fifty seconds of highlights. Less than one minute of time devoted to ESPN's premiere NASCAR event of Friday night.
With the Busch Series race flushed, and the Truck Series race avoided at all costs, ESPN set-out for another hour of self-promotion and rhetoric. That calls for only one person...the wonderfully naive Brad Daugherty. Once again, Daugherty stood front-and-center and talked about the obvious. Between the inane bellowing of host Erik Kuselias, and the endless NASCAR 101 answers of Daugherty, this show is driving NASCAR fans away in droves.
To make sure the nail is in the coffin, NASCAR Now broke out the deadly Tim Cowlishaw. When Daugherty and Cowlishaw both show-up, the program basically becomes Around The NASCAR Horn. This was no exception. Two guys who have never turned a lap or a wrench just sitting around talking. Kuselias gets pumped-up and loves to ask "dangerous" questions of Cowlishaw. He ran a couple of insignificant "Junior hype" questions past Tim, and then promised he would return to pick his winner.
Neil Everett voiced a "package" on Ricky Rudd's career, and it led to a field recap and then the newest wonderful weekly feature. NASCAR Now has decided that each week they must pick the race winner. Since everything at ESPN is based on statistics, ESPN has a feature called The Eliminator. Kuselias loves to explain that it is only past records that dictate the winners in NASCAR, and The Eliminator just picks which "driving robot" will win this week. Talk about denigrating a sport that thrives on personalities.
Boris Said and Stacy Compton continued to be present on the HD Set in Bristol, CT and both of them usually spend the entire hour disagreeing with Cowlishaw and Kuselias. Boris and Stacy must secretly have some wonderful conversations after these shows. When they look around and see Kuselias, Daugherty, Cowlishaw, and Holtzman they absolutely know that this is not Kansas anymore.
One big problem is NASCAR Now actually sends a "pool" reporter like Bob Holtzman to the NEXTEL Cup race each week. Why a reporter who does not cover NASCAR all the time serves to cover ESPN's feature race for this show has never been explained. Imagine, with both the ESPN booth announcers and the pit reporters present on-scene, NASCAR Now continues to use part-time NASCAR reporters like Wendy Nix, David Amber, and Holtzman.
So, another hour of NEXTEL Cup hype is over. The Busch Series gets less than one minute of highlights, no interview with the winner, and no sound from Kyle Busch about his pit road incident. No mention of the ESPN on-air failure, no explanation, and no "make-good" by showing the last five laps which would have taken all of about three minutes. No mention of the Truck race showing off the second groove, even though Truck racing footage was used as the example.
Many NASCAR TV fans will move on to Trackside, which shows-up on the SPEED Channel right after NASCAR Now today. The clash of TV styles could not be more intense. Just as we see two realities on NASCAR Now, we also see two very different realities in the remaining NASCAR TV partners as the sport heads down the stretch.
The "perfect" look of the ESPN on-air announcers makes them all look like they just walked out of "make-up." The informality of SPEED makes some of their guys look like they just "woke-up." This final drive to Homestead should be very interesting.
Tonight's NEXTEL Cup race may be the most challenging assignment of many TV careers. The new track surface allows two wide racing, and that is going to be very new to ESPN. Will they follow the leader, or go to the racing action? NASCAR Now will offer a wrap-up show at midnight. That should be worth recording for any fan, as this race may hold some things a lot of fans have not seen before.
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