Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jimmie Johnson Left All Alone At ESPN

Jimmie Johnson gets to hang-out with some pretty cool people. On the Tuesday following the Homestead Championship Weekend, Jimmie Johnson made an appearance in Bristol, CT at the headquarters of ESPN. Johnson was there as the two-time champ to appear on the network's daily motorsports program, NASCAR Now.

This was a tremendous opportunity to "pay-off" the season for this TV series, which has struggled with both the fans and the ratings. Now, they had the champ on the set, and he was going to stay for the entire thirty minute show.

Over the last ten months, ESPN has used Stacy Compton and Boris Said as the analysts for this series. Compton has worked especially hard, and put himself through a brutal season of driving fulltime in the Craftsman Truck Series while still appearing regularly on this program in Connecticut.

For NASCAR technical experience, the show has brought in Tim Brewer all season. Added to Brewer's experienced perspective were the commentaries on the sport from both Brad Daugherty and Tim Cowlishaw. While Brewer represented the "nuts and bolts" of NASCAR, Daugherty and Cowlishaw offered opinions and predictions.

The bright spot for the show has been the hard work of the reporters. Shannon Spake has provided yeoman's work this season, and is clearly the MVP of this series. Also, throughout "The Chase," ESPN's highest-profile NASCAR veteran Mike Massaro has been flying to Bristol to appear in-person with "Chase" updates each week.

On the hard news side, Marty Smith's "Lead Reporter" role has been complimented by Angelique Chengelis and Terry Blount. David Newton will be the subject of a Daly Planet column later this off-season.

Along with Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace, this daily TV series has been a seemingly endless array of veteran NASCAR personalities who all functioned in support of only one person. Back in 2006, ESPN chose a non-racing experienced host for NASCAR Now. He almost ran this new series into the ground right out of the box.

Erik Kuselias is a stick-and-ball guy, a lawyer by trade, and his second career is sports radio. He had never hosted any type of TV series on ESPN before NASCAR Now. The network knew it was crucial that he be surrounded by experts and analysts all the time simply to be able to provide even the basic information about the sport to the viewers.

On this day, Kuselias introduced Jimmie Johnson as the camera opened wide on the High Definition studio set of NASCAR Now. It was strangely quiet. The reason was simple, no one else was there.

To Johnson's left there was no Stacy Compton, and no Boris Said. Tim Cowlishaw was not waiting to have his turn with the champ, and Brad Daugherty was not standing-by on the satellite video screen to offers his thoughts and questions.

On the TV monitor wall where the reporters appear, there was no Marty Smith or Terry Blount. Over by the Home Depot "garage" on the set, there was no Mike Massaro.

In what may have been one of the worst studio television production decisions of the year, ESPN plunked the NEXTEL Cup Champ on the set with the one person on the entire NASCAR Now staff who knows absolutely nothing about stock car racing.

Here are some excerpts of questions asked to Johnson by Kuselias:

"Were you nervous (before the Homestead race)?"

"Did you know where Jeff was on the track (at Homestead)?"

"Did you have a winning car at Homestead?"

"What are you thinking there (while crossing the finish line for the NEXTEL Cup Championship)?"

"How did you celebrate?"

"How would you feel if you averaged a 5.1 place finish for "The Chase" and came in second (like Gordon)?"

"Boris Said described your life as the American Dream...what other (non-NASCAR) things would you like to do?"

In closing the program segment, Kuselias said "I saw you in the ESPN lunch line...people were happy for you."

Kuselias had nothing more to say to the champ, because he knows nothing about the history or dynamics of NASCAR. He is NASCAR illiterate.

As with most NASCAR professionals, Johnson is made of Teflon and everything thrown at him by uninformed media types like Kuselias just slides right off. Stripped of his Lowe's, Chevy, and NASCAR logos by the ESPN fashion police, Johnson still managed to maintain his cool and take this embarrassing interview in stride.

After ignoring Dale Earnhardt Junior in Homestead, ESPN assigned Shannon Spake to follow-up with Johnson's new teammate. The relief on Junior's face after the race was clear, but his words were absolutely amazing.

"It will be nice to get around good people and quit having to deal with jerks," said Junior about his move out of DEI. This set Johnson up to welcome him with open arms on the show, and predict that both Junior and Casey Mears will wind-up making "The Chase" in 2008. That would be the last thing Johnson contributed.

Out of the next commercial, and with Johnson still on the set, NASCAR Now ran a pre-produced feature talking about the "silly season." Ryan Burr lent his voice to a three minute review of exactly the same content fans can read on anytime.

Amazingly enough, although the Jayski site is wholly-owned by ESPN, it was never mentioned. Imagine choosing to run a three minute "old news" feature with the 2007 NEXTEL Cup Champion sitting silently in the studio.

After the feature, as a closing question, Kuselias turned to Johnson and asked "when did you know you had made it, and could drive with anyone in NEXTEL Cup?" Johnson deflected the question by saying he was still hungry and fearful for his job. Then, he just couldn't resist any longer.

As if to end this absolutely awful interview with a parting shot, a smiling Johnson said "the second Championship might have helped."

With even more NASCAR egg on his face than usual, Kuselias threw to yet another ESPN screaming rock music video to end the 2007 run of NASCAR Now.

One can only wonder what was going through the heads of Marty Smith, Stacy Compton, Brad Daugherty, and the entire on-air crew of this TV series. After working hard all season in support of this racing-challenged host, the entire group was shut-out of the final program. What a bizarre ending for the season.

There were no smart or informed questions of Johnson. Stacy Compton and Boris Said with the champ would have been wonderful. Marty Smith putting things in perspective and asking his brand of questions would have been great. As ESPN's lead racing analyst, Rusty Wallace should have appeared in this program, even with a pre-recorded soundbite about Johnson.

This program should have shown-off the "NASCAR Now family" and put a "face" on this series for 2007. Instead, it ended as it started. Bad questions from a host who cannot hide his "deer in the headlights" look when he has to talk NASCAR.

Rumors of wholesale changes on this series for 2008 have been buzzing around for several weeks now, and certainly the network executives know an upgrade is needed. Someone with a firm hand needs to guide this TV series into mainstream NASCAR coverage, and then push it into the sport as a whole.

The Daly Planet will keep you up-to-date on this situation as it begins to take shape for the 2008 season. We would welcome your thoughts on the performance of NASCAR Now for the past ten months.

To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions. There is nothing to join, and we do not want your email address. Please read the rules for posting on the right side of the main page, and thanks once again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


SophiaZ123 said...

I did not know NN was even on the Tuesday after Homestead.

Re: EK questions?

John I wish you were making this stuff up as I cringed READING about it.

Glad I missed it but thanks for telling us about it.

Geezus, what a joke of a show.

Vince said...

After reading your blog JD, it just reinforces why many of us aren't watching this show anymore. ESPN needs to admit they made a huge mistake and throw a suitcase full of money at John Kernan or Bob Jenkins to be the host in 2008. None better than these two that I can think of.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- I have become so turned off by NN that I seldom check it any more and was unaware there was to be a program Tuesday even though I had heard comments on SportsCenter that JJ was to be at ESPN one day last week.
It sounds like everyone at ESPN took off after Homestead and the NN show was an afterthought - "Oh yeh, the N-Cup champion is going to be here, we'll have to have a show."
After all the criticism ESPN and NN have received, not being a media pro, I would have assumed ESPN would have wanted to end the season on a high and would have wanted to make a real effort to leave the fans with something positive. Also, presuming Erik K will not be back next season, I would have thought ESPN would have wanted him to just fade away - NOT be what the fans have to remember NN in the "off-season." Really does seem to illustrate the disconnect at ESPN.
More studio-event broadcasting warfare??
I hope Tuesday's NN was not your only turkey last week. Thanks.
Do you know whether anyone besides you and JJ's friends and relatives watched??

PammH said...

I watched, and was sooo disappointed by what JJ had to sit thru w/Erik...and I don't even LIKE JJ. It was a bad joke really-but they 4 letter station has give this all yr, imo,

Anonymous said...

Good God...I'm glad I didn't catch this episode.

Maybe change could also come about from the drivers themselves--by refusing to take part in this silliness. I guess they have to per contract, however. Too bad for them, huh?

Thanks for reporting on this, JD. I sincerely hope ESPN is serious about wholesale changes.

SallyB said...

ESPN just can't stop embarrassing themselves publicly. I stumbled across NN by accident on Tuesday, since there had been no notification that JJ was going to be on, or that there would even be a show! It certainly appeared it was a last minute decision to take advantage of 'the champ being in the area. Unfortunately, Erik K was the only one left in town to do the show with him. Instead of a good wrapup of the season, or intelligent information, ESPN once again dropped the ball.

Anonymous said...

John, I want to take a moment and thank you for your reviews of NASCAR Now all season. I only subjected myself to 2 episodes of the show back in February, and then flushed it out of my viewing schedule permanently.

Your reviews were so much better than what the Bozos in Bristol could have come up with.

I dare say that the Big-Boob version of Totally NASCAR would have kicked this pathetic show's butt in head-to-head ratings. At least they weren't trying to produce a serious television show (or were they?)

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else hear Jimmy Johnson "Thank" ESPN for the great job they did this year? I am sure it was in the script. Just one more slap in the face of the drivers and fans of NASCAR. Do they (ESPN) not understand what they are doing to the sport or do they just not care. Did they buy the rights to broadcast NASCAR to kill and bury it? Get rid of the stick and ball competition?

Thanx for letting me rant.

Anonymous said...

When will ESPN fire Erik? They best thing they did is fire that other bimbo on the show. When will they fire the current bimbo?

Anonymous said...

" Ryan Burr lent his voice to a three minute review of exactly the same content fans can read on anytime.
I do not watch NASCAR Now, it's the worst sports show on TV, but every once in a while when I'm flipping the channels, I see it on and stop for a minute and after a minute or so, I say to myself, I read that on Jayski this morning. I think they get all their information from Jayski in the mornings and put it on TV in the evenings. Insiders, what a joke! I laugh my butt off every time I hear "insider"!!! LOL LOL LOL LOL

Busch Series Fan! said...

I'm glad I missed this NN. And I'm not in any rush to see next year's broadcasts either.

Anonymous said...

ESPN needs to admit they made a huge mistake and throw a suitcase full of money at John Kernan or Bob Jenkins to be the host in 2008.


Anonymous said...

NASCAR Now is so bad, I wouldn't even watch it to see Dale Jr!

Anonymous said...

Did they buy the rights to broadcast NASCAR to kill and bury it?

Anonymous said...
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elena said...

Neat picture. Looks like JJ and Jr traded clothes.

I watched most of the last NN. I was just surfing and thought it was a re-run.

JD, you described it perfectly. I thought Erik made JJ look uncomfortable. Don't they have writers on ESPN that could have provided Erik with material?

Terrible last show of the year.

Lisa Hogan said...

I found the perfect remedy for the ESPN virus. I had a great race weekend in Homestead and a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation.

I gave up on Nascar Now long ago. You can’t fake NASCAR knowledge. ESPN has insulted fans all season by throwing their branded non-NASCAR employees in our faces.

I am looking forward to being here during the off season.

Jo said...

Thanks John for the review, I hope you had a good few days off.
I saw the show -a disclaimer first here - I really can't stand JJ, he's not my cup of tea as a tv person way too nice , good driver but...
I wouldn't wish the NN experience he went thru w/EK on my worst enemy. As stated by many others, the questions were awful,the set empty, - at first I thought it was a 15 min mini show. Nope. The fact that JJ deftly deflected EK questions and was able to make it without laughing out loud is a testament to his training on how to deal with the media. Erik could have used the questions asked on sportcenter ( kenny was hating NASCAR ), espn radio shows, or espn news. They were bad, not as bad as NN. However when JJ got in that he was still fearful for his job - he got a dig in about a 2nd championship might help him out - Erik never noticed . That was a great shot by JJ.
Hopefully espn powers saw this show & are relieving EK of his employment responibilities soon.

P.Stone said...

I would never have believed, in my wildest imagination, that ESPN could have dropped the ball on it's NASCAR coverage to the extent it has..from the horrid race commentation of RW AP and The almost everything else associated with it except the great website Jayski.. sure hope they get it together next season they are largly to blame for the sinking ratings well at least with the friends I talk with

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Would it be safe to presume that JJ's being at ESPN last Tuesday was not a last minute deal, but that it was arranged/agreed with NASCAR months in advance that the Cup champion would be at ESPN one day in the week after Homestead. In other words, ESPN had weeks or months to plan for the CUP champion's visit to ESPN headquarters - and flubbed up?

Anonymous said...

Watching NASCAR Now is a complete and utter waste of time ... NASCAR probably loses fans over it. Beyond never knowing WHEN it will be on, once it's on, one is subjected to the most inane, boring, lifeless production in the racing world. Likewise, their race coverage is just terrible and makes the PVR and the mute button standard equipment in the NASCAR fan's arsenal. ESPN _should_ be ashamed of themselves, but they really don't give a damn - they have the contract they want and too bad for the fans. It shows in virtually everything they do. ... for example: Brett Musberger and Suzy K.??? Give us a BREAK!

Kevin in SoCal said...

I already deleted the shows off my TiVo earlier this week, but wasnt this same show on monday AND tuesday? I watched Monday's NN and Jimmie Johnson was there, and when I went to watch Tuesday's show, Jimmie Johnson was on again, so I stopped watching it and deleted it.

playingtime said...

This was the first weekend for me to totally focus on NCAA football since this time last year. Guess what, folks. ESPN is doing it to NCAA football, too. Tuned into the MO/KS game after the LSU/AR game on CBS. I could tell there was a football game in the area of the broadcast, but ESPN did their best to ignore it, for the game was interfering with the broadcast.

Now, in sports as in broadcast news, the faces are more important than the story. GMAFB.

Tracy said...

I was glad you thought Shannon Spake was the MVP of the season. I couldn't agree more. She worked hard, and you could tell she was getting it right.

Tried to watch JJ and Eric the Clueless on that quiet set (had a strangely scary feeling to it) and couldn't sit through the dreadful questions. Turned it off before it was over. Sad.

Charlotte said...

Glad I missed this one, I think--poor Jimmie. ESPN doesn;t have a clue---

Anonymous said...

Marybeth wondered...
ESPN is putting the Cup Banquet on ESPNC Friday night. In Sept. Charter dropped ESPNC from their "expanded basic" listings and most of do not get it any longer. Why not try to get a larger audience with ESPN or ESPN2 or ABC? Makes me glad Jr. won't be there and I won't be missing as much.... : )

Daly Planet Editor said...


The banquet situation is a disaster, however it will be repeated on ESPN2 at midnight, so set your DVR or VCR.

There is a column from Sunday Nov. 11th on this site entitled "TV Networks would love the banquets in Las Vegas." There are a lot of good comments on that page from fans about this year's TV arrangement.


Richard in N.C. said...

Last year MRN broadcast the CUP banquet live - which I found better than the TV broadcast as you did not have to listen to as much Weber & Jay Mohr. I do not know whether MRN is carrying the banquet this year or not.
I happened to be working last year & listened to the banquet on MRN - and was surprised to find it tape-delayed on SPEED when I got home.

Brett said...

Hope NASCAR is not expecting higher ratings for the Cup Banquet. ESPN put it on a channel which is not avaliable to most fans. And most people who have Classic, don't even watch it because its just a channel showing repeats.

Back to the NASCAR Now thing. The best thing ESPN could do in put John Kernan "Back in the sattle" of NASCAR now.

Sandie said...

@vince--I hear ya! I've been asking from the start of this "show" what we need to do to get John back!

@anon 12:24--it definitely seems like they're trying to kill it! Putting the Old ESPN coverage aside and looking at it as if they were brand new to broadcasting NA$CAR, it's beyond an embarrassment! I can understand working through "bugs" and "uncertainty" but come on now! They had the Busch series as "practice".

@kevin in socal--yes it's the same one. I saw JJ on Tuesday as well and turned it off, I still have it in case I needed to refer to it after JD did his column. They had 3 airings scheduled overnight, one wasn't shown because football ran over but I believe the other two aired, I've deleted those off already.

@richard in n.c.--it's always tape delayed. It starts at 7 eastern but doesn't show on TV until 8 eastern.

@brett--as JD said, it'll reair on the deuce at midnight eastern (essentially right after the airing on classic). However football is on (ESPN has basketball) and then Sportscenter follows so set the VCR/DVR/TiVo to run over in case it runs over and they don't adjust Sportscenter for it.

@JD--of all the shows, I don't think I was more embarrassed than I was on this "last NN". I also don't know how JJ didn't get through it without laughing, or if he did, how many takes it took! It would have been nice to have a real season recap as well. I know they had the shows today, but it would have been nice to have an opportunity to have the talking heads give their two cents and maybe have condensed highlights.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

JD wrote........

Kuselias had nothing more to say to the champ, because he knows nothing about the history or dynamics of NASCAR. He is NASCAR illiterate.

This was well said JD, you couldn't of said this any better!

I pray this was the last time we see EK on NN.

Jimmy C. said...

JD, I didn't see the episode of Nascar Now that you refer to, but I'm not very surprised. ESPN has "fumbled the ball" (which I hope is a term that some of these stock car racing challenged people can understand) all season long, not just in the Cup series, but in the Busch series broadcasts as well. ESPN has spent too much time trying to be slick when they should have spent that time trying to show, oh, I don't know, racing maybe? ESPN's seeming ignorance about stock car racing is just stunning to see. For a network that covered the sport so well just 8 or so years ago, the decline in the knowledge base is just depressing for fans such as me.

Stanley said...

JD....couldn't agree with you more. NN is embarassing to NASCAR fans veteran as well as new fans in my opinion. I have a high school buddy who works in Charlotte and interviewed for the host position at NN. Television in Charlotte for 11 years, several national motorsports journalism awards and very tied into the NASCAR scene. Nobody more qualified than Chuck yet he heard through the grapevine that the ESPN decision makers felt he was "Too NASCAR". They get what they deserve a dork for a host and a show that stinks.

Newracefan said...

I taped this and was so disappointed to see the review that I haven't watched it yet. I think I'll save it for when I'm going through Nascar withdrawl and even this horrible show will be fun to watch. I hope it works.