Thursday, February 7, 2008
Ryan Burr And Daytona Media Day
Making the effort to put together three hours of live TV coverage from Media Day in Daytona was absolutely fantastic.
Putting two announcers in Daytona to handle the live interviews and two more "talent" back in the network studios to fill-in the gaps between those live segments was a great idea.
Even the fact that Shaq and Roger Clemens might interject some non-NASCAR news into the three hours was not a problem. The idea was that those stories would be covered and then NASCAR would return.
The ESPN News Network had borrowed the announcers from NASCAR Now and was going to present a brand new level of NASCAR coverage for 2008. All systems were "go."
ESPN had their top NASCAR reporter Mike Massaro in the Bristol, CT studios. No one will ever forget the incredible efforts of Massaro to almost single-handedly keep ESPN in the NASCAR game with his hardcore news reporting from helicopter landing pads, parking lots and anywhere else but inside the track.
After the last brawl with ESPN, NASCAR had escorted the network out of the tracks and asked it not to return. Mike Massaro was turned away at the gate. Now, both NASCAR and Massaro were back on ESPN. He was right there in the studio and ready to "bridge the gaps" between live interviews using his extensive NASCAR knowledge.
Alongside Massaro was ESPN News former anchor Ryan Burr, one of the three new co-hosts of NASCAR Now this season. Burr was sensational last year after he was added to the NASCAR Now line-up on a part-time basis.
Burr is a veteran "studio TV guy," but does not profess to be a NASCAR TV veteran. He is outstanding at keeping the pace of a show going strong and "directing traffic" on-the-air.
Down in Daytona, ESPN had a big debut on-tap. Nicole Manske would be on-the-air live with the NASCAR stars, and also work alongside of Rusty Wallace. What a great idea to give her some veteran support with Wallace being on-scene in Daytona.
Once the live coverage began, Burr handed-off to Manske and she conducted the first interview of the day, fittingly with the current series champion Jimmie Johnson. Manske was doing just fine, had a good presence on-camera, and set just the kind of relaxed tone that viewers wanted. Then, things abruptly changed.
Jeff Gordon was next, but instead of speaking with Manske or Wallace, he was actually being interviewed by Ryan Burr from ESPN's Connecticut studios. Burr is great with a script, but of the four on-air announcers in this program he would be the last pick to conduct live driver interviews.
Suddenly, the reality set-in for viewers as the interviews continued in the program. Kenseth with Burr, Hamlin with Burr, and then Montoya with Burr. After Manske appeared one time for a brief Michael Waltrip interview, Rusty Wallace made his first ESPN appearance of the season.
Guess what Rusty was doing? That's right...being interviewed by Burr from Connecticut.
The poorly constructed questions of Burr to the drivers were nothing compared to his inablity to talk racing with Rusty Wallace. Every single obvious and amateur question about this season was put to Rusty, who gamely tackled each one with a strong sense of diplomacy and patience.
If only Massaro or Manske could have been used to shoulder the load of interviews and deal directly with the drivers this coverage would have taken on a completely different dynamic. Massaro had to be especially frustrated, being the veteran NASCAR reporter on the network's staff.
The talking heads kept coming. Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch all talking to Burr. Every single one of these interviews should have been conducted by Manske, Wallace or Massaro.
Finally, Manske appeared with Almirola, Franchitti and Nationwide driver Brad Keselowski. Wallace was not involved in any of these three interviews. Where did he go? Fans thought they knew the answer.
The text on the bottom of the screen promised Dale Earnhardt Junior was coming up next. It was clear that Wallace would get to interview "the big fish" in this pond. Junior with Rusty was going to be fun to watch.
When Junior appeared on-camera, he had the same glazed look that NASCAR Now fans had seen all last season. Someone he did not know had stuck an earpiece in one ear, slapped a microphone in his hand, and told him to look at the camera.
That's right. Despite the presence of ESPN's new NASCAR Now host and the network's NASCAR Infield Studio Analyst only feet away, Junior was going to be speaking to someone back at the ESPN Studios.
At Media Day in Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was interviewed via satellite by Ryan Burr from Connecticut. That, my friends, is amazing.
The footage of Nicole Manske and Rusty Wallace interviewing Junior was something that ESPN could have used all season long. It could have been clipped and posted on Jayski, ESPN.com and all the other ESPN media outlets. It could have been edited for SportsCenter and re-aired on ESPN News before the Daytona 500.
There is certainly no doubt that the desire to create more of a high profile for NASCAR seems to exist with ESPN this season. Ryan Burr is the right guy for the NASCAR Now studio shows that need a fast pace and a smooth delivery. He was absolutely not the right guy to conduct these interviews.
Unfortunately, ESPN also squandered the opportunity to repair the damage done to Rusty's reputation by letting him conduct live interviews. Rusty having fun with Tony Stewart showed viewers Rusty's ability to deal with live TV. Showing his relationships with these top drivers would have gone a long way to healing any hard feelings remaining with fans from last season.
Manske was also left out in the cold. Her interviews were fine, her presence was fine, and her TV skills were fine. Why not let her use them? With Allen Bestwick not yet joining the NASCAR Now team, Manske is the face that people wanted to see. We saw far too less of it on Thursday.
While the ESPN News coverage ran in the afternoon, Burr returned and hosted another fast-paced and interesting edition of NASCAR Now at 6PM. It featured Rusty Wallace and Boris Said speaking from Victory Lane in Daytona, and used several of the Media Day interviews. That is where he shines.
NASCAR Now will break-out the hour edition on Monday, with Allen Bestwick making his debut as a co-host. Burr will continue to host until then, and as the season begins both Manske and Burr will be moving out to the tracks to add reporting for the show on the weekends.
That should add yet another chapter to this very interesting NASCAR Now adventure for 2008.
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