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.
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