Monday, March 17, 2008
Monday's "NASCAR Now" Ready For Primetime
Ever since ESPN2 made the commitment to completely change Monday's one hour NASCAR Now program this season, the comments from the TV viewers have been mostly positive.
On this Monday, Allen Bestwick was hosting a "roundtable" discussion that featured Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Mike Massaro. This combination proved to be completely effective in terms of bringing a level of credibility to NASCAR Now that could not be questioned.
After a solid discussion of the Bristol Cup race, the panel welcomed Richard Childress by satellite for an interview. RC is getting as much out of this one, two, three finish as possible. One of NASCAR's best interviews, RC did not disappoint with his frank comments on everything from Tony Stewart's problems to the future of Childress Racing.
In following the Childress interview, the panel launched into exactly the type of open and flowing conversation that has attracted NASCAR fans to this program. Bestwick floated all kinds of topics, and let each panelist contribute without interruption. Wallace and Evernham seemed to be working well together, and this chemistry between the two big fish on the panel really set the tone for good content.
This week, it seemed that NASCAR Now had carved out as much time as possible for discussion. Using video highlights and driver soundbites to enhance the conversations, Bestwick really showed his ability to weave these TV elements together in a very effective manner.
In turning this program around from last season, ESPN has made one of the most painful decisions possible for them. Gone is the high-tech studio set, along with all the bells and whistles that used to dominate this program. In learning what NASCAR fans wanted to watch on Mondays, the network realized that "less was more."
Bestwick raised the Top 35 issue with the panel, and used reactions from several drivers to address this topic. The panel was clear in the differences involving practice for the two groups of Cup drivers, and how the world was about to change for Cup regular Jamie McMurray. The panel spared McMurray a review of his brisk response to this issue on a NASCAR Now episode from last week.
In addressing the Dale Jarrett retirement issue, the program presented a behind-the-scenes all-access feature. Rather than just another re-hash of Sunday, this feature turned out to be very thorough and balanced in tone. Beginning with Friday practice, the words of Jarrett and his true feelings about stepping aside as an active driver hit home for many fans. Wrapping-up with his heartfelt words from the actual drivers meeting, the feature ended with the NASCAR reality of finishing outside the top ten.
The best way to put the cap on this subject was to use the roundtable panel to tell some stories. Wallace and Evernham came through with comments re-enforcing Jarrett's dignity, but Massaro got the best reaction when he referred to the years where ESPN reporters were banned from the NASCAR tracks. Massaro said he had seen a lot of Jarrett at the helicopter pads over the years, and he always had time for ESPN.
This program is maturing before our eyes. Now, it may be time for ESPN to address the fact that this outstanding program is on-the-air at 5:30PM Eastern and 2:30PM Pacific Time on Mondays. It does repeat at Midnight Eastern Time, but that still cheats East Coast fans who are not able to watch this program live or record it.
As the season continues, ESPN execs are not going to be able to ignore the fact that they have a hit on their hands. It should be very interesting to keep an eye on the Monday version of NASCAR Now, as primetime seems to be in this program's future.
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