Wednesday, November 7, 2007
This time of the year is called the "silly season" in the world of NASCAR. Fans certainly remember this "season" for putting Jayski firmly on the NASCAR map.
Rumors of change bubble to the surface, are denied by all parties, and then things change in usually a bigger way than had been suggested in the first place.
For ESPN, the "silly season" is certainly here. After an entire year of struggling with NASCAR Now, their daily news show, change has come to ESPN2.
IndyCar play-by-play announcer Marty Reid has suddenly surfaced as one of the hosts of NASCAR Now. Not only did Reid once handle the drag racing and open wheel duties for the company, but he also found time to serve as the "relief host" this year for ESPN's NASCAR coverage on both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series. That is the ultimate in TV multi-tasking.
Reid is a veteran motorsports talent with ironclad credentials. Over the last several seasons, he worked very hard to integrate himself into the tough NHRA circuit. Fans celebrated the fact that Reid immersed himself in the sport, and worked hard to learn the people, the culture, and seemingly almost all the technical aspects of this series. Now, he has crossed-over to IndyCar fulltime.
Sometimes, it takes change to make things right in "TV land." Announcer Doug Banks was let go early this season from NASCAR Now, and ESPN News anchor Ryan Burr was brought-in to work alongside of primary show host Erik Kuselias. While Burr had a strong news presence and a fast-paced delivery, neither of these men had a background in racing.
ESPN NASCAR pit reporters Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro both hosted episodes of NASCAR Now this season, but never returned for any additional anchor duties. Several weeks ago, veteran NASCAR driver Bill Lester suddenly appeared on the NASCAR Now set for an entire weekend of shows as an analyst. ESPN said it was a one-time experiment. We called it an audition.
This week Marty Reid returned on Tuesday night and immediately shook things-up on the program. Abandoning the format, Reid hosted an interesting conversation that featured a NASCAR writer, a driver, and a TV reporter. The entire show was devoted to talking about the sport.
Wednesday, Reid hosted again and while returning to a news format, he unveiled some additional changes that have not been seen this year. For ESPN2, the NASCAR "silly season" was in full swing.
Reid bypassed the Gordon vs. Johnson story that has dominated this show, and put Denny Hamlin first on the docket. Hamlin was interviewed by satellite, and Reid asked some hard questions, and then let Denny promote his charity. Exactly the type of balance that this show has lacked.
Reid followed-up with Brad Daugherty, who was treated with respect and not put on the spot as he has been all season. Daugherty provided his opinion, which is his role, and was allowed to make his points without being forced to "pick" or "choose" on issues provided by the host. What a refreshing change.
Reporter Shannon Spake interviewed Carl Edwards and Reid just played the host role, and gave Spake the spotlight. Then, for the first time this season, ESPN used footage from another one of its own shows in NASCAR Now. The program Rome is Burning features high-energy talk show host Jim Rome, and a portion of his interview with Clint Bowyer was integrated into NASCAR Now.
This lack of cooperation between ESPN departments and networks has hampered this show all season long. Often, ESPN News would interview various NASCAR personalities, and the footage would never be used again on NASCAR Now. Even SportsCenter's treatment of NASCAR should have been fair game for this show. Finally, seeing some integration of resources between programs and networks was nice.
Reid's news portion of the show consisted of speaking with Terry Blount, one of NASCAR Now's Insiders. Reid is a TV pro, and makes these potentially awkward scripted questions look and feel like just a conversation. Blount responded with a focused and informative news update, and really came alive when Reid asked unscripted follow-up questions.
ESPN Fantasy Writer Christopher Harris has been called a lot of things this season. Many fans are upset that ESPN's Fantasy Racing League gets substantial time on the program each week. One interesting aspect of NASCAR Now is that Harris has never been held responsible for his own picks, basically he picks and runs. Well, that is until now.
Right from the start, Reid gently poked fun at the fact that Harris had a very bad Texas weekend. This man randomly "matches up" drivers and then "picks" them. For those of us not involved in fantasy racing, it makes absolutely no sense. Many fantasy players have written the Daly Planet to say it makes no sense to them either. Perhaps, this aspect of the show will see some sort of change for next season that reflects the standings and shows how Harris himself is doing.
Under Reid's direction, the show had taken on an easy-going tone and allowed the fan to feel a part of the program. This element has been sorely lacking all season. Several times, NASCAR Now has put-up an email address at the end of the show, only to rescind it over-and-over again. Originally, comments were being posted at ESPN.com, but that changed when many of them were directed at the poor quality of the program.
Reid, however, stepped right into the email world and then took everyone by surprise. He actually began reading fan email back on the program with graphics of the text on the screen. Interactivity had finally arrived at NASCAR Now.
After the first two comments were read, Reid showed an email complaining about too many ads on ESPN. The viewer questioned why the "side-by-side" effect for commercials that ESPN uses in the IndyCar Series was not done for NASCAR?
After reading the question, Reid again broke new ground on NASCAR Now...by answering it. There was the host of the show, an IndyCar, NHRA, and NASCAR veteran answering viewer mail. This simple moment should have been done from "day one," but it was better late than never.
Reid encouraged viewers to send more email, commended them for their passion for the sport, and then closed the show with a music video that did not include Aerosmith.
ESPN had shown positive change that probably was hard to do this late in the season. NASCAR Now, done effectively, could be just as big a franchise as Baseball Tonight or College Gameday. Given the resources to shine, there is no doubt that the right team could build this show into a fan-interactive success.
A big thanks to Marty Reid for stepping-in and trying to help ESPN sort out this program series. His style and class comes through on the screen, and it will be interesting to see where he lands next season.
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Last week, I wrote a column about the ESPN2 program called Chasing Glory. It is a below the radar show on Wednesday afternoons that is produced by NASCAR's official TV production arm, called NASCAR Images.
This same company produces the Survival of the Fastest series for SPEED. Each of these shows is an NFL Films style mix of announcer voice-over, natural sound, music and sound bites from many NASCAR types.
The product is fun to watch, in the same way that it is fun to watch the old NFL Films programs on ESPN and the NFL Network. Unfortunately, I forgot how up to date Daly Planet readers are on the NASCAR TV scene.
Comments began to pour in that what I thought I was seeing on these two series was not exactly correct. Some readers were a little more blunt than that.
Apparently, NASCAR Images has been re-using old footage from months and even years ago and re-labeling it as current. In the TV world, this use of older footage is called re-purposing, and it is normally done with no problem. The older footage is used for reference or background purposes, and makes sense to the viewer.
On the Chasing Glory series, fans pointed out old footage that was labeled as new in the Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart episodes. Some of this was over a year old. That certainly was a surprise to me.
The poor old Survival of the Fastest series took it right on the chin from the fans. They pointed out the Denny Hamlin and JD Gibbs clips were from last year's program series called 7 Days. In this Survival of the Fastest episode, NASCAR Images had re-labeled the footage as being from Huntersville, NC four days before the race at Atlanta.
They also showed JJ Yeley at the beach supposedly four days before the race. Unfortunately, viewers had the same Yeley footage from the same beach from the previous year in another TV series called NASCAR Drivers Non-Stop.
Survival of the Fastest showed us Carl Edwards starting his record company because of his love of music. Viewers quickly pointed out that was footage from two years ago on a ill-fated program called NASCAR Nation.
Driver Martin Truex was shown on a fishing trip preparing for the upcoming race. The program said it was a way to relax before the big race. In fact, Truex had done that relaxing over a year ago, a fact that was not relayed to the viewers.
Chasing Glory airs once again Wednesday on ESPN2 at 5:30PM Eastern Time. There is no doubt that the rabid NASCAR fans will have those TiVo's and DVR's running. Survival of the Fastest airs each weekend on SPEED, with some occasional re-airs.
If fans have any additional opinions about NASCAR Images and their use of footage, this is the place to post your comments. This issue has not been a pleasant one to write about, and I think we will eventually find some explanations for these problems.
NASCAR Images does not have a Media Relations person, so perhaps we will hear from a company representative about this issue. Hopefully, there will not be any more problems for the remainder of the season.
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Becca Gladden of Insider Racing News was kind enough to do an article about me and this on-going Internet conversation about NASCAR TV.
Here is the link to the article for those of you who would like to read it.
Thanks again for your interest, but it is the fans and readers who provided thousands of great comments over the last ten months who have made this site a success. Thanks also to the media members who have contributed their time and information to help keep NASCAR fans informed about various TV issues.