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.

As always, keep your comments focused, and make your point. Please read the rules on the right side of the main page prior to adding your comment. To post, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.

15 comments:

Matt said...

Hey John, I just read the IRL's press release for coverage of the Infiniti Pro Series on ESPN2, and Bob Jenkins is listed as the lead announcer for 08, so I guess that takes him out of the running for any NASCAR coverage?

As for who's out, I think we all know the answers to that question, so I'm not going to rehash that subject.

ON ESPN, I'd like to see Allen Bestwick in the booth for races, perhaps splitting time/series with Marty Reid. On NASCAR Now, I think Mike Massaro is the perfect guy for that show. He knows how ESPN and NASCAR works. As for pre-race host, John Kernan is the BEST choice, and either Massaro, Bestwick, or Reid could fit. But, how about Shannon Spake as the host of the Busch Countdown show? She has experience hosting a TV show and could easily allow the pre-race show to flow.

On TNT, I'd like to see Ralph Sheheen in the booth, trading places with Bill Webber. Ralph is very good in the booth, and going back on pit road can help Webber recover some of his dignity and respect lost by this odd trip to the broadcast booth.

Finally, on SPEED, I'd like to see Randy Pemberton get the INC job. He knows NASCAR and it's drivers and the panelists will respect him. He could also be one who would allow the craziness INC was built on to occur. And, while I realize people like Mikey, I can't stand him in the Truck booth. So, I would love to see Hermie Sadler get another shot in the broadcast booth.

stricklinfan82 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stricklinfan82 said...

My read on the situation is that nothing is going to change in 2008, that's why we haven't heard any news about changes.

Fox and Speed
Solid product, no need to change the on-air talent in my opinion, except maybe to add Wendy Venturini to the Fox crew.

TNT
It's just a 6 race season so I don't see anyone at Turner putting in any effort to improve their product. They just use NASCAR has a 6 week source to make money off of ridiculous amounts of commercials and to hype up the fall's newest TNT shows and then ignore the sport the second the Pepsi 400 ends.

ESPN
A LOT needs changed with ESPN, but I'm afraid they are too arrogant to make any of the logical and sensible changes that we have been suggesting here for months. We're going to see the same sub-par broadcasts in 2008, with the races and NASCAR Now continuing to be filled with NASCAR-novices filling the TV screen. Yes Dale Jarrett will be more readily available but I'm afraid the powers-that-be at ESPN will grossly underutilize him in both the Cup and Nationwide broadcasts, probably just trapping him in the Pit Studio and only letting him talk during the ridiculous "Race Recaps".

Anonymous said...

After watching/enduring the entire season, here is my dream list:
IN:Bestwick, anywhere, any time.
all FOX NASCAR on-air folks.
all SPEED NASCAR CUP and truck on-air folks except Michael Waltrip.
VERY VERY OUT:Bill Weber.
all non-NASCAR ESPN "talent" especially Suzy "Elliott Schrader" Kolber.
OUT:Dave Despain.
Michael Waltrip.
Rusty Wallace.
Rutledge and Rachtman.
Wished I still believed in Santa Claus...

Makiki

Daly Planet Editor said...

Matt,

Bob did that free-lance gig last season and I believe it only consists of voicing-over highlights on the post-produced races days later.

I agree that after his former high profile life, Ralph Shaheen is certainly missed, even as he continues his TV career on other sports.

JD

Busch Series Fan! said...

AB and DJ in the booth for the cup races for ESPN would make a big improvement to their telecasts. Put Randy LaJoie in the Nationwide broadcasts with Randy Pemberton on non-companion races and us viewers just might like the change. Merry Christmas

Speedcouch said...

Fox

Get a producer who can control DW! Force him to drop that stupid BBB! Get rid of the silly drive/crew chief pretend that Fox originated. It's really annoying! Get rid of Chris Meyers and the Hollywood Hotel completely. Keep Krista as a pit reporter. Never EVER even think about bringing back Zelasko!

ESPN

As much as I love and respect Jerry Punch, I think Allen Bestwick would do a better job achoring the booth. I think he would be good at helping Rusty become more comfortable in his role. Don't really care for Petree that much. I've never really seen the need for a crew chief in the booth anyway. Don't ever think about DJ in the booth! He's not his father and talks way too much for me.

Get rid of Kolber, Daughery and Brewer. Get rid of the infield studio and only use the cutaway car 1-2 times a race.

TNT

Find someone else to anchor the booth. Weber is great on pit road, but isn't that good in the booth. Possibly give Matt Yocum a shot at the Cup anchor job. Wally Dallenbach is great! Best former driver in the booth since Ned Jarrett. Don't really need a 3rd person and Kyle Petty just doesn't cut it for me.

SPEED Truck Broadcast

Get rid of Michael Waltrip. His frenzied tone has about driven me away from the truck series. Two people in the booth is just fine. Rick Allen has improved a lot lately and Phil Parsons is always good.

NASCAR Now

Jerry Punch or John Kernan would be perfect hosting this show. And move it to Charlotte for goodness sake! Stop repeating the same highlights/video all program long! That drove me away as much as the host. Watch some video of RPM2Night to figure out how this show should be done.

Inside Cup

Get rid of Despain! Obviously we can't get Bestwick back since he works for ESPN now, but how about Doug Rice of PRN, Barney Hall or MRN or someone like that? Need someone with a good sense of humor for this show, but who can also keep Michael Walrip under control. Despain certainly has shown he's incable of doing the job.

Anonymous said...

Concerning SPEEDTV: Didn't they have their Pit Reporter suspended a few times??? Maybe a change is due....I don't rember TNT, FOX or ESPN suspending on-air folks this past year.

darbar said...

Raceday has it covered. The shows are great, informative and a welcome respite from ESPN's pre-race shows. But, for whatever reason, I would get rid of Wood and Rachtman. I don't think they add anything of substance. To be honest, I think Rachtman was brought on to attract the MTV head bangers, and I don't think that putting him on the air is going to attract that demographic.

I want Tradin'Paint back, but with a little help for John Roberts. At times, he looked like a referee trying to keep the guest and Petty from fighting.

INC has promise, but with a new host--maybe Steve Byrnes. I like the banter between Waltrip, Schrader and Biffle and on a Monday night, I need the laugh that the sometime silly Waltrip provides.

TNT needs a lot of help. I love Larry Mac, but their whole production needs a lot of fine tuning. I tape those races and fast forward just about everything.

ESPN needs a complete overhaul but because of their arrogance, they won't do a thing. Nascar Now is is a mess with Erik K. and Tim Brewer leaves a lot to be desired. At least Stacy Compton has the cojones to speak his mind, even when it didn't jive with the offical Nascar bible. Have Allen Bestwick host this show. And, what's with ESPN and their overkill of their pre-taped specials? You see them on Nascar Now, and again on the pre-race show and then again during the race. What, you guys at ESPN are going green and trying to save videotape by showing your ditties over and over again?

They need to wipe the slate clean and start again with ESPN's Nascar race coverage. Dump Suzy, Brad, Jamie and the rest and bring on Bob Jenkins, put Jerry Punch on pit road, use Dale Jarrett when he's available, hire Bill Lester (he's great and has the knowledge and experience)and I'm surprised to say this, but give Rusty another chance, with a better supporting cast. How about ESPN hiring talent from Speed and Fox? Is that possible? Since ESPN has been only a stick/ball network, how about them swallowing their pride and admitting their "talent" doesn't have any, with regards to racing? And then again, ESPN is so totally impotent in so many areas (scheduling, channel assignments, distain for the Nascar fan), that I can still see me watchting the race on Hot Pass and ignoring ESPN/ABC altogether.

And as a side note to the powers-that-be in Nascar: Wake up, Bozos and realize that your bread is buttered by the fans. You need to stick it to ESPN and demand they respect the sport and provide a decent product. If this so-called professional coverage ESPN/ABC provides continues, you're going to see lower ratings and even less behinds in the seats at the tracks, as fans abandon the sport.

Anonymous said...

Mixing networks:

Get rid of Erik K, Suzy, Brent, Brad, Tim Brewer, and Rusty. They're all pretty bad, for various reasons.

Put Bestwick in the booth. Keep Larry Mac.

Newracefan said...

Speed- develop some programming to go with INC on Monday, using Wendy or Krista; also highlight the guys we don't hear about every race . Replace Dispain with John Roberts or Steve Burns. Keep Mikey etc but when one of them is not avail use Brian Vickers, Elliot Sadler, or Jeff Burton (that group needs someone who can keep up and get a word in). Lose Rachtman, Wood is ok but don't go overboard with the goofy stuff.
Fox-I could live without the Hollywood Hotel, I enjoy Hammonds input but not the production they made of it.
TNT- Get Weber out of the booth his forte is reporting use him there, Wally is ok but I wouldn't mind Kyle Petty (as long as he stays out of the car) and use Larry Mac more (I'm glad Fox doesn't consider this a conflict). I'd be happy to see the talent stay the same if the commercial load and new show hype decreased (alot please).
ESPN- AB AB AB, everywhere and anywhere but since that is not going to happen. Nascar Now- Let Marty Reid (1st choice) Mike Massaro, or even Shannon Spake host. Use a lot more Marty Smith and Angelique. Bill Lester as an analyst, Compton was ok too but Boris didn't add much. Most importantly move to Charlotte area and stop the phone interviews get a camera there. Put AB in the booth with Rusty (if you must) and Andy, Doc was a great pit reporter and he'd be good as the prerace guy. Lose the infield studio it's only good if there's a rain delay or red flag otherwise it's a waste of space. No more non-nascar people!!!! Use AB with DJ and maybe Randy Lajoie for the Busch races. This would give ESPN the chance to see if the problem is Rusty or the previous chemistry (if it's Rusty move DJ to the cup booth). Don't forget the postrace.

Matt said...

ESPN

I'm a huge Allen fan. Put him anywhere, and the show will instantly improve. He deserves to be in the booth. If he doesn't get the chance to at least split time with someone else, he should host the pre-race show.

It would be great to see Bob Jenkins come back for a few races. Fans miss him so much.

Bring back John Kernan and have him on pit road or hosting the pre-race show.. the same can be said for Jerry.

Get rid of Suzy, Brad, and Brewer. Put Rusty in the Infield Studio, and DJ in the booth with Andy.

Fox/SPEED

They seem to have it together. Like someone said earlier, tone down DW, and they have everything set.. maybe utilize Krista more, she's great.

TNT

I really like Wally, but Webber has to go back to pit road. I'm still relying on the theory that AB being replaced was actually a blessing because he'll get a chance to lead broadcasts for ABC/ESPN now.. one can only hope.

I'm glad Larry jumped over, and I like Fein. There is no need for two pre-race shows though.

Kyle was a nice addition, but it's not the same anymore without BP.

--------------

I guess my only wish is for more Allen, haha.

Anonymous said...

Fox: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

SPEED: Mostly very good as-is. But some changes would help. At Inside NEXTEL Cup: Replace Despain with someone who wants to be covering NASCAR. Elsewhere: Cut Rachtman and Rutledge--they're unnecessary and not very funny, either.

TNT: Bill Weber really ought to go.

ESPN/ABC: Cut all the non-NASCAR talent that supposedly gives the show "star power." This includes Suzy Kolber, Brad Daughtery, Brent "I'm Not Really a Racing Guy" Musberger. Retire Jerry Punch. And admit that not all drivers can do TV and get rid of Rusty Wallace. Find a way to bring Bestwick on board.

Don't feel obligated to replace everyne you cut--there are too many people on these broadcasts now.

NASCAR Now: Cut Erik K. Replace with Bestwick.

Busch Series Fan! said...

Anon at 1:28 PM. Very good points I agree wholehardedly.

Richard in N.C. said...

As bad as ESPN was in 2007, TNT was much, much, much worse. NASCAR needs to get rid of TNT (and especially Weber) entirely before they do more permanent damage to the sport and parcel out its 6 races to FOX, ESPN, or SPEED. TNT does not know and, worse, does not care.

ESPN's problems start at the top. Its NASCAR coverage is the most apparent area of deficiency - but the real problem is that ESPN now believes its PR and feels ESPN IS the show and the event is just the background. Now at ESPN entertainment comes first and sports is now a distant second.

Jerry Punch would make a perfect "face" for NASCAR on ESPN. Have him everywhere, except in the announcer's booth - frequent pre-race and post-race host and often on N-NOW. Allen Bestwick should definitely be the primary lead race announcer - which I really believe would improve Andy Petree and, possibly, Rusty, who deserves another chance. Maybe alternating Rusty with DJ would help relax Rusty.

SPEED and/or ESPN neeed to have some year-round racing coverage to demonstrate to the fans that they care and that there is a reason for the fans to have some loyalty to them.

JD, many, many thanks for all your exceptional efforts and I do hope you have a most Merry Christmas.