Wednesday, February 6, 2008

ESPN Finally Unveils Dale Jarrett But Misses The Mark

It was certainly one of the biggest NASCAR TV stories of 2008. Rusty Wallace takes a slow walk down to the Infield Studio and Dale Jarrett steps into the ESPN and ABC broadcast booth for the entire Nationwide and Sprint Cup race schedule.

NASCAR Now is also in the middle of some changes, and the first two days of the new schedule were low-key and without any outstanding elements. Wednesday, the network finally opened the door and presented DJ in an interview setting with his father alongside. What could be better?

Ned Jarrett has a very distinct place in the hearts of many veteran NASCAR fans. His personal style and gentle demeanor served to put all the best parts of NASCAR on display whenever he was on-the-air.

ESPN is trying hard to form a bridge back to the network's coverage from the 1990's, but no one is going to mistake the chaos of last season for the days of Ned, Benny and Bob Jenkins.

Now, there is finally a breath of fresh air for the entire ESPN NASCAR family and it is clearly the addition of Dale Jarrett. ESPN almost has a clean slate.

NASCAR Now is trying desperately to raise the credibility of this TV series, and has started-off strong in many areas. Knocking down the doors of mentioning "ESPN only" races and programs has been a great idea. Having Fox's Darrell Waltrip as a guest on Monday and SPEED's Michael Waltrip on Tuesday really opened some eyes.

Ryan Burr continues to set a fast pace in the studio, and he moved quickly to introduce the duo of Ned and Dale Jarrett. With Jerry Punch providing the voice-over of the Jarrett "intro," it seemed that a new and positive vibe was in the air.

Still sharp as a tack, Ned was in good humor and clearly happy that his son was joining the ESPN team. Dale continues to define the "cool and calm" that ESPN has needed in the broadcast booth. The intensity of Rusty Wallace was sometimes overwhelming for Jerry Punch, and often left things on-the-air disjointed and unfinished.

Unfortunately, the weakness of Ryan Burr was on display when talking with the Jarretts. Both Ned and Dale were clearly up for answering very important and timely NASCAR questions about the 2008 season, and sometimes overwhelmed Burr with their answers. His continuation with the tightly scripted questions left a lot of good follow-up information on the table.

Just as The Daly Planet detailed yesterday, there has to be some "loosening up" of this format or it will once again lose interest with the fans. Dale Jarrett said a Toyota might win the Daytona 500, he said Junior might be chasing Jimmie Johnson for the Championship, and both Jarretts said Junior will make The Chase.

Memo to ESPN: That is your new lead NASCAR analyst and his former ESPN broadcast legend father talking about the key issues of the season including Toyota, Hendrick and Junior. This would be exactly what fans wanted to see. Not Jamie Little recapping Las Vegas testing that was over...last week!

What a tremendous opportunity to stop the glossy pre-produced fluff and open this show up to the meat of the sport. There they are on TV for the first time, a racing legend alongside of the man that ESPN is counting on to save the network's NASCAR coverage and get things back on-track in the credibility department. Not one follow-up question was asked. Talk about a-swing-and-a-miss.

There are absolutely some very good and positive things going on with this program series. New hosts, a new roundtable feature on Mondays, and the inclusion of more ESPN personalities like DJ, Rusty and Andy Petree on a regular basis.

But, the forty-five seconds of Dale and Ned Jarrett excited and answering questions about the season, Daytona and NASCAR personalities was gone in a flash. That was a shame, because it has been the most interesting forty-five seconds of the first three shows.

Nicole Manske makes her on-air debut alongside of Rusty Wallace on Thursday at Noon Eastern Time as the NASCAR Now crew takes over the ESPN News Network for three live hours of Media Day from Daytona. Mike Massaro will join Ryan Burr back in the ESPN2 studios in Connecticut to round-out the coverage.

Allen Bestwick will first appear on February 11th from Bristol, CT as the Monday shows expand to one hour. That should be a show to put on the DVR, and possibly to save for a while. AB on ESPN is going to shake things up, and that is just what the NASCAR Now crew needs.

A little less gloss and a little more good humor and personality will go a long way toward getting fans to return to ESPN2 every single day...for ten months.

There will be an in-progress post up for the live Media Day coverage, and stories to follow on both the ESPN and SPEED shows. Things are about to shift into high gear in "NASCAR TV land." Fasten your seatbelt.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.


Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed but not surprised :(. It's truly ashame that someone didn't recognize what they have there. I LOVE Mr. Ned, I wasn't watching when ESPN had the original contract but loved catching him through the Classic races :). My first knowledge of him unfortunately was from DJs "Drive the Truck" commercials, but I've enjoyed learning about him and the other pioneers :).

I have the recording so I'll check it out.

If I get my lazy self up an hour earlier (I work from home and am training for a program that I don't have to start until 1 so often don't get up until noon) I'll check it out but do have the DVR set.

Tripp said...

I didn't see the show, but if they only gave DJ and his wonderful father less than a minute, they missed the boat. Both Jarret's are knowledgeable, thoughtful and articulate and often will give the best interviews out there.

As an aside, I'm a big fan of Ned mostly from his broadcasting days. However I still chuckle when I think about him with Dale on an old UPS spot where he's trying to bribe him to race the truck. After trying a couple of ploys without success he offers a bribe when he says, "How 'bout some pie?"

Newracefan said...

AB where are you>>>> The Jamie Little piece was ok but it should have be done on Monday. We have all moved on, people are packing for Daytona not unpacking from testing. Nascar Now a day late and dollar short again.

Truck Series Fan said...

I missed the show as a matter of fact I've missed all the NN shows this week since they are on so early in the evening.

speedangel said...

Nice recap JD. I agree there was so much potential for a longer interview, but it was very rushed, or tightly scripted as you put it.

It seemed like Ryan was a bit taken aback by the energy in not only the Jarretts' responses, but energy in general because he was also seemed a bit overwhelmed at the beginning of the show with the enthusiasm in Michael Waltrip's responses as well (Michael was on Wednesday's show, not Tuesday's). He even made note of it as the interview concluded.

At this point, it looks like you and Bob Margolis at Yahoo are right. ESPN changed the way it looks but the core of the coverage is still the same -- but maybe it will still change.

elena said...

I don't think this was "finally" unveiling DJ and Ned. As has been done before, leading up to an event, networks show us the top 10 "whatever". It could be the 10 best Super Bowls, 10 best World Series or whatever. ESPN has chosen to show us the top 10 Daytona 500s. On Monday they showed us #10, which was DW. On Tuesday was #9, which was Bobby Allison. The Jarrets just happened to be #8. Son driving and dad broadcasting. NN is a 30 minute program which is probably about 22 minutes of program minutes. This is not a 1-2 hour program where you can stretch if it calls for.

So, for each episode, there will be 22 minutes divided by the segments to be featured. The Daytona top 10 segment will all have the same length.

JD, with all due respect, I don't understand why you thought this was a "new" feature from the first 2 days. They were not trying to bridge back to the networks coverage of the 90s. They were and will continue to feature the drivers who won the top 10. The pattern is the same. Show the highlights of the race, and then spend some time with the driver. They will do it until they reach #1
They mention that every time and are giving viewers the chance to vote on which race will be #1.

For me, the program is fine. But I have never thought Ryan felt that comfortable in his assignment. To add to that, there is always a delay between the host and the off-location guest. So there are all those pregnant pauses, and even though we are aware of them, it makes conversation not flow as well. It seems forever neither of the parties are talking, but actually they are just waiting for the transmission. Also the music it too loud when a guest is speaking.

Ps. The race was broadcast by CBS and the crew wore suits.

Daly Planet Editor said...


I don't know if you were here last February, but NASCAR Now never even acknowledged that the other TV networks that carried NASCAR existed.

They eliminated any trace of them, and never even promoted the races themselves if they were not on ESPN.

ESPN was live when Joe Torre walked onto the field at Dodger Stadium as the new manager, but they never even introduced Dale Jarrett as their new star until it happened to be in a Daytona 500 feature.

In terms of time and format, simply by eliminating the days old "news" from Jamie Little they could have asked DJ and Ned about the upcoming season.

This program categorically failed last season in almost every TV way possible. One host fired, the host that remained had previously mocked racing throughout his radio career. He had no NASCAR knowledge.

Now, rather than pretend their is some sort of ironclad program format, they need to continue to search for the spontaneous and unexpected, to give this series some life.

Dale Jarrett said JJ and Junior would probably battle it out for the Championship...did that not deserve one follow-up question?

I agree with your points on Ryan, but when you get a moment like that with your new take it.


stricklinfan82 said...

It was definitely strange to see nothing but "filler" content on Monday and Tuesday while nothing new was going on, and then on Wednesday's show there's all of a sudden breaking news that the Cup cars tested as Las Vegas.... last week. And according to Jamie Little's report Carl Edwards was happy with his car in both single car runs and drafting sessions.... at both Las Vegas and California.... huh??? That's not exactly the type of credible reporting that NASCAR fans are tuning in to this show to see: "drafting" practices at Las Vegas and California... amazing.

It was also strange to have Dale and Ned Jarrett play a game of "answer either true or false to a bunch of yes/no questions" like "Will Jimmie Johnson win his 3rd straight title?". How something that awkward could be allowed to air from a taped interview segment is beyond me. How about re-taping the start of that segment and cleaning up that obvious mess of Ryan Burr asking a bunch of yes/no questions and asking for true/false responses? Who's writing this stuff and overseeing the production of this show?

Where are the credible NASCAR voices like Punch, Bestwick, Smith, and Massaro when we need them???

It looks like I'll just be watching this show on Mondays from now on when Allen Bestwick is there.

elena said...

JD, thanks for your comments. No I was not here last Feb.

My comments are only about what I see and give my statements on my opinions.

I do not think they are "pretending" they have a format. They have actually stated it. I think this is great they are doing it. I watched tons of hours leading to the Super Bowl and they did similar segments. I repeat, they have about 22 minutes of programing and have decided how they will divide them up. I guess if you don't like it, that's fine. I guess if you are open to other opinions, I gave mine.

Vince said...

Hmmm. I'm still kinda confused as to what ESPN is trying to accomplish with this show. I guess they're trying to be all things to all people. Capture the casual viewers and keep the hard core fans. But unfortunately I think that they're failing with both groups. I'm a long time fan and most of this show is just fluff to me. Not a lot of hard news or substance. For example, Jamie Little doing a report on the Vegas test. Duh, what was that all about? That piece should have been run on Monday.

I'm still not sold on Ryan Burr. He's a likable enough guy, but is still reading from a script just like Erik K. did. He doesn't seem comfortable to me. Maybe because he knows when he's doing his interviewing all it'll take is one unexpected question back to him from the person he's interviewing and he'll be lost. Much like Erik was last year.

I didn't really have a problem with the Jarrett's piece. I was part of the top 10 Daytona 500's, so it got about the same amount of time as DW and Bobby got the last two days. I did not like the True/False crap at the end of the interview. Why is ESPN always trying to do True/False, Driver Pick 'ems and junk like that? Ask Ned and DJ a question an let them answer. I want to hear what they have to say, not true or false.

The Terry Blount piece had some technical issues. The sound didn't match the movement of his lips. It wasn't in sync. And the quality of that video on my tv was lacking. Not as sharp and clear as the studio shots. Anybody catch Ryan calling Terry, Jerry at the end of the interview. Ryan seems as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof at times.

I'm trying to be objective, but I have to say what I've seen so far from NascarNow is a lot of the same from last year. A talking head, who knows nothing about Nascar, reading from a script. This program lacks spontaneity. Because the host is not knowledgable in all things Nascar, he's not comfortable deviating from his script. And I suspect he is told by the producer or director not to deviate from the script anyway.

I'll give the show another week or so to improve. But I'll probably just be watching AB's roundtable shows on Monday. THAT sounds like it'll be worth watching.

SallyB said...

Like Vince, I'll give NN one more week to come up with something that actually resembles news, not fluff. Airing segments on 'news' that is over a week old just leaves me with the impression that they aren't willing to have reporters out there, diggig for something new and current. Ryan is just a more likeable version of Erik...reading from a script with no clue how to do any follow ups when someone says something worthy of it. So far, ESPN has done just what Brian France has with his 'back to our roots' lip service with no substantial effort to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Nascar Now score=2 strikes,1 ball.
Time to bring AB up to bat.

Anonymous said...


One thing I have to say about the Jamie Little comment: I don't care what she is talking about. Seeing her on TV is always great, in my opinion. She could be talking about last week, last year, whatever. So, whenever they have a chance to show her, it is fine by me!

Steve L said...

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm getting really borded with the "Who do you think will win the title?" or "Can Jimmy make it a three-peet", who's going to win this or that.
It seems like that's all they can come up with.
There's more news stories out there that can be told but all they seem to worry about is "Who's gonna...?"
Not liking it so far.

glenc1 said...

I thought Ryan seemed very tentative. He's so much better than 'he who shall remain nameless' but still seem unsure in his interviewing skills. And we *know* AB would have been so much better. The Jarrett interview was pretty good but the Allison one was just awkward, as gracious as Bobby was. Hopefully as Ryan gets more knowledgeable he'll improve his confidence. He might be better doing them in person, too.

Had the same thought on Jamie--why wasn't that piece on Monday? (BTW, anyone catch the Poole piece on testing? :-) ) I kind of remember how the 'format' worked on the old RPM2Night. You knew which parts to expect when. I think they need some work on the 'organization' of the show.

GinaV24 said...

This show is still trying to be glib and shiny but not very deep. As JD said a few follow up questions would have been nice re the Johnson & Jr comment. So they are just discounting the "other" driver at HMS? That would be Jeff Gordon. Hmmm. Also I'd like to see a little more energy from the host, I expect to see that with AB, since we know he knows his stuff and I think like many others that Burr is reading from the script. Better than Klueless was, but still, it could be better. I enjoy Ned and Dale Jarrett very much so more of them and less of last week's testing would have been good. ESPN still doesn't have a winning package with this program and after last year, they don't have that much time to "sell" me on it.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody else here think that Ryan Burr on NASCAR Now looks like Herman Munster(check-out the haircut)? He also has the same monotone voice as Herman, I just can't watch him!