Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Kenny Schrader Returns To SPEED On Monday Night
The transition from the three-man panel of Inside NEXTEL Cup to the slimmed-down two-man version of This Week In NASCAR has been a tough one for SPEED.
There are lots of logistical and operational reasons why three voices work better than two on TV. Fundamentally, conversations become discussions when a third voice is added. It also takes away the personal agendas and forces the participants to respect the opinions of the other panelists. There is no "me against him" when there are three. The addition simply does not work.
Every TV talk show that has a regular panel of experts has one "senior statesman." Love him or hate him, that person has earned the distinction of being the leader of the pack.
Sometimes, it is because their professional experience is outstanding. Sometimes, it is because their personality is integral to the show itself. Sometimes, it is because they can keep the other panelists in-check with only a look.
For over a decade, Kenny Schrader has been all this and more to SPEED's longest running weekly series. From the early days of Inside Winston Cup Racing on SpeedVision through the final days of Inside NEXTEL Cup during the Dave Despain era, it was Schrader who worked hard to keep the rudder in the water and the ship on course.
As SPEED changed over to the new show, Steve Byrnes was brought-in as the new host. The network went for experience specific to NASCAR and utilized their most versatile announcer to carry the load for the new program and format.
In a smart move, the network announced that the "esteemed panel of experts" would be kept in place and that both Greg Biffle and Chad Knaus would become regular panelists. Adding a crew chief perspective to this show struck many as a strong move.
As the new programs began to air, it was clear that several things were different. First, the program was saturated with video. From highlights to interviews to features, the show was no longer about conversation. The panelists were mostly reacting to the video.
The second thing was the format. After a brief chat with both panelists about their race weekend, the program left the present and entered the future with an extended preview of the next Sprint Cup race. Even when the race was two weeks away, this is the format the program followed.
Viewers had to wait until thirty minutes into this hour program for Byrnes to return the discussion to the race weekend that had just ended one day earlier. In a good example of putting the cart before the horse in TV, the production team decided to talk about the future before the present. For fans tuning-in to get the inside scoop on the stories of the weekend, this was a tough switch.
The final issue is one that will be solved on Monday night at 8PM Eastern Time. Since the program format and title change, there has been no Ken Schrader on SPEED. As the "senior statesman" of the former panel, the good humor and veteran perspective of Schrader has been sorely missed.
Like it or not, the panelists currently involved in Cup racing are always going to reference and relate to their own teams and circumstances. Often, with only two panelists, viewers feel like they are getting the Roush and Michael Waltrip Racing perspectives. With Knaus, almost every comment seems to include the work "Jimmie."
Now, Schrader returns to the Monday night show with his long-time sidekick and self-appointed NASCAR spokesman Waltrip alongside. Even without a third voice, it should be interesting to watch both the old and the new on-air dynamic of this duo play-out.
Schrader will be facing a much faster-paced show that includes a ton of video and sometimes feature reports that seem to be added for no particular reason. There is often no groundwork in-place for the sudden appearance of various NASCAR personalities on this program.
It will be up to Schrader to determine his on-air relationship with Steve Byrnes and begin to help this bland show develop a personality. Last week's program featured an energized Waltrip and a well-spoke Biffle, but it needed one more voice. Byrnes cannot put Waltrip in his place when he goes off on a rant, and he can also not quiet down Biffle when he starts to expand on how great things are at Roush Racing.
This is the role of only one man, and he has earned it. He earned it by showing up when no one was watching SpeedVision and the show had a cult following of only a small group of fans. He earned it by dealing with the program being cancelled once, expanded to ninety minutes once and then having half of the on-air talent fired in one day. He stayed through the good times with Allen Bestwick and the bad times with Dave Despain. Set changes, wardrobe changes, format changes...Schrader has seen it all.
Monday should be an interesting time for all kinds of fans. Veterans may want to set the DVR or the VCR as SPEED is hesitant to talk about Schrader's continued role on this program. New NASCAR fans may simply want to enjoy the kind of perspective that only someone with Schrader's unmatched racing experience can bring to TV.
Either way, Monday evening at 8PM should get circled on your TV guide. Hopefully, Schrader is in good spirits and ready to experience the new surroundings. While he always brings his sense of humor, in this case Schrader might want to check and see if he packed his rudder. Getting this show back on course is going to be a priority.
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