Saturday, March 17, 2007

ESPN on ABC: Busch Series - Atlanta

My ESPN contacts tell me that Brent Musburger is regarded as a confusing presence on the NASCAR Busch Series trail. Supposedly, Musburger was taking the "Jack Whitaker" style role of a seasoned veteran "show host." Unfortunately, as viewers of the IndyCar Series discovered, Musburger is not experienced at motorsports, and his awkward attempts at humor rely on his knowledge of stick-and-ball college and professional sports.

The Busch Series Race in Atlanta was no different. Musburger could not get through the top five rows of the starting grid. He made obtuse and over-blown comments a la Keith Jackson when specific details just do not come to mind. Musburger tried to reference Saint Patrick's day by calling Brad Daugherty Irish, and then ultimately managed an awkward throw to the broadcast team to call the race. Several members of the crew called him "Brett" once again.

Who is watching this nonsense at ESPN? If this was Major League Baseball, these problems would be addressed immediately. Let's face facts. Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty have absolutely no business being behind the microphone of a NASCAR race. Their opening lines and the thirty minute pre-race show are amateurish at best until the pros stop by.

ESPN made the incredible mistake of seating guest commentator Ray Evernham next to Mr. Daugherty. Then, they asked both to comment on the same topics. Mr. Daugherty should have just taken a sharp stick to the eye. Evernham contradicted Daugherty with details and facts over-and-over again. The pre-race show had even the most casual fan asking "why is that tall guy there?" Musburger, Fowler, and Daugherty cannot stop talking about college sports and often reference that day's college games on other networks. It would be nice if they had any knowledge about the event they were assigned to cover.

ESPN finally has a solid broadcast crew in place, with Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree bringing viewers a nice combination of personalities and knowledge. The pit road reporters are solid, and the directing is first rate. What a shame that surrounding this outstanding performance are the Three Musburgateers. Isn't there a UNC vs. Duke game somewhere for them to cover?

NASCAR Now: ESPN2's Dismal Failure

Since the Daytona editions of NASCAR Now, I have chronicled the daily comings-and-goings of this ESPN2 series. While not replacing RPM2Nite, the NASCAR Now series provides the only daily television platform nationwide for NASCAR racing. Racing information is also available on the internet, through publications, and on both network and satellite radio. It is only fair then, that NASCAR Now should be compared with these other sources.

Unfortunately, for the wonderful sports network where I spent ten years of my life, the studio efforts in regard to NASCAR have been a dismal failure. On the message boards and racing forums nationwide, NASCAR Now has been dismissed as a joke produced by a network obsessed with stick-and-ball sports.

ESPN had a reporter assigned to Barry Bonds, and then tried to produce a reality show about him...on the same network at the same time. NASCAR fans get Brad Daugherty posing as a NASCAR expert because of his "experience." As Brent Musburger once said on-air about Daugherty, "he used to own a part of a Busch Series team that actually won a race." For those of us in the know, the only race that counts to ESPN is contained in the color of Mr. Daugherty's skin.

ESPN has over twenty full-time reporters assigned to Major League Baseball spring training. NASCAR fans get Around The Horn loudmouth Tim Cowlishaw doing his best "Mr. Obvious" impression as he shoots from the hip and denegrates a new NASCAR target with each and every appearance.

ESPN SportsCenter prides itself on showing the highlights of almost every college basketball game televised on the weekend. NASCAR fans get a snippet of the Craftsman Truck Series and absolutely no regional NASCAR action because "those races" are not on ESPN/ABC. Not one regional racing highlight has been shown since the inception of the show...that is far beyond pitiful for the millions of fans of the NASCAR Regional Racing Series.

ESPN Gameday has experts coming out of the woodwork to comment on every aspect of the game, the strategy, and the players. NASCAR fans get a radio talk show host standing alone in the studio. When experts pop-up on camera, they answer scripted questions and then go away in a flash before they can disrupt the teleprompter speed or commercial timing. No free-flowing conversation is allowed on this program...ever. Especially, if it is about NASCAR racing.

Finally, ESPN's other studio shows have fun. They relay a feeling about the sport they cover that is enthusiastic and positive. Both Erik Kuselias and Doug Banks are dour men with New England dispositions. There is no laughter, no smiling, no small talk for the guests, and no free-flowing conversation.

For NASCAR fans, watching NASCAR Now has become like going to the dentist. You know its not going to be a pleasant experience long before it happens, but you also know there is no other choice. To find out if anything is going on you need to be aware of, its time to sit in the chair and take the pain.