Monday, September 17, 2007

Mike Massaro Rides To The Rescue


This Monday on ESPN2 was the first time the one hour version of NASCAR Now has included The Chase. Even with all the hype of last week, the Chase actually began in New Hampshire, and this Monday things would finally be in-progress.

Easily moving through a thirty minute program during the week with scripted material, show host Erik Kuselias has struggled on the one hour Monday shows. The NASCAR gang is all back in the greater Charlotte area, and normally Kuselias is alone in the Bristol, CT studios of ESPN2.

The program has mainly consisted of Kuselias talking to a big TV monitor on a wall in the studio that plays host to driver interviews, the NASCAR Now reporters, and the opinions of Tim Cowlishaw and Brad Daugherty. Along with the extensive use of highlights and soundbites from the previous day's race, the show has relied on newcomer Shannon Spake to file a Monday report from Charlotte.

This Monday, Spake's report was already a day old and was taped in New Hampshire. Along with Kuselias, Spake wrapped the profiles of The Chase contenders and their good or bad luck in the race. Unfortunately, this left non-Chasers JJ Yeley, Ryan Newman, and Casey Mears out in the cold even though they finished in the top ten.

In trying to deal with The Chase for the first time, the network has re-discovered the fact that they have several very experienced NASCAR reporters in their midst. Both Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro have been doing the "NASCAR thing" for a long time. They have both been through the highs and lows of this sport professionally and personally. What they both have is a commitment to NASCAR racing.

This season, Bestwick has been moved into the Infield Studio for the Busch Series telecasts on a regular basis. He has also hosted several race telecasts earlier in the year, when Dr. Jerry Punch was on vacation or the schedule was split. A couple of times he has even hosted an episode of NASCAR Now. It seems that for The Chase, Bestwick will be relegated once again to pit road reporting on ABC.

Mike Massaro has hosted NASCAR Now, and contributed to other ESPN networks and media outlets this season. Just like Jerry Punch, ESPN owes Massaro a debt of gratitude for almost single-handedly keeping the ESPN coverage of NASCAR alive during the difficult days several years ago. NASCAR was so angry with ESPN they literally locked Massaro out of the tracks. Luckily, that ESPN administration has passed and tempers have cooled. Several hundred million dollars has a strange way of doing just that.

Back on NASCAR Now, Kuselias has led the show through a dry thirty minutes of NHIS highlights and then a strange interview with Clint Bowyer. Big credit goes to Bowyer for taking a deep breath and keeping a straight face during some of the questions. As usual, Marty Smith came by and did his professional job of delivering the news in a manner that fans can understand. It certainly is hard after seven months to continue to have questions read to Marty one-by-one from the host. Isn't it about time to just "throw" to him for "the news?"

Kuselias then retreated to the Home Depot Garage, which might have seemed like a good idea in a Sales meeting, but in real life...not so much. The orange car on the ESPN2 set surrounded by some tools and a video wall is certainly...interesting. Luckily, when the camera opened up, viewers saw Mike Massaro standing to the left.

All Kuselias has to do was read his scripted questions and get out of the way. That much he can do. Massaro began to talk, without a script or a teleprompter, and things on the show began to change. Once again, just like when Bestwick hosted the program, viewers got the feeling there was finally somebody talking to them who absolutely brought top of the line credentials.

In just an instant, Massaro was on a roll and talking about things that viewers want to know behind-the-scenes. He addressed his comments to both the viewers and Kuselias, and spoke in no uncertain terms. He addressed the Childress drivers, The Chase dynamics, and related many personal conversations he had with the participants.

One of his best comments concerned having both the "racers" and the "Chasers" on the track at the same time. In his own energetic style, he talked about the in-race dynamics and the different scenarios that may play-out as The Chase races on.

In closing, the camera showed Massaro and Kuselias once again in the Home Depot Garage in Connecticut. Massaro was confident and smiling, while all Kuselias could do was mutter that Massaro would be on-hand Mondays in the studio for the rest of The Chase.

The program then re-aired for the third time a profile on Jeff Gordon used on Sunday's NASCAR Now, in the ABC pre-race show, and once again on Monday night. After the mandatory Aerosmith video, it was time to go home.

This program is the most valuable tool for NASCAR to get across the excitement and the true dynamic of what is transpiring in the sport. Not only in The Chase, but for the entire season and into next year. Kuselias alone is crushing, not because of his scripted text, but because his live interviews are beyond rudimentary.

No specifics are ever addressed, no "racing language" is every used, and nothing is every accomplished when they are over. Essentially, its just a big waste of time. With Mike Massaro at ESPN and in the studio, perhaps he can be given an opportunity to step-in and conduct some interviews of these high profile guests as the time left in the season trickles down to single digits.

As one emailer put it, "NASCAR Now does not know what they are missing, because they never had it in the first place." Massaro instantly knows what they are missing, and adds a credible on-set element that has been sorely lacking on this one hour program. Increasing his role can only have positive benefits for the network, and the sport. Right now, ESPN really needs some positive NASCAR exposure.


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11 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I turned to NN for the first half and couldn't stomach what I was watching so I turned to something else. Thanks for sticking with it to see Mike M and letting me know it definitly got better.

Anonymous said...

Wait, Aerosmith has done NASCAR videos? Really?

As for showing a Jeff Gordon profile for the THIRD time, are you really surprised? Junior is out, so Gordon is the only NASCAR driver in The Chase that the "casual fan" has heard about or cares about. So the rest of the season will be "The Jeff Gordon Show."

I hope Clint Bowyer keeps on winning. Maybe we'll start to find out about him too.

Anonymous said...

Any idea of the ratings NN is getting - like in comparison with what ESPN2 had in that slot last year? Or what the other shows like Baseball Tonight or the daily college football show get?

Jayski has news/links about the race ratings today. ESPN/ABC says the ratings were up slightly compared to the race last year on TNT, while a sports business journal says NHIS was the lowest overnight rating for NASCAR race on a network since 2004. It says more people watched golf (golf!) than the race.

I tried to watch NN when it started, but I had a hard time making it through the show and don't really watch anymore. I don't know if it's Kuselias or not. I just don't like the show, especially those picks and predictions that seemed to occur every single episode. It eats up a lot of the show, and like you said, makes the show seem like a waste of time. They should just do their picks Sunday morning -once- like on RaceDay.

It's not as informative as it should be and it's not as entertaining as it should be. I don't want a version of the all-entertainment NASCAR Nation that was on SPEED to return, but that show had some nice features showing drivers at some racing and charity events during the race week. (I admit I liked the concept of NASCAR Nation and I'm probably the only one who will ever admit it. But I thought it should have been on for an hour once a week, not every day.)

And I want to hear from the drivers. One good thing that NASCAR Nation did was have a driver co-host the show once a week. Not only did drivers who may not have a lot of time in front of the cameras get some TV experience (like Travis Kvapil), but it was good to hear their thoughts. But NN being in Bristol may make it difficult for them to have a driver co-host.

Anonymous said...

When I turn on NascarNow and see Klueless as the host I just turn it off. I wonder how many other people do that and if ESPN cares? My guess is they don't. If Massaro were to be the everyday host ratings would double. I don't see them using a Nascar guy to host the "stick and ball" highlight shows why do they use a "stick and ball" guy to host the Nascar highlight show? Until Nascar cares nothing will change. In the meantime I will keep checking to see who the host is and turning it off if its Klueless. Except maybe Mondays now I will have to watch the last half to see Massaro's part.

Anonymous said...

It looks like Eric Kuselias does Saturday thru Wednesday, and Ryan Burr does Thursday and Friday.

Anonymous said...

"Kuselias has led the show through a dry thirty minutes of NHIS highlights and then a strange interview with Clint Bowyer. Big credit goes to Bowyer for taking a deep breath and keeping a straight face during some of the questions."

I just watched the Bowyer interview from NASCAR Now on the ESPN.com NASCAR page. I didn't see anything wrong or strange about it. It was a good interview -nothing spectacular, but nothing bad. He asked what Clint did to celebrate, asked about why his car was so strong Sunday, asked about his chances coming up. Nothing confrontational. Bowyer smiled and/or chuckled throughout it, he didn't seem annoyed by anything and gave good answers.

They have Massaro and Smith clips up, they were good.

darbar said...

One has to wonder, what will ESPN do if a relative nobody wins the Cup? They can't help themselves but profile their "chosen boy wonders", and they will probably have to bring in some kind of ringer because Kuselias will have some sort of brain hemmorage not knowing what to say about a driver who's not named Gordon, Earnhardt or Stewart.

Anonymous said...
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JHD said...

Again, one of the 5 still watching NN here. But I may have to reconsider this.

There's a 30 minute NN wrapup late Sunday night/early Monday morning at 12:30 am. Why do they even bother with it when it's shoved into the firts 30 minutes of the 1 hour version the following day? I accidentally DVRd both shows and it was pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that Stacy and Tim C are on the 12:30 am version.

If they're trying to compete with Victory Lane, it's not working considering VL aired about 4 hours earlier. It's not competing with FOX's Around The Track because no one even knows that show is on. What's the point? It's not live, nor groundbreaking in any way, they might as well wait until Monday at 5:30.

All it does it allow Erik and Tim C one more opportunity to break their arms patting themselves on the back for interviewing Clint Bowyer twice in one day and "helping him get the win". Because really that interview was all Clint had been waiting before he could go out and win a race.

Is it Ryan Burr's day to host NN yet?

darbar said...

The overnight ratings for the Loudon race was 2.8. NFL games on Fox and CBS, plus the golf championship both beat Nascar. Last year, the race got a 4.0 rating. Doesn't bode well for ESPN/ABC or Nascar, does it? How long will it take Nascar to admit they have a problem, and part of that problem is ESPN. Oh, and if you think it's bad now, wait till Nascar brings in even more foreign drivers. Remember what the foreign invasion did to open wheel racing? Nascar needs to wake up and address this increasing disinterest in Nascar on TV.