Monday, April 9, 2007

ESPN's NASCAR Now: The "New" Worst Show In TV History

After several days of outstanding shows led by new host Ryan Burr, NASCAR Now rolled-out original host Eric Kuselias, and immediately things went astray. This was a Busch Series "stand-alone" weekend on ESPN. There was no NEXTEL Cup race to draw attention away from the Nashville event, or the network. ESPN had just paid millions of dollars to acquire the entire Busch Series in 2007. As the first NASCAR Now show of the week, it was finally time to feature the Busch Series on its exclusive TV partner, ESPN2. Then, the show began.

Let me say this clearly. NASCAR Now showed thirty-four seconds of Busch Series race highlights...period. Thirty-four seconds of race highlights. The word "stunned" does not do this incredible TV blunder justice.

The highlight package was a disgrace to the entire Busch Series and to ESPN's hard-working production team in the field. Kuselias told us that there was one accident, and then Carl Edwards passed Jason Leffler and won. Are you kidding me? There were tons of stories throughout the race. Many Busch Series regulars were able to come to the forefront due to the lack of Cup drivers in the field. What the heck is going on at NASCAR Now? This is ESPN's only full-season NASCAR series. Someone from the ESPN Programming Department needs to stop by NASCAR Now, and speak very clearly about this issue.

Kuselias then welcomed Shannon Spake, who did her normally solid job at Braun Racing with interviews, but even as team owner Todd Braun talked about his cars finishing third and fourth, NASCAR Now never showed that footage. Since they were not included in the thirty-four second highlight package earlier, its nice that Shannon and Todd described it...but no one saw it. When I worked at ESPN, a fundamental TV mistake like this would get you fired.

With Busch regulars like Shane Huffman, Stephen Leicht, and Bobby Hamilton Jr. finishing in the top ten, NASCAR Now had a great opportunity to interview any of them today. My pick would be Bobby Hamilton Jr. who was featured in the pre-race by ESPN about racing at Nashville without his father for the first time. This was just the type of performance that Hamilton needed to get back in the game, and this track holds special meaning for the whole family. Great story.

Kuselias then lead-in to the featured driver interview, and onto the screen came over-exposed NEXTEL Cup driver David Reutimann. In order to welcome the driver to the show, Kuselias actually asked him "how much trash-talking did you hear from the fans because you were driving a Toyota in a decidedly American sport?" Well, that sure makes a guest feel comfortable. Maybe Kuselias could have focused on the ESPN Busch Series, but good intentions just do not translate to this program. Kuselias cannot abandon his harsh sports-talk radio personality, and the interview went downhill from there. No smiles, no chatter, just confrontation and ignorance from the host. Another wasted interview by Eric Kuselias on NASCAR Now.

Marty Smith stopped by to talk about Toyota getting their intake manifold changed by NASCAR, and its effect at Nashville on the Busch Series event. Talk about a deer in the headlights. It was clear that Kuselias had no idea what Marty was talking about, and could not even make an informed comment about the situation. Give it to Marty, thankfully he is one calm and patient guy.

As if the Busch Series fans could be pushed no further, NASCAR Now slammed the final nail in the coffin when Kuselias introduced a video feature about, believe it or not, the Texas Motor Speedway. After showing thirty-four seconds of ESPN Busch Series highlights, NASCAR Now ran a feature on next weekend's race on Fox Sports that was two minutes and twenty-five seconds long. Thirty-four seconds of ESPN race highlights, and over two and a half minutes on a Cup race that is six days away...and on Fox. Amazing.

Boris Said and Tim Brewer stopped by via liveshot to speak about the great Busch Series race on ESPN two days ago. There was only one thing missing. Kuselias never asked them anything about it! Nothing. First he asked about NEXTEL Cup at Texas, then the COT, and finally...if the NASCAR wives will brawl during the Texas event? Let me say that again...will the NASCAR "women" fight during the race? How much lower can this program series sink in the minds of race fans nationwide?

Marty Smith then popped-up again and was finally asked about the Busch Series. He was asked one question, and got fifty seconds to answer it. Less than a minute...done.

Earlier, The Daly Planet wrote about one episode of NASCAR Now that featured a ten minute discussion on the relationship of the COT to the forward pass in football or the designated hitter in the MLB. It was unbelievable. Today, that has been topped. The Busch Series put on a great show in Nashville. Marty Reid stepped-in for Jerry Punch and did a super job. The racing from these drivers was fun and intense. ESPN put on a great production that included both qualifying and the race with top-of-the-line coverage.

NASCAR Now should have wrapped this entire show around the ESPN2 Nashville Busch Series weekend. There should have been an extensive highlight package, including post-race interviews from the top ten drivers, and color man Rusty Wallace. Reporter Marty Smith and analysts Tim Brewer and Boris Said should have spoken only about the Busch race. Memo to NASCAR Now...Boris drove in it!

NASCAR Now ignored the Busch Series in exactly the way that ESPN and NASCAR said they would work to change. It was treated as a support race, given brief highlights, and then dumped for a NEXTEL Cup race that is six days away. Over the past several months, The Daly Planet has seen both the highs and lows of this new ESPN2 series. Just as new co-host Ryan Burr's performance last week was clearly the high, this amateurish and embarrassing show on Monday was the low. What a shame for all the hard-working Busch Series regulars, what a shame for the fans, and mostly...what a shame for the ESPN television network.