Monday, March 31, 2008
Baseball Blues Hit "NASCAR Now"
It was somewhat ironic that Brent Musburger was the play-by-play announcer on the opening day Chicago Cubs game on ESPN2. Musburger's appearances on NASCAR programs in 2007 were memorable for many reasons.
The focus of each week on NASCAR Now has become the "Big Monday" show that the network calls the roundtable. They assemble three panelists to join Allen Bestwick for a full hour of conversation about NASCAR topics. The program airs at either 5:30 or 6PM Eastern Time.
On this Monday, Major League Baseball and NASCAR Now had a manifest destiny that would ruin the plans of many East Coast NASCAR fans. After two rain delays, the Cubs game began again and quickly swallowed-up the edition of Baseball Tonight that was scheduled for 5PM.
As the scoreless game began to approach the 6PM hour, it became clear that all the effort of the network to prepare the "Big Monday" show was about to be scuttled. On a nasty and rainy day in Chicago, the play was sloppy and the game was boring.
This week, NASCAR Now was simply loaded for bear. Panelist Johnny Benson had moved his way through the Truck Series race on Saturday only to be spun on the last lap by an over-enthusiastic Kyle Busch. This prompted some post-race festivities between pit crews that NASCAR settled quickly. This would be the first opportunity to see Benson on-camera, as the NASCAR on Fox crew chose not to interview him during the post-race coverage.
Also along for the ride was Mike Wallace. In a surprise move, Wallace flew to Bristol, CT on Saturday night after the Truck race and co-hosted the Sunday morning edition of NASCAR Now with Ryan Burr. Later, Wallace appeared on ESPNEWS to talk about the race and help the anchors interpret the live post-race comments from the Infield Media Center.
Monday morning, Wallace was on the First Take program talking NASCAR. With all this as a warm-up and the fact his daughter Chrissy had finished in the top twenty in the Truck race, Wallace was going to have a lot to talk about.
The journalist on the panel was Mike Massaro, ESPN's most veteran NASCAR reporter. Massaro has a long history in the sport, and certainly was going to have some views on the news topics of the weekend, including "Part-Gate" and the return of Hendrick Motorsports.
As NASCAR fans began tuning-in, the clock went past the 6PM hour and Brent Musburger continued to talk baseball. Musburger never even took fifteen seconds to do a "scene set" for NASCAR fans and explain what was going on. At least the graphics department inserted a crawl that indicated NASCAR Now was coming up next.
There was wall-to-wall baseball on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. It was opening day and this was the featured sport. There was, however, one place where baseball was not on-the-air.
Over on the ESPN Classic network the 6PM hour featured two editions of Stump the Schwab. Howie Schwab was the original ESPN "stats and research" guy and has a ton of sports knowledge. While Howie is a great guy, both of these programs were re-runs.
Last season, when NASCAR programming was being pushed around by live stick-and-ball sports, the company took the bold step of putting live racing on ESPN Classic. As with everything there were drawbacks. The size of the network is smaller and the TiVo's and DVR's did not know to switch networks, so video recorders missed the racing.
The one thing this move did for NASCAR fans was to show them that ESPN understands the sport and their passion for it. The company took positive action to try and get whatever they could on-the-air for the fans and it was appreciated.
Monday at 6PM, it might have been appreciated if NASCAR Now was switched to ESPN Classic. At least the viewers tuning-in at that time could have been sent to that network and seen the program they had intended to watch. The earliest re-air of the Monday program was actually Tuesday at 1AM Eastern Time.
The Cubs game finally ended at about 6:54PM, and most TV viewers thought that an abbreviated version of Baseball Tonight would serve as the "bridge" to the next live baseball game at 7PM.
Instead, the crew of NASCAR Now appeared from the studio and tried to make use of this shortened program time. Bestwick led a review of the Martinsville Cup race and a preview of the Texas event next weekend. The panelists sounded great together, and NASCAR fans were reminded of just how far this program has come since February.
For baseball fans, this must have been an interesting moment when four NASCAR types appeared for six minutes between live games to talk about a NASCAR race that aired on Fox. Perhaps, by that point Baseball Tonight would have been a better choice.
The Daly Planet, along with lots of NASCAR fans, will record the 1AM version of this program and then offer some comments on Tuesday about the show. What a shame that after a big weekend of racing and a great line-up of talent, the reality of ESPN's extensive live sports line-up became apparent once again.
It should be interesting to see if the Tuesday evening version of this show includes any of the content from Monday's missing episode. For fans who do not record programs, this might be the only way to see what we all missed when the baseball blues hit NASCAR Now.
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