Monday, February 18, 2008
SPEED Drafts A New Quarterback
We always like to use the high school football picture of Steve Byrnes once a season. This time, it actually makes some sense.
SPEED has rolled-out their new This Week in NASCAR series, which replaces the decade-old Inside NEXTEL Cup Racing. While the network decided to keep regular panelists Ken Schrader, Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle, they drafted a brand new quarterback.
Steve Byrnes has stepped-in to handle the hosting duties for this season. The network feels comfortable with Byrnes, who is a veteran NASCAR TV host. SPEED viewers see him on Trackside, NASCAR Live and hosting the practice and qualifying sessions.
This new dynamic is going to be interesting, as Byrnes with his outgoing personality is going to have to mix with the always interesting Michael Waltrip. Just as in any new relationship, they will be some time needed to allow things to settle in.
Greg Biffle has enjoyed his time on this series and toward the end of last season was coming on strong and asserting himself among the other dynamic personalities on the series. Monday night, Biffle picked-up right where he left off.
With no Kenny Schrader on the set and TWIN's new Crew Chief Chad Knaus nowhere to be found, Byrnes was working hard with his two panelists to keep the pace strong.
Waltrip without Schrader is like Martin without Lewis. There was a decided lack of irreverence and fun on the set despite the best efforts of Byrnes. This one show really made a statement about how important Schrader is to this TV series, regardless of his Cup status. Something was missing.
Viewers have seen Michael Waltrip give people the cold shoulder on this series. Certainly, some guest drivers and even hosts have gotten the silent treatment. In this show, Waltrip supplied information and good commentary without all of the antics he has become famous for. That was a mixed blessing.
As the show hit the halfway point, Waltrip began to come alive and get his energy going. With Biffle as his new straight man, things worked well and the information was good. But, they really needed a third panelist.
The producer tried to allow both Waltrip and Biffle to directly follow some recorded features on-camera, but they struggled with this new element. Byrnes is a TV pro, and used to the mechanics of television. This same thing was the secret of Allen Bestwick's success. He handled the "TV stuff" and let the boys play.
The interview with 500 winner Ryan Newman was good, and this new element of the show needs to be expanded. The video screen on the TWIN set was poorly lit, but the fact that this show had a guest, a new host and a new dynamic made up for any small issues.
Byrnes did a solid interview with Newman. Letting Newman recap the final two laps was a good idea. His words were an outstanding first-person description of a very historic moment. Newman told everyone that Tony Stewart came by and congratulated him after the event. When the winner says everything is fine, it really is.
Changing INC over to TWIN was a move that SPEED felt it had to make. Shows rarely last ten years in this changing television landscape. While SPEED hosts other than Steve Byrnes had been suggested by readers for some variety, the show is in good hands.
Once the full compliment of on-camera personalities appear, then it will be fun to watch the personal dynamics between this new cast progress. It was a nice touch to have the SPEED Truck Series broadcasters provide a wrap-up of the Daytona race. Part of this new series is to more effectively use all the NASCAR resources of the network.
On that note, Dave Despain appeared to do what he does best, offer opinions and begin conversations. Free of the shackles of hosting, it was nice to get a different opinion from the veteran Despain, and then to hear the reaction of the panelists. Once Schrader returns, this new show element should get very interesting.
The feature of the week was a re-hash of Wendy Venturini's report on Petty Racing that aired on RaceDay. As the season progresses, hopefully this designated feature slot will be used for something no NASCAR fan has seen before on SPEED.
Waltrip was in full excitement mode by the end of the show, and things ended on a good note for all concerned. As this series continues to develop, it should begin to build a momentum of its own. When Schrader and Chad Knaus return, that momentum may begin building very quickly.
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