Sunday, March 16, 2008

Monday Night TV Showdown Looms


While NASCAR fans always have fun watching racing on Sundays, those of us who like to talk about TV are looking forward to another exciting Monday.

This season has seen the balance of power shift from SPEED to ESPN2 on Monday nights, and it has not been pretty. The much anticipated transition from Inside NEXTEL Cup to the new This Week In NASCAR on SPEED has not quite gone the way the network intended. There is only one reason why.

His name is Allen Bestwick, and he was the longtime host of Inside Winston/NEXTEL Cup on SPEED. Bestwick has since migrated to ESPN. Now, after a first season of slogging through the trenches once again on pit road, he has emerged as the key piece of the ESPN NASCAR puzzle.

ESPN2 expanded the Monday edition of NASCAR Now to one hour in length early in 2007. This was a great idea. It promised to offer fans extended highlights of all three series and interviews with the drivers and personalities involved in the big stories of the weekend. Unfortunately, it turned into a one hour train wreck.

Eliminating both the Busch and Truck Series completely, the Monday hour instead turned into an exercise in pushing hype and sensationalism onto stories that simply contained racing action and the human dynamics that go with it. Sometimes, it was downright embarrassing.

This season, in continuing with ESPN's pledge of across-the-board support for NASCAR racing, things are heading in a decidedly different direction. Allen Bestwick now hosts a program with three panelists who talk about a wide variety of topics from the racing weekend. ESPN calls it the "roundtable" version of NASCAR Now.

This week, Bestwick will be joined by Rusty Wallace, Mike Massaro and Ray Evernham. Bestwick leads the panel through an informal session of watching highlights or interviews and then adding comments from their own perspective. In a very strange way, it is the ESPN version of the original Inside Winston Cup Racing that Bestwick hosted for SpeedVision.

Over at SPEED, it is Steve Byrnes who has been asked to come in and try to change one established program into another while fighting off the expectations of loyal viewers who yearn for Bestwick and the "old days." Byrnes has hosted all kinds of programs on SPEED, but nothing prepared him for the feedback from fans once This Week In NASCAR hit the air.

SPEED has re-focused this program using extensive pre-produced "features" that serve to de-emphasize the live conversation from the downsized panel of two. This week, Byrnes will be joined by Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle.

Veteran fans know that this program was formerly driven by the personalities of the panelists. It is now driven by the pre-produced portions of the show and the extensive SPEED promotions featured throughout the program.

It clearly does not have the same dynamic, and the downsized panel of two puts Byrnes in the position of often adding his opinion as the "third voice."

SPEED is laying low as to why Kenny Schrader is not being featured on this series every week, and continues to rotate a group of panelists through the program. Chad Knaus has been the new member of the crew, but viewers have only seen him once.

This week should be interesting, as Waltrip and Biffle have personalities that have often relied on the veteran Schrader to mute any brewing conflict. Schrader was literally positioned between them, and viewers have seen Waltrip snap at Biffle as though he was a mis-guided teenager who happened to race.

While Byrnes has his hands full trying to build a new program from the ground up, Bestwick has taken what he used to do for SPEED and turned it into an exciting program that fans are still discovering. What Bestwick added to NASCAR Now was quite simply an element of fun.

ESPN still makes the cast wear suits and ties, but even though they look like Digger Phelps or Mike Wilbon, the NASCAR guys are not taking themselves too seriously. This is exactly the type of on-air style that fans enjoy.

One key element has been the contributions of the often overlooked Mike Massaro. His ability to contribute on any NASCAR topic as a veteran reporter has been outstanding, and Bestwick has stepped aside and let him have the spotlight.

As both programs prepare for a key Monday show before an "off week," it should be interesting to see what they decide to bring to the table as this Monday Night TV Match-up kicks into high gear.

NASCAR Now is up first on ESPN2 at 5:30PM Eastern Time, and This Week In NASCAR follows at 8PM on SPEED.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for giving us your opinion of this topic.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

JD, What will happen to the Thursday-Monday editions of NASCAR Now this coming week due to the off week? Will they air due to the off week? Will there be a Sunday show to review the nationwide race next weekend? Will there be a Monday show next week?

Daly Planet Editor said...

The schedule is available on ESPN.com under the TV schedule heading.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Monday NASCAR NOW has definitely become must see, at least for me. It seems to me that at this point in the season ESPN has about a 24 hour headstart over SPEED on putting its Monday show together. How much difference, if any, do you think this makes - and do you think Monday N-NOW might be somewhat less smooth once ESPN is carrying the Cup races?

PammH said...

As I call it for now, NN is hands down the place to be on Mondays & it just breaks my heart, because I LOVED Speed's show in the past. :( Folks that read this blog from ALL networks-take heed!! AB MAKES all the diff!! He is Nascar knowlegable from WAAAY back, and knows our history.

SophiaZ123 said...

SPEED's CHANGE on MOnday nights makes me very sad, too.

But I realize

SPEED DOES NOT CARE.Again no Schrader this week just mentioned on WT.
STINKS but I won't be watching TWIN again.

It's just another trackside show with Steve Byrnes and pre taped re hashed video and VERY LITTLE conversation about the previous race.

Boring. Redundant. Junk.

even if the flu wiped out ESPN and Alan read notes and gave his opinions via phone to somebody about the race, ESPN Monday NN would wins hands down.

Somebody pay Schrader to go to NN at least a couple times a month.
SCRAP "the steve Byrnes show" and PLEASE give Wind Tunnel another night.His sunday show is way too short.

Nothing personal against Steve but we see him all day Friday and Saturday...enough. And TWIN is a shill to PROMOTE SPEEDS "own agenda" NOT what the fans have come to expect.

I get that now.

Anonymous said...

"And TWIN is a shill to PROMOTE SPEEDS "own agenda" NOT what the fans have come to expect."

Where did that come from? As a TV person, I am insulted.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Sophia,

You sure have been swinging for the fences.

Maybe we can watch things develop and see what changes we can help to affect. The good thing about TV is that change can be made at anytime.

JD

SophiaZ123 said...

just the same thing others are saying Jd.

You spend 20 minutes talking about the next race your channel/affiliate carries and the times of SPEED programs on Friday.
If I am the only one 'here' that thinks this way I apologize but I have read 50 similar comments and thought a couple were here. I can no longer read the dark background on SPEEDS newly 'tweaked' horrible new site (vision challenges) but last I checked last week, dozens of postings similar to my comment here.

No disrespect and it's clear the show IS DIFFERENT than INC. Just stating the obvious though its announced at the start of each show HYBRID INC.


If I am that disrespectful, about a show I used to LOVE, that's constantly being compared to something that no longer exists, delete the post, I understand.

:-)

Anonymous said...

JD, lets get to the cold hard facts. Have all these changes for ESPN resulted in increased ratings for their NASCAR programs? Where can I see those numbers? That's just the basics of the business and I have not heard anything about the ratings. A show needs to be seen, to be considered a success.

Anonymous said...

"your channel/affiliate carries and the times of SPEED programs on Friday."

You just have a problem with the promos? I don't see why that is such a big deal in your view. SPEED has always had them, TWIN or not. 24/7. In fact EVERY channel has them!

Tracy said...

Amen to what JD said. NN is my new must-watch.

Richard in N.C. said...

Ken Schrader is definitely critical to TWIN - not just his knowledge and insight, but his humor and he makes Michael Waltrip better. Kenny is willing to and can poke fun at MW like no one else can. Maybe his recent motorcycle trips with Kyle Petty have been a factor in his not being on TWIN.

I assume a big reason for N-NOW is to generate interest (viewers) for the races themselves, and from what I read ratings are up. Even if N-NOW contributes to increased viewers for Cup races on FOX, that should have some carryover effect to Cup races on ESPN - IF TNT does not drive too many fans away.

Anonymous said...

JD, Speaking of TNT, do we have any details on their upcoming coverage yet? Will Larry Mac remain involved?

Anonymous said...
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stricklinfan82 said...

To me there's still no "Showdown" on Monday nights.

Last year Speed's Monday night show was must see TV for me and the thought of watching ESPN's joke of a Monday night show was laughable.

Now things have completely turned around. ESPN's Monday night show is must see TV for me and the thought of watching Speed's Monday night show is completely laughable.

I give ESPN all the credit for turning around the Monday Night NASCAR Now. The new roundtable format and the addition of Allen Bestwick were brilliant moves as far as I'm concerned.

Unfortunately Speed dropped the ball with their new "NASCAR for newbies" program that has replaced the great Inside Winston/Nextel Cup franchise. I gave the first few episodes a chance but it has way too much of a "NASCAR 101 - today's lesson is the track named _____" feel for this veteran race fan to watch anymore. I know all of these tracks and I've seen tons of races on all of them, so I have no interest in watching a program that caters to new fans by giving in-depth track descriptions, drivers' comments about their likes/dislikes of the track, and video packages giving history lessons on what prior races at the upcoming track looked like.

I can see where new fans could enjoy all this new information... but I'd have to believe that even they will be turned off by this format when the Cup Series returns to most of these tracks in the fall and they're hearing the same track information and getting the same history lesson all over again. Hell they could just replay the first 20-30 minutes of the California and Bristol episodes and re-air them for the preview shows for the August/September races at those tracks. All they need to do is add highlights of the spring Cup races that just happened and they'll be all set.

Even the new feature pieces at the end of the broadcasts are senseless. Those feature stories are always very outdated and are filled with old information. What have we seen so far... the Petty Enterprises move from Level Cross 4 weeks after the fact and KHI hiring Jack Sprague to drive their second truck... 3-4 weeks after the season started?

It's a shame that Steve Byrnes got thrown into such a bad situation here. No host - Allen Bestwick, Mike Joy, Dave Despain, John Roberts, any other name that you can think of - and no expert panelist - Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader, Johnny Benson, Tony Stewart, whoever - could make this show work as far as I'm concerned. It's a terrible format and I won't be watching.

Congrats ESPN, you have already won the "Monday Night Showdown" in 2008 as far as I'm concerned.

SophiaZ123 said...

Anon 1.06

Au contraire! You pick and choose what you read from my writings.
I enjoy WTunnel (show's too short)

I loved the old INC and the one with Dave Despain. It was a show of ad libs compared to TWIN.

I love the guys in the booth on FOX, but would've liked a run down on the drivers (like radio since tech glitches continued)

ESPN has been a fabulous turn around and the Monday night NN round table is must see!! ESPM Race booth guys have great chemistry now. Enjoy Brad D and Rusty in the round table with AB.

I enjoyed the F1 race minus the two minute loss of feed...exciting changes in F1 races and so many spin outs, it was chaotic..hope that improves for racers sake.

THRILLED about OW series. It should make for good tv.

DW should've left the booth early but loved his getting the MD car. SWEET moment and a surprise for me to witness. :-)

Loved the classy UNDERSTATED way Dale Jarrett left, but I take it, that is how he wanted it. I look forward, greatly, to his being in the tv booth.

So stop ripping on me behind the "anon" and leave me alone.

I call it like I see it and am a straight shooter.

NOBODY was worse on ESPN than I (well maybe stricklanfan?) but hey, they improved a lot and I give them kudos for the steps they have taken so far. I compliment often times but you are too busy posting drive by postings to folks you don't like.

JD, these anons with their moments of glory to rip on MANY POSTERS here is really getting old. We know you have your personal troll but the sniping comments at others is getting hard to ignore.

I may be critical on tv but I try not to EVER make PERSONAL SNIPES at posters just for my own pleasure. :(

Anonymous said...

SophiaZ123,
Don't take it personal. Some can get annoyed by some of the posts here and go off on the poster. Its nothing personal, It just frustration.

Anonymous said...

I call it like I see it and am a straight shooter.

Yeah, so do I.

You post and post and complain and complain.

That's how I see it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
JD, lets get to the cold hard facts. Have all these changes for ESPN resulted in increased ratings for their NASCAR programs? Where can I see those numbers? That's just the basics of the business and I have not heard anything about the ratings. A show needs to be seen, to be considered a success.

March 16, 2008 10:45 PM
___________________________
I second this. JD, I have never seen a ratings report for NASCAR Now, Not this year, not last year.

Ever.

Not even a ballpark figure.

Couldn't one of your contacts provide a news release with ratings to the media? It would also be nice to know how it compares with other ESPN2 programming or daily sports shows like Baseball Tonight, College Game Night, NBA Tonight. I know NN must not do as well in ratings as the college football show, because NN was booted back a half hour last summer for it, and Jim Rome is on at 6:30 right now, NN's original time slot in 2007.

SPEED, which released Truck ratings recently, should do the same with TWIN. I've seen ratings released for NASCAR RaceDay and INC in the past, but not for a couple of years. The number I see right now is 388,000 viewers for the premiere of INC post Daytona in Feb. 2006, which was a 46 percent jump from the same show in 2005.

Until someone sees fits to release those types of figures for NN and the new TWIN, I take the "success" of NASCAR Now compared with TWIN with a grain of salt. It's a much improved show, but if it doesn't pull in viewers, ESPN isn't going to be pleased.

Anonymous said...

The Speedvision IWCR had the perfect formula, until the self proclaimed boy genius from FOX came in and dumped Benson, bestwick, the show's original producer and put "his mark" on the show. It has never recovered.
Now, in TWIN, we see the results of a media company(I read that it is run by a former grocery store chain marketer) attempt to fix something that was not, originally broken.

Man oh man, does NASCAR have problems , on and off the track!

ESPN has finally recognized what FOX did not-the high value of Bestwick. Give NN and Bestwick 4 weeks, and the ratings will definitely tell the story

Andrew S. said...

I have to work tonight but if I was at home watching television I would not be watching Speed.

No Schrader equals no viewer. At 8pm Eastern I would be listening to Tony Stewart Live on Sirius "The Wax Smoke Edition"

Daly Planet Editor said...

BTW - I don't think we are going to see ESPN release any kind of ratings for NN. This is a non-primetime support show intended for the DVR or the VCR.

At 5:30PM in the East and 2:30PM out West, the network understands that unless the show heads for a recording device of some kind, the original air will not generate any significant numbers.

In the sports TV world, they call this "support programming" and it is usually intended to target the same advertisers who participate in the big events (like races) and expand their on-going marketing campaigns.

I dropped a line to ESPN about ratings, so we will see what the response is about NN.

JD

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to ask ESPN about ratings.

I have to disagree that an airing at 5:30 (or 6) EST couldn't or shouldn't generate significant numbers because Pardon the Interruption (5:30 PM) and Around the Horn (5 PM) do just that on ESPN (main). Those two shows actually get more viewers watching live than Sportscenter.

ESPN should also have access to DVR numbers for NASCAR Now - which means within one week of an episode airing they should have one set of ratings (live + watched on DVR within 3 days). Within three weeks they should have the final combined ratings for an episode (live + watched on DVR within 7 days).

Here's an ESPNmediazone.com release from Jan 2007 to demonstrate what kind of numbers afternoon programming can get:

The weekday afternoon pairing of Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption continue to grow their audience. This year, the two combined for an average of 788,000 homes, up 11% from last year (708,000). The fourth quarter was the most-watched quarter ever for both shows. PTI has seen year-to-year household growth in 16 of the last 17 quarters, and ATH has done so in 12 of the last 13 quarters.

Vince said...

As far as this viewer is concerned, I don't even bother to DVR TWIN anymore. It's not a "Showdown". Maybe it was for the first couple of weeks, but TWIN has been spitting out teeth for several weeks now after they got them kicked in by NN.

ESPN got the Monday edition of NN right this year. The current panel is great. AB is simply the best at what he does. Ray, and I know some people don't like him because of the Crocker mess, is getting better every week. I have not been a Rusty fan when he was in the booth, but on this type of show he is great. And Mike offers his own unique point of view on the various topics. I'd like to hear more from him. He's certainly paid his dues.

I find it hilarious that Speed is getting their butts kicked on Monday nights by the very guy they let go, AB. He is obviously the heart and soul of the Monday night version of NN.

I'd guess Schrader has not been on TWIN because of his motorcycle ride with Kyle. Or maybe he's just burned out with Mikey's act like some of the rest of us are. I agree with a previous poster that SB can't save this show and in it's current format I don't think AB could either. Speed needs to admit this show isn't what most fans want to see and just regroup and start over. Concede Mondays to NN and go for a one hour show previewing the coming weeks race on maybe Thursday night. Try to create a niche there. ESPN has Mondays wrapped up with NN.

skibabe said...

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! I've been thinking this since the first show with Dave Despain, Mr. Bobble Head. The chemistry Allen, Michael, Kenny, and Johnny Benson had was fabulous. When one or two couldn't make it, the special guests were a nice change of pace and it made me appreciate the regular panel more! SPEED doesn't know what they're missing without Allen!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Ray Evernham has been working ESPNEWS today and in addition to recapping Bristol and updating some news stories, he has been promoting NASCAR Now.

SophiaZ123 said...

Vince

Your spitting out teeth comment about TWIN made me laugh. I had never heard things worded that way. :-)


I guess I thought more like TWIN was shooting off their toes one at a time, along with flocks of viewers! It's been painful for some of us to witness. :(

Sigh.

If Schrader was ever PROMO'd as a guest on NN ahead of time, I bet the DVR and VCR settings woul reach and all time high!!!

Schrader just has that "it" factor for many of us, whether he was in the recent race at all. And besides, they no longer discuss the PREVIOUS RACE on TWIN,for more than a few sentences, so KS would still be a great fit, imo, IF that were still a talk panel show which it ain't.

But it's clear he is off SPEED and most of us, though still whiny, are moving forward. My timer is set for NN at the odd hour of 5:30.

Anonymous said...

I don't consider it a showdown... if they aired at the same time...then yes...but they don't...so you are able to watch both if you desire.... As long as Alan is on the first one I'll tune in... as long as Mikey and or Shrader show up on the second...count me in!
Seeing Alan does make me long for the old days though...

Delenn said...

I never saw INC, but I have seen some TWIN shows. They just seem so out of place with Trackside and Raceday, which are both excellent shows (from what I have seen). I do wonder what the purpose of TWIN is. It is not a highlights show. Not an opinion show or roundtable. Not really a news show. So what is it? Also, do they really have to mention INC each and every week? If the viewers can't work that out for themselves, then they need to re-think.

I feel no-one could make this work, and I have been sitting here thinking why, and I just don't have the answer.

I like Byrnes. He's one of the best reporters, a decent play-by-play guy and good enough on Trackside. I can take or leave Mikey, but Schrader would be fun, or Kenny.

On the flip side, Monday Nascar Now is well worth an hour. AB is the mainstay and makes the show. Rusty is back to his old outspoken self. Even Brad is OK on it. I'm not sure why everyone has a problem with Ray - he's not the first bloke to stray. He is doing a pretty good job, and is getting more comfortable and outspoken by the week.

AB 1. Speed 0.

kenn said...

Note to NASCAR Now: Unless I'm mistaken, Harvick will be co-hosting Tony Stewart's satellite radio program tonight. It would have been good to point that out (if I remembered it correctly.)

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up about the Monday edition of NASCAR Now.

JD

Paul said...

I used to think that Bestwick was just another buffoon in the style of Michael Waltrip beause the former would let the latter essentially take over the show with his feeble attempts at being glib. Clearly Alan is a consumate professional and, given the forum, and direction, by the suits at ESPN, he has demonstrated that he can indeed chair a intelligent discussion.

Speed needs to get rid of Waltrip, but, since his brother is the top dog analyst on sister Fox, that is not likely to happen. I stopped watching the various SPEED iterations of NASCAR because of the junjior Waltrip's useless prattering.

I am in agreement with one of the other posts here asking for more Wind Tunnel. It was a loss when SPEED took Dave Despain off a more or less nightly stage and relegated him to Sundays only.