Monday, April 21, 2008
Reporters Take-Over "The Roundtable'
ESPN continues to tinker with NASCAR Now as they work to build a new relationship with the fan base. On Monday night, with the Sprint Cup Series off, host Allen Bestwick gathered a group of reporters to review the season-to-date.
Originally, ESPN's Tim Cowlishaw was going to join Angelique Chengelis and David Poole on the panel. Chengelis is a Detroit News veteran, and has been a regular on NASCAR Now since the show began last season. Poole is one of the most recognized NASCAR journalists and creates original content for radio, the Internet and newspapers.
The choice of Cowlishaw for this show got lots of email and comments on this site. His 2007 NASCAR Now appearances consisted mostly of hype and conjecture that did not play well with the personalities in the sport. This season, he has been seen infrequently on this series and has not worked the NASCAR trail.
As the show began, Bestwick welcomed Poole and Chengelis. He never mentioned a word about Cowlishaw, who was noticeably absent. Unfortunately, Cowlishaw was not replaced on the panel by another ESPN NASCAR personality like Marty Smith or Ryan McGee.
Chengelis and Poole teamed with Bestwick to present exactly the type of program that viewers could enjoy. The topics ranged from grading the Cup teams to the resurgence of the newly-merged IRL. ESPN took what had been a worthless off-week and created value through simple conversation.
Poole was outstanding, and while he is finding his "TV legs" in terms of fundamentals he continues to bring a unique perspective wrapped in an interesting personality. His dry sense of humor and ability to speak candidly about the biggest stars and owners in the sport works best on his Sirius radio show, but translated to the little screen with good results.
Chengelis was appearing for the first time, and proved to be much more than many viewers may have imagined. Normally, she is seen in tightly-scripted weekday appearances on NASCAR Now as a reporter. On weekends at the tracks, she has a little more freedom but once again the questions are all rehearsed.
In this hour, especially without Cowlishaw, Chengelis was front-and-center. Her response was to step-up and participate equally with Poole and Bestwick. This was a big moment for her on ESPN2, with fans now understanding the personality and the depth of NASCAR knowledge that she brings to the table.
Bestwick was solid in hosting, although he had to walk the line between host and participant on several occasions. His extensive NASCAR background, along with his ability to deal with the ups-and-downs of a TV career have made him a fan favorite.
This season he may be at his professional peak as the new leader of the NASCAR on ESPN gang. Last season, this was a title that Jerry Punch did not want and Suzy Kolber could not handle. Bestwick has solved so many problems for ESPN because of his "utility player" status that the network must be smiling.
NASCAR Now continues to be the surprise of the season. This Sports Reporters format worked well, although it could have used a third opinion. Perhaps, ESPN2 will consider adding "specials" in this format to the line-up at specific times of the season. It certainly is a good way to get the journalism side of the business more TV time and expose the personalities of the folks who craft our NASCAR news.
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