Friday, June 1, 2007

Bestwick's One Show Changed "NASCAR Now" Forever

The hallways of ESPN are still ringing with the single appearance Wednesday of veteran NASCAR broadcaster Allen Bestwick on NASCAR Now. Perhaps, to Bestwick, it was nothing more than a short little thirty minute studio TV show with a couple of guests and some pre-produced features.

But, to the NASCAR Now staff, it was the first glimpse of what a "host" should, and could, be for this series. Bestwick made what has been so painful to watch this season nothing less than...enjoyable. And he did it politely, encouragingly, and effortlessly.

Unfortunately, this put the primary NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias in a no-win situation. Wasn't it George Burns who said "never follow children or animals?" For Kuselias, following Alan Bestwick on Thursday and Friday proved to be a nightmare. Once again, it was back to scripted teleprompter reading that put Kuselias and ESPN2 in a very bad light for only one reason. Now, everyone knew how good it could be.

Friday started out with Shannon Spake updating things from Dover, the site of this weekend's race. Her report was concise as usual. Unfortunately, ESPN then tried to pretend Erik Kuselias was speaking with Spake "live" at the track, when in fact it was a video sent in advance. Spake was seen on split-screen "pretending to listen" with her head bobbing like she was at a nodding festival, then she "suddenly" started speaking. Please, give the viewers more credit than that.

When the show is slowed down by a line-by-line script, it takes on the feel of a play, where one actor delivers a line, and then another actor delivers theirs. Poor reporter Angelique Chengelis was the victim today, as she just "happened" to know the perfect answers to the "perfect" questions that Kuselias read to her line-by-line. There is just no way to "fake it" when everything is prepared in advance.

Better off just to let Chengelis do the entire news segment by herself than continue with the embarrassing "fake questions" from the host. Kuselias never reacted to any of her answers, as usual. Unlike the people reading this column, Kuselias does not know what Chengelis is talking about. He's got no "NASCAR game."

Dr. Jerry Punch returned in the next segment with Andy Petree alongside from Dover. It was strange that Kuselias did not introduce, or interact with either of them. As you may remember, Kuselias was the on-site host of NASCAR Countdown earlier in the season from the tracks. Punch and Petree previewed the Busch race, and then returned to Kuselias without as much as a nod. They never even mentioned him or NASCAR Now.

Remember, this is the same sport, on the same network, and this is the daily show about that sport. How does it happen that the on-site producer and the NASCAR Now producer cannot coordinate their efforts? If this piece was done "clean" so it could be posted online, then have them do another one for NASCAR Now. Punch and Petree do not get paid by the word. Its time to start doing things right.

In this program on Friday ESPN promoted "their" Dover Busch race, "their" NHRA event, "their" weekend IndyCar race, and "their" first NEXTEL Cup race later this season.

What they did not promote was "NASCAR's" Craftsman Truck Series race at Dover, "NASCAR's" Sunday NEXTEL Cup race at Dover, "NASCAR's" two Grand National races this weekend, or "NASCAR's" Modified race at Thompson Speedway.

ESPN again decided that the agenda of this program is to promote ESPN at the detriment of NASCAR. Then they wonder why we question the credibility and production decisions of this network where NASCAR is concerned. How can you ask us to believe what you are saying when you do not fundamentally respect this sport?

In the same way that College Gameday lost its credibility when they stopped discussing non-ESPN or ABC games, NASCAR Now is on the verge of following down the same path. Its not about the network, its about the sport.

After a one day high, the grim reality of NASCAR Now set-in once again. Even if ESPN decides to change course and try to restore their credibility, its going to be the production staff that decides if this series really focuses on NASCAR, or continues to be nothing more than "fluff" for the casual fan. This is a critical week for ESPN, and I certainly hope the NASCAR executives are paying attention. Eight years is a long time.

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