Sunday, October 7, 2007
Sunday's "NASCAR Now" Different Without Bill Lester
UPDATE: For those of you asking, Jayski.com chose not to link this story. That is Jay's right as the editor of that website. You can make your own judgements about the fact that ESPN owns the Jayski.com website.
"You want wild, we got wild." said NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias about the track at Talladega, AL. "This is the place with its own infield jail."
So began the Sunday morning one hour edition of NASCAR Now, the most talked-about racing TV program of 2007.
Kuselias had on the set with him current Truck Series driver Stacy Compton and Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw. This trio has been playing out the same strange scenario for several months now. Sunday morning's show was no different.
Kuselias makes outrageous statements, often in the form of a question. The pattern is to hype a certain topic using help from Cowlishaw, and then give Compton a small amount of time to speak to the racing reality.
The biggest story of this week for those outside the ESPN bubble was the continuing problem between ESPN and Tony Stewart. In this program, the "voice of the fans" Brad Daugherty was put in the position of actually reporting on the fact that he had talked to Tony.
That's right, instead of a Tony interview, Daugherty was put on-camera talking "for Tony" about "what Tony was thinking" and "how Tony was feeling." He actually had to say those words several times in his piece.
Once again, Daugherty was ESPN's fall guy. If Daugherty had talked to Stewart, could he have maybe brought a camera along? A sound man? Then ESPN could have taped the interview, and NASCAR Now viewers could be watching Tony Stewart instead of Daugherty talk about the issues. The network had three days to get Tony Stewart do to an interview for this show...and failed.
It is obvious that Stewart and ESPN are on different wavelengths. It is high time that the ESPN executives sit-down with this high-profile driver and settle these issues. They cannot wait any longer to clear the air. If this issue blows-up again it could over-shadow The Chase itself and that would not be fair.
One big mistake that NASCAR Now has created simply to fill time in this one hour show is a feature called The Eliminator. Supposedly, it uses data from past races to pick a winner analytically and without the "human factor" involved. Basically, to race fans, its hilarious.
Imagine having the focus of this program shift from talking about the upcoming event to everyone on the show being forced to pick a winner against an artificially created TV feature? The minutes of this show burned-up with this could be better used to go and stay at the track for better race preview coverage. This is where ESPN is light years behind SPEED.
Kuselias said the Eliminator was "like an Oz...and its scientific" when Cowlishaw complained about this ridiculous feature. Compton was more succinct in his response to the Eliminator's "pick" of Kasey Kahne. He said "absolutely not." As the season roars down the stretch, the best thing NASCAR Now could do is "eliminate" this concept and focus this one hour on track side activity and a recap of all the NASCAR action from Friday and Saturday.
ESPN has used rookie reporter Shannon Spake in many roles this season, but NASCAR Now has really featured her in key interviews. Why Brad Daugherty has not been able to share this work load is unclear, but Spake interviewed Greg Biffle on this day and missed the boat in pinning him down about running out of gas at Kansas. Only a few hours later, Biffle would appear on tape during RaceDay, and admit to Wendy Venturini that he had run out of gas and the fuel light was on.
Spake also interviewed Jacque Villeneuve on his weekend racing in both the Truck and the Cup Series. She appeared right after the Craftsman Truck race highlights, but her interview never mentioned the Truck Series race, in which Villeneuve crashed.
This was the entire point, that Villeneuve had crashed in the Truck Series after swerving to avoid Trucks that were simply heading to pit road. None of the appropriate questions were asked of this open-wheel veteran. This is typical of the problems with NASCAR Now, sometimes the pieces don't fit together.
Last week, after a season of struggle, both Compton and Cowlishaw did not appear on the Sunday show. The new face on-the-air for ESPN was NASCAR veteran Bill Lester. An ESPN spokesperson told The Daly Planet that Lester's presence on NASCAR Now over the weekend was simply a one time experiment. I read that as an on-air audition.
The network has to make some changes to this daily series for next season. While the NASCAR Insiders of Marty Smith, Angelique Chengelis, and Terry Blount have been solid all season, the same cannot be said for the other spokes in this TV wheel.
Compton is knowledgeable, but his TV presence leaves a lot to be desired. Bill Lester is the type of NASCAR veteran who can bring the same level of experience and push the diversity agenda simultaneously. Compton has done a lot to establish a basic level of credibility, but in 2008 this needs to move up to the next level.
Lester handled everything Erik Kuselias threw at him during the weekend "experiment." His answers and opinions blended the personal and the professional in a way that Compton simply cannot. In addition, Lester appeared to match the controversial Kuselias in intellect and vocabulary stride-for-stride throughout his time on-the-air. That was certainly a new twist.
Just as the NASCAR owners use this time of the year to step-back and make their plans for 2008, so do the TV networks. NASCAR Now needs some re-tooling, and ESPN2 has stuck with their core crew through a lot of adversity this first year. Perhaps, now they have an idea of who will be the key players on the only daily NASCAR show on national television for next year.
ESPN has been shaken by the effect of SPEED's RaceDay on ABC's pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown. Moving RaceDay to a position of competing head-to-head with the actual ABC pre-race show was a bold move by SPEED. Now, the driving force behind ESPN re-tooling NASCAR Now might be SPEED's possible creation of a daily NASCAR news program of its own.
Having just made a multi-million dollar commitment to High Definition for 2008, SPEED may well be planning to step-up to the plate and take another swing at a daily NASCAR program. With SPEED just passing the seventy million home mark, they are closing in on ESPN2 at a rapid rate.
It will be interesting to see if ESPN "auditions" anyone else on NASCAR Now before the season is over. Viewer suggestions have ranged from Bob Jenkins as the host to Dale Jarrett as the Monday night "review" analyst. With only a handful of weeks left, it should be interesting to see who else "shows up" on NASCAR Now.
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