Monday, April 7, 2008
Monday Night Match-Up: This Should Be A Good One
Every week after the race, another kind of race begins for the NASCAR TV partners.
Both ESPN2 and SPEED have been working hard to capture the Monday audience of NASCAR fans who want more information about the racing weekend once the dust has settled.
Both networks offer their own versions of a one hour wrap-up show. ESPN2 is up first with NASCAR Now at 5:30PM Eastern Time. This week, host Allen Bestwick welcomes Lead Reporter Marty Smith and veteran pit reporter Mike Massaro to the Bristol, CT studio.
In another stroke of luck for this program, the third panelist on the show will be Randy LaJoie. This former Busch Series champion is now a well-known safety expert and runs a company that makes racing seats for NASCAR and other series. It was a seat from The Joie Of Seating that was in rookie Michael McDowell's car when he crashed at Texas.
LaJoie is also a part-time analyst for ESPN2, and he will be returning this season to select stand-alone Nationwide Series races. His candid on-air demeanor is a hit with fans, and he works well with Allen Bestwick who is a long-time friend.
Both Smith and Massaro have finally been given an opportunity to shine this season, and have both responded well. Smith moved-up to cover the "hard news beat" at the tracks and his reports and interaction with the drivers and personalities has been outstanding. Massaro has finally been able to let his voice be heard on this Monday show, and has proven to be an experienced and opinionated panelist.
Bestwick is having the TV year of his life, and continues to be focused and organized on the air, which is his trademark. Working both at the tracks and in the studio, Bestwick has provided the anchor for the NASCAR on ESPN team that neither Jerry Punch or Suzy Kolber could provide last season.
This Monday program with LaJoie has the potential to force the ESPN "stuffed shirts" to let the NASCAR guys loosen-up and have some fun on-the-air. ESPN's formal high-fashion approach might work for the NFL and the NBA, but it is simply out of place in the NASCAR world of polo's and khakis. We can all watch as this program continues to evolve.
SPEED has decided to start-over on Mondays, and they did not provide host Steve Byrnes a whole lot of help. He anchors This Week In NASCAR, the network's one hour program that airs on Mondays at 8PM. Leading into this program is Pass Time, a drag racing show and after TWIN is the very British Super-Cars Exposed.
The network has downsized the panel from three to two, apparently because they have added a ton of video and features to the show. Byrnes gets a break this week because he is joined by Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle. Once again, both panelists were in the Texas race and it was Waltrip's young driver Michael McDowell who was involved in that nasty practice crash.
For some reason, SPEED has chosen to force the show to preview the upcoming race that is five days away during the opening segments. Instead of chatting about the events of the weekend and finishing off all of the pending topics that fans tune-in to see, Byrnes finds himself talking about last season's race at a track that currently sits empty. This format change is simply tough to take.
The rotating panelists on this show are supposed to include Kenny Schrader, but viewers have not seen him this season. Chad Knaus is also a panelist, and he has been solid in his on-air relationship with Waltrip. Having only two panelists sometimes makes it tough for Byrnes to get the good humor flowing, but he certainly tries.
There is no doubt that the NASCAR experience of the on-air personalities of TWIN is solid, but the challenge is to put that knowledge in a format that works for the viewers. Even with the outstanding video edited by the NASCAR Media Group, it is the conversation and tidbits from the weekend that viewers want to hear.
As with ESPN2, SPEED has continued to tinker with this program from top-to-bottom and just last week changed the on-air talent into long-sleeved tan oxford shirts. Waltrip said he felt like he was still in his PJ's. Tan is not a primary color that you see on TV a whole lot.
Monday should bring some new twists and turns with both NASCAR Now and This Week in NASCAR. TV viewers should once again be able to see two very different networks talk about the same subjects in two very different ways. TV is always interesting.
The Daly Planet will have columns about both programs immediately after they conclude, but your comments about the series so far this season are welcome on this post. Just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the instructions.