Monday, November 19, 2007
"Inside NEXTEL Cup" Quietly Walks Away
The big boys were on the studio set at the NASCAR Images building in Charlotte, NC. It was the Monday after the season had ended, and Kenny Schrader, Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle were ready to get this show done and get on vacation. Only one thing stood in their way...Dave Despain.
All three drivers were fresh-faced and wide awake, a situation questioned by Despain about the level of partying that followed the Homestead race. Greg Biffle answered the question by saying "I only finished thirteenth."
Off to the races for one last time the trio followed Despain's prompting and lent a good focus to the events as they unfolded on the Cup side. Despain was not impressed with the race, and headed into the highlight segment with a rather deep breath.
In this program, Despain added some impromptu questions for the panel about incidents on pit road and Cup Series rookies. This non-scripted conversation was always a hallmark of the "old" INC and often led things into hilarious territory.
For whatever reason, this "new" version of INC, now several years old, has some feeling that viewers are seeing race highlights for the first time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most fans are here for the fun, having seen The SPEED Report, Victory Lane, NASCAR Now, or even SportsCenter.
The entire point of the "old" show was that having fun was the priority, and if the highlights got shown before Allen Bestwick had a coronary...that was OK too. While there are some occasional smiles, that spirit is gone and has never returned.
Schrader tries to move things in a fun direction now and again, but Despain reels the panel in quickly and gets back to the script. In Monday's program, several brief "mini-discussions" popped-up and showed the depth of experience and knowledge of the panel. This aspect is sorely missed on a regular basis.
After the highlights finished, the Toyota subject came up and Waltrip was staunch in his defense of this company's foray into the Cup side. Once again, Schrader was the voice of experience in saying that it was not where Toyota "was" in Cup at present, it was where they are going.
The rest of the show continued as normal, with some inside jokes flying between Waltrip and Schrader. Greg Biffle has become a solid member of this panel, and his serious personality fits well with the hyperactive Waltrip and the laid-back Schrader.
Throughout the season, this show has experienced highs and lows that seemed to be determined by tension among the cast and lack of innovation from the production team. The "hot seat" guest is gone, the viewer questions are boring, and there are no fun features anywhere to be seen.
It has come down to a re-hash of highlights already seen by fans in a TV show all alone on Monday nights with no other NASCAR programming support. It kind of makes it seem even more ironic that the show is from NASCAR Images, where the panel sits surrounded by thousands of hours of NASCAR footage.
In this season-ending program, there were no "out-takes or bloopers" shown going to commercial. There were no memorable moments played back or remembered by the cast. As we have so often seen from NASCAR Images this season, there was only random NASCAR footage edited into a music video. What a complete waste of time.
On that set were two drivers who have participated in this program for the last decade. In this show, they were asked about races, manufacturers and even rookies. What they were never asked about was this show...this series...the last ten years of their lives spent Mondays in the same studio.
It was great that Despain casually made the statement that the show would return next season. It would have been nice if just like the other "final" programs on SPEED, INC would have spent some time and given viewers some retrospective of what had transpired over the last ten months on the set.
Remember, there is no longer running show on SPEED than INC. In this final hour of what had been a very memorable year for a lot of reasons, fans deserved more than just Despain offering each driver thirty seconds to say what he "is doing in the off-season."
When INC returns, let us hope for several things. First, that SPEED places some additional NASCAR programming like Tradin' Paint, NASCAR Performance, Survival of the Fastest, and maybe even a live edition of WindTunnel on Monday nights. The hodge-podge of lifestyle shows likes PINKS and Payback make INC a lonely NASCAR island.
Secondly, that more resources are used to allow some additional show elements. This stripped-down version of INC that was created by an executive no longer at the network should be scrapped. Shoot a feature at the track, bring in a guest, and allow the fans to submit their questions through Internet video. Do something to dust-off this old war horse and make it young again.
The original SpeedVision Executive Producer Bob Scanlon had a simple idea. Get one driver from each NASCAR manufacturer, add a host that could get them talking, and do it on the Monday after each race.
While that idea has changed slightly over the years, the fundamental premise has been proven to stand the test of time. It will be nice to see INC return for another season, and even nicer to see it grow back into the franchise program it was for this network for so many years.
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