Saturday, September 29, 2007
This Sunday at 1PM ABC Sports will carry a one hour version of NASCAR Countdown, their pre-race show. The NEXTEL Cup Series race from Kansas is then scheduled to be on-the-air at 2PM Eastern Daylight Time.
Brent Musburger returns as the "show host," while Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty will occupy the Infield Studio. Tim Brewer will man the Tech Center, while upstairs in the broadcast booth will be Dr. Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree. The pit reporters will be Allen Bestwick, Dave Burns, Mike Massaro, and Jamie Little.
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SPEED has been working hard on their talk show called Tradin' Paint since the NASCAR season began in February. This is the thirty minute show that features a regular host, a rotating media member, and one regular driver.
The premise of the show is that the media member and the driver talk back and forth in a debate about the issues of the day involving the sport. Michael Waltrip began the year as the driver, but SPEED made a change and inserted Kyle Petty into that slot in the spring of this year. It was a great move.
With Kyle on-board, things really took off in an entirely new direction. His views on many NASCAR issues were completely opposed to the members of the mainstream NASCAR media. Kyle has debated topics with the print, TV, and Internet reporters of NASCAR with lots of fireworks as the result. About three weeks ago, the show was just hitting its stride for the season when something very strange happened.
One week ago, instead of a media member, it was Ray Evernham alongside of Kyle and series host John Roberts. Other than hosting a weekly kids show for TV, Evernham has absolutely nothing to do with the media. This show, which had been working its way up to one of the top NASCAR shows on SPEED, suddenly turned tail and ran from the NASCAR media.
Evernham and Petty talked with Roberts about all kinds of issues. They talked as owners, they talked as drivers, they even tried to talk as fans. The one thing they could not make themselves into, as hard as they tried, was journalists.
This week, it was certainly time for the network to rebound from this problem, and bring in a hardcore reporter at this critical time of the year to deal with the big news issues. SPEED selected veteran reporter...Richard Childress. Believe it or not, good old RC was in the media chair and just grinning and talking about stuff. RC has been mistaken for many things in his days in the sport, but a reporter? Never.
Suddenly, it did not matter what Kyle Petty said. Suddenly, it did not what topic John Roberts tossed out for discussion. Tradin' Paint had become RaceDay. It had become Trackside. It had become NASCAR Live. With the one element that made this show unique missing, it was just another collection of NASCAR talking heads.
Petty had been escalating in his clashes with the media guests, and it was sometimes tough for him to keep his temper in check. That is exactly what made the show interesting at last. Petty talking with Jenna Fryer of the AP, Nate Ryan from USA Today, or Bob Pockrass of Scene Daily resulted in actual debating of real NASCAR issues on SPEED. Petty and Pockrass were outstanding.
Now, SPEED has suddenly "killed off" the position on the panel that might dare object to something that Petty might say. They have eliminated the panelist who might "step away" from towing the NASCAR line and have some new ideas or opinions.
Changing the reporter position to an owner position on this series was one of the worst television decisions of this NASCAR season. Even if the network decides to change it back, the damage is already done. With less than ten races in the NEXTEL Cup season and in the middle of The Chase, SPEED has shot itself right in the foot on national TV. The burning question is why?
There were no fireworks on these last two shows. There was no debate. There was only Kyle being very loud and spreading his wings because there was no one there to disagree. While Kyle is a veteran of the sport, he is on this show because of his perspective, not his wisdom.
He may have an opinion, but that does not make it an absolute truth. Anything he says is up for debate, and suddenly he does not like that very much. Apparently, its much more comfortable now to turn and see another team owner in the next chair.
Tradin' Paint is gone from my DVR list. Among the many hours of drivers and owners talking to John Roberts on the SPEED Stage, Tradin' Paint used to be special. Now, it blends right in with the RaceDay hi-jinks of Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace, the Trackside fun with Larry Mac and Jeff Hammond, and the Bob Dillner driver interviews on Victory Lane.
One can only wonder what the NASCAR media thinks of SPEED fleeing any type of journalistic integrity or an actual difference of opinion on NASCAR issues being shown on TV.
Whether this change is a result of a NASCAR phone call or just Kyle Petty throwing his new found TV weight around, it speaks volumes about the real value of freedom of speech and open discussion of real NASCAR issues on SPEED. What a shame for the fans.
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NASCAR fans looked nervously at the clock on the wall when the LSU vs. Tulane college football game hit halftime. They were nervous because it was already 2:10PM Eastern Daylight Time.
This week, once again, ESPN2 was relying on the luck of the Gods to slip a live Busch Series pre-race show and then the race itself between two college football games. Things did not work out too well.
When ESPN purchased the rights to the Busch Series as a part of their new NASCAR contract, TV veterans were scratching their heads. They wondered the same thing. Where would they put the series when college football began?
The Daly Planet even ran a column suggesting that perhaps the network might use the failing ESPN Classic network as an outlet for NASCAR programming and call it ESPN3. While ESPN Classic started with a bold agenda and even some original programming, it has slowly been scaled back until now it is slaved to only re-airing the programs already in the ESPN Library that the company owns. As a distribution channel, it would be much more valuable to funnel live events than continue to re-air programs from the past twenty-five years.
Allen Bestwick and Andy Petree presented a great NASCAR Countdown pre-race show for this event in Kansas. Unfortunately, it aired on ESPN Classic as a last minute switch because the LSU vs. Tulane game was still in-progress. The entire thirty minute show never aired on ESPN2 at all.
The continued success of the Busch Series is vital to NASCAR as a whole. As most fans know, this season has been a struggle for the series in terms of fan attendance and TV ratings. It is all the more important, as the series reaches the final races, to put the best TV programming possible on-the-air.
There are going to be lots of excuses from ESPN, but the bottom line is clear. They bought this series, aired it all year without a problem, and knew that college football was coming in September. Suddenly, the NASCAR series that has provided live racing since February is second-tier programming. Why?
The reason is simple. ESPN wanted their NEXTEL Cup package and the Busch Series came along for the ride. Once college football began, it was as though the past seven months of hard work and live coverage of this series was simply tossed aside as if it never happened.
NASCAR fans have been watching the Busch Series all season on ESPN2. The NASCAR on ESPN2 Busch Series telecasts have generated over one hundred hours of live TV for ESPN2 and ABC combined. The series has produced great racing, lots of good stories, and several new drivers and teams that we will be hearing from in the future.
This situation of "hoping" college football games will end in three hours continues through October and into November. How is this fair to NASCAR fans who suddenly find themselves put on the back burner because of football? The Busch Series is a ten month sport for hard-working NASCAR teams and drivers.
Somehow, after seven months of the season, it becomes trapped with nowhere to go because of circumstances that were known back in 2006 when the contract with ESPN was done. Maybe some NASCAR lawyer might want to open a manila folder and see exactly what happens when not only the pre-race show but also the green flag and a lot of laps are pre-empted by a slow-playing college football game.
Then, the lawyer might want to check his watch. Its only a matter of time until it happens. There are only so many "near misses" in TV land. This one was close.
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