Monday, June 9, 2008
Waltrip Finding His TV Comfort Zone
This season SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group have been working hard to restore the luster to the Monday night franchise now called This Week in NASCAR. The task of leading this charge has fallen to host Steve Byrnes.
On this Monday, Byrnes had Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip along for the ride. These three have know each other for a very long time and alternate back-and-forth between handling the TV duties and sneaking-in jokes and references that give the program some flavor.
Waltrip is a mainstay on this series, with Biffle and Chad Knaus rotating in the other spot. The result is that now, four months into the new show, Waltrip knows the ropes and is beginning to feel comfortable. That is a big deal.
Like it or not, Michael Waltrip is the franchise and the show is not the same without him. The bonus for both the show and the fans is that when Waltrip is at ease, the fun begins.
Biffle takes the role of the straight man and handles the questions and issues with a thoughtful approach that has become his trademark. He is the set-up man.
Waltrip handles the same issues with a reckless abandon that in this show included claiming his Canadian heritage and harassing Jimmy Spencer about his continuing challenges with certain driver names.
It was this eclectic mix that made Inside NEXTEL Cup work and the same dynamic has begun to develop on TWIN. The show is clearly missing a third panelist, and had a very different feel when SPEED chose to expand the panel for a recent program.
While veteran fans may long for the dry sense of humor of Kenny Schrader, it could be a Chad Knaus that takes his place to round-out the panel to three. That would not really present a challenge to Byrnes, who handles Trackside for SPEED all season long.
Luckily, with the sheer boredom of Pocono it was a lot easier for fans to swallow the extended preview of Michigan for the first half of the show. Add-in the fact that Biffle had a strong record of winning at that track and things just fell in place.
As usual, the pace and humor of the show picked-up when the Pocono highlights rolled. Both Waltrip and Biffle had experienced problems in the race, and did a good job of recapping their issues. They continued to do an outstanding job of recapping the rest of the race and the strategies involved.
Even though these two are not close in their personal lives, Biffle and Waltrip have found a way to work together effectively on-the-air. They have also managed to keep the sense of humor and casual atmosphere established by Byrnes.
Each program contains an outstanding feature from the NASCAR Media Group called Scanner Chatter. It uses the exclusive footage that this company captures to relay sounds and images to the viewers that perhaps they did not get a chance to see on the live telecast. It has proven to be the most effective feature in the program.
As the show winds-down, there is a choice to be made. Either let the panelists talk about an issue for several minutes or show another pre-produced feature. After seeing an outdated segment on "sand cars" this week, perhaps the production team will consider picking some current topics and just letting the panel talk.
There has been a lot of time and effort put into this program as it had been tweaked and changed since February. It continues to pick-up steam and the most obvious change is the comfort level of the panelists with each other and the host.
Now that Chad Knaus has been a semi-regular panelist, Monday's episode seemed to be lacking the crew chief perspective that Knaus has brought to the show. Knaus was a new wrinkle and it is interesting that now the analysis of two drivers seems to leave a little something lacking.
Despite one poor choice of words from Waltrip, the show kept good humor and provided good information. Michigan will not be a Pocono, and Biffle having a strong performance is a good possibility. Next week's episode should be a good measuring stick of just how far this TV series has come in four months.
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