Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Zero Hour For NASCAR Announcers
As we approach the Christmas break, the countdown clock over at Jayski.com is now telling us there are less than sixty days to the 2008 Daytona 500.
So far, we have seen a lot of press releases from the NASCAR TV partners about the past season, but almost none about the future.
In 2007, there were some notable issues in "TV land" with respect to on-air announcers. In the TV biz, they are simply called "talent." As we saw during the past eleven months, that word can quickly take on an ironic twist.
Mr. Doug Banks left his co-hosting duties on NASCAR Now after only a short time. It was a tough start for that new ESPN2 show. Banks returned to his highly successful radio career on The Doug Banks Show and does not seem to be any worse for the wear. His run certainly was interesting.
Ryan Burr from ESPN News was brought-in to fill this role, and did a fine job. He was the relief host for Erik Kuselias, easily the most controversial "talent" of the 2007 NASCAR season.
After having trouble hosting NASCAR Now in the studio, Kuselias was "auditioned" live in the ESPN Infield Studio at the track hosting NASCAR Countdown. That memorable performance was not repeated.
There has been no word from ESPN about the line-up of NASCAR Now for next season, or a date when the show will begin. With lots of changes behind the scenes on the ESPN Radio side, there may well be a better opportunity to use Kuselias and his extensive stick-and-ball knowledge...elsewhere.
Boris Said and Stacy Compton served as the NASCAR Now studio analysts, and Compton's down-home style was a sharp contrast to the biting tongue of Kuselias. Said merely treated Kuselias as a distraction, and laughed a lot. What these two drivers are doing for 2008 on TV has not been disclosed.
Something remembered by NASCAR fans was the sudden appearance of driver Bill Lester one weekend, who did all the NASCAR Now shows live in the ESPN studio and then was simply...gone. ESPN said it was "an experiment." Interesting.
Staying with ESPN, the host chair in the Infield Studio should be open for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. Originally, ESPN said that Suzy Kolber was a fill-in, and her "appointment" to that position followed a long line of names like Musburger, Fowler, Bestwick, Massaro, and Kuselias who tried to fill that role.
The ESPN season is a long one, as Jerry Punch and company can attest. His team handled the entire Busch Series schedule, and then added the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup events. Maybe, we will see ESPN bring in some additional "relief talent" for the core TV crew. We noticed that they auditioned Brad Daugherty in the booth during a Busch Series race, and also used Allen Bestwick and Marty Reid to spell Jerry Punch during his vacation time.
A while back, I got several emails from TV friends saying Rusty Wallace was not returning to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Almost immediately, I got several emails from ESPN saying Rusty Wallace was returning...and I was an idiot. That happens a lot.
We all had fun with "Eric Amarillo" and "David Gilligan," but Rusty did complete his first season without backing down from controversy and without missing an assignment. What the ramifications are of Dale Jarrett doing his "semi-retirement" tour this season are still to be seen.
One thing is for sure, with the entire Nationwide Series and seventeen Sprint Cup races, there are plenty of analyst slots on races, qualifying, and practice sessions for both Rusty and DJ to share in 2008.
The TNT guys are silent. Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds did solid work, but what will become of Wally Dallenbach, Bill Weber, and Marc Fein remains to be seen. The tension on the pre-show set at TNT was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Wouldn't someone like a Bob Jenkins or an Eli Gold at the helm shake-up that crew?
Over at SPEED, we are still awaiting official word on the line-ups of their big weekly NASCAR shows, although no significant changes seem to be on the way. Shows like Trackside, Victory Lane, and NASCAR Live seem to be working just fine.
The same is true of the Truck Series, with a solid broadcast team, and no rumored changes on the horizon. Although, Krista Voda is clearly on the verge of bigger things. Last season, she moved up to NASCAR on Fox as a pit reporter. Wouldn't it be interesting to see her directing some traffic from the Hollywood Hotel? Take that Suzy Kolber!
One interesting question will be if Kyle Petty returns to Tradin' Paint. One might believe that it would depend as much on his blood pressure as his desire to expand his TV career. Petty had some pretty big blow-ups with some NASCAR media types, and The Daly Planet has suggested that adding a fourth panelist like Randy Pemberton or Jeff Hammond might take the heat off Petty and not make things seem so "personal."
SPEED's "King of the Jungle" in NASCAR land is RaceDay. With most of the staff under contract, the questions really concern Rutledge Wood and Ricki Rachtman. Not only has this show grown in stature to become SPEED's highest profile NASCAR program, it has also spent a good part of the season matched-up head-to-head with both TNT and ESPN/ABC's pre-race shows. Make no mistake, this is the big time.
In looking for a feature reporter to balance the news-oriented Wendy Venturini, SPEED has tried several candidates. This season, it will be interesting to see if they go with a veteran like Pemberton, stay with the current dynamic duo, or bring in a fresh face to handle the non-racing feature reports.
Finally, here comes the program series that generates the most mail and the most comments each time it is mentioned. Inside NEXTEL Cup must be discussed once again. Changing gears for next season, it will be interesting to see if SPEED makes changes in the program format and the panel.
Many times on The Daly Planet over the course of the season, we have debated the pros and cons of having a host who was "encouraged" by the network to take the job, panelists who do not race in the races, and part-time panelists still wet behind the ears when it comes to solid NASCAR experience. There are lots of good points on both sides.
Love him or hate him, everybody knows Dave Despain. Michael Waltrip has just re-vamped his company, his teams, and will now be playing the second Toyota fiddle to Joe Gibbs. Schrader is still working on a combo-deal, but is not retiring. Greg Biffle is poised to make a solid run at a Championship. Those are some interesting personal dynamics at work when it comes to making forty weeks of memorable TV programs.
For all these shows, look for word to start slowly leaking out about confirmations of who is "in" and surprises of who is "out" during the days after the Christmas break. Network logistics are such that names and travel schedules and paperwork and production meetings are going to be all confirmed before January 1st.
One wild card who just emerged on the scene is John Kernan. As The Daly Planet mentioned in an earlier article, he has relocated to Chicago and ended his radio work for PRN and Sirius. Flying out of Chicago, Kernan could be just what the doctor ordered for several NASCAR TV vacancies that would compliment his current part-time NHRA schedule.
If you had an opportunity to suggest some change to the network executives, who would be included? We have now had some time to calm down after a tumultuous season on TV, and our heads are hopefully a little clearer. Tell us who would be "out" and why, and then who you would like to see "in" for next season.
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