Wednesday, January 23, 2008
ESPN Changes Take Many By Surprise
There is no joy in making changes on a TV series that is on-going. People who are moved out of roles they once had will always have a feeling of not getting the job done.
This Wednesday article in USA Today by Michael Hiestand allowed ESPN to announce the first group of broad and sweeping changes in the network's TV coverage of NASCAR programs produced for ESPN2, ABC Sports, and ESPN.
Several months ago, emails started trickling in that the ESPN executives were thinking about moving Rusty Wallace out of the high-profile lead analyst position on the NASCAR events.
At that time, ESPN went a long way to deny this was an issue, including quotes from Norby Williamson assuring viewers that ESPN was committed to Rusty for the long run. Williamson is the head of ESPN's on-air production.
Now, Rusty will step aside and become a permanent fixture in the ESPN Infield Studio at races. He will be teamed in that location with Allen Bestwick, who will be replacing Suzy Kolber. Also eliminated from the telecasts will be the "show host" position that was filled on selected key events by Brent Musburger.
This season it will be Dale Jarrett who will move into the spotlight and assume the same role that his father made so famous. Jarrett will team with Jerry Punch and Andy Petree to form the new core of ESPN's NASCAR coverage.
With the movement of Bestwick into the Infield Studio host position, hard working Shannon Spake will join the group full time as a pit reporter. Spake contributed to NASCAR Now, pit reported on the Busch Series, and was basically the "utility reporter" as she seemed to be on ESPN almost every day covering NASCAR.
Both Brad Daugherty and Tim Brewer will be returning, to the Infield Studio and the Tech Center, respectively. Daugherty had some good debates with Wallace this past season, and that duo should be an interesting mix.
With the event coverage team set, ESPN then rolled-out another new piece of the NASCAR puzzle. SPEED's Nicole Manske, who hosted The SPEED Report, had been very vocal about the fact that while SPEED did lots of weekend programming from the SPEED Stage at NASCAR events, there was no daily show on the network.
Now, she steps into the primary host role of NASCAR Now, replacing Erik Kuselias. Manske is an interesting choice, and comes with lots of positive and negative issues that she must deal with in her new position. The official ESPN press release indicates that it will be Ryan Burr and Allen Bestwick who will be Manske's co-hosts for the season. It should be interesting to see which days of the week the network assigns Manske, and when the two co-hosts will fill-in.
It was mentioned that part of the new Rusty Wallace role will be to contribute to other ESPN programs. That makes sense, as former NASCAR Now studio analyst Stacy Compton confirmed in a news story on Tuesday that he is going Truck Series racing full time, and will not return to ESPN this season.
That leaves Manske with Boris Said as the current in-studio analyst. Tim Cowlishaw, DJ Copp and the previous cast of NASCAR Now "Insiders" will also return intact. Maybe, we will shortly be seeing ESPN announce the hire of a new studio analyst for NASCAR Now who can serve to provide the additional content and the key analysis that will really round-out the program.
This broad series of moves by ESPN is going to be welcomed by viewers and immediately impact the credibility of the network in a positive manner. Jarrett will hopefully be the partner that can provide enough support for Jerry Punch to recapture his enthusiasm and vigor for the sport, and keep it high all season long.
This team faces a big challenge, as they will telecast the entire ten month Nationwide Series, including the practices and qualifying. Then, in late July, they will add the final seventeen Sprint Cup races and the entire Chase for the Championship. That is a lot of TV for one team to handle.
So, there we are. Lots of the issues that were raised at The Daly Planet and other NASCAR Internet sites have been directly addressed by the biggest sports TV company in the world. Hopefully, this positive step will result in a "new on-air vibe" for ESPN in their first event at Daytona, and carry-on throughout the season.
For more reading, here is the Jayski link and here is the Yahoo! Sports link.
Please take a moment and tell us what you think of these changes. To add your comment to The Daly Planet, just click on the COMMENTS button below. There is nothing to join, and we do not require your email address. We just want to know your opinion of the new NASCAR line-up at ESPN for 2008.