Monday, July 28, 2008
"This Week In NASCAR" Turns The Corner
NASCAR fans have had a unique opportunity this season to watch a TV show start from scratch and begin to grow. This Week in NASCAR on SPEED took the place of the Inside Sprint Cup program franchise in February.
Steve Byrnes was named as host and the "expert panel" shrunk from three to just two. Michael Waltrip was a staple on this new show, with Greg Biffle and Chad Knaus rotating through the other chair as their schedules allowed. While Kenny Schrader left the program, he did return for one episode this season.
The challenge for the NASCAR Media Group producers was to keep the franchise alive but make some positive changes for the new program. One big change was the format. The new TWIN had a short chat with the panelists about their racing weekend and then moved-on quickly to the next production element.
The SPEED executives had decided to preview the upcoming race before Byrnes and company got the opportunity to review the action that was still fresh in the minds of the fans. It was an understandable idea, but one that did not really fly with the TV viewers.
Once Waltrip got comfortable with Byrnes, he cranked his excitement level back-up to the Mikey of old and things became fun again. Waltrip crafted a hilarious relationship with Knaus that we have been referring to as "the odd couple." The analytical Knaus is often confronted with the unorthodox Waltrip discussing things like his socks and favorite TV commercials.
Biffle has brought a driver credibility to the program of someone who still has the race-to-race intensity of a contender. His TV skills are getting better and he now finally feels free to offer his own opinions. He has mastered the art of completely avoiding Waltrip in a "Schrader like" way that also makes things fun.
Over the last six months, Daly Planet readers have added their comments in support of changing the program format. Once Byrnes got things organized and the show developed a personality, it was clear that the on-air announcers needed one little bit of help from the network. This week, they got it.
Monday night was the first show where the fresh memories and stories from the Sunday race were allowed to continue for the first half of the show. SPEED had allowed the review to pass the preview and the results were more than worthwhile. Now, Byrnes can concentrate on building-up the personalities and the features contained in the newly-formatted show.
Waltrip and Biffle ran through the Brickyard 400 issues and highlights with enthusiasm and candor. Waltrip echoed the comments of the other drivers that NASCAR managed the unfortunate situation the best way possible. As usual, Waltrip quickly went just a bit overboard in his enthusiasm.
The new format continued as Byrnes fired-off a group of email questions from viewers about the Indy race to the panelists in the middle of the show. This was a great addition, as it caught both Waltrip and Biffle off-guard and asked them to deal with the real feelings of the fans. This element will have real potential when viewers are allowed to upload a video question on the SPEEDtv.com website for the show.
One strong element continues to be the pre-produced features from The NASCAR Media Group. Elements like Scanner Chatter, highlight reviews and upcoming race previews are always outstanding. It is a shame that these features cannot appear on the same SPEEDtv.com website so viewers can replay them. Perhaps, that will happen in the future.
As expected, the Pocono preview was much more effective since the panelists were now relaxed and in a very good mood. After thirty minutes of talking about the last race, the transition to the upcoming event seemed to be very natural.
This week, the format changes continued as TWIN showed the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series highlights. This was a feature that never should have been eliminated and was welcomed back with enthusiasm by the panelists.
TWIN is going to benefit from increasing the viewer interactivity with the panelists. ESPN2's NASCAR Now has cemented the format of three panelists who simply take questions from the host and perhaps talk to a guest.
It will be up to SPEED and the NMG producers to take advantage of this personality-driven show and increase the ability of NASCAR fans to participate with the panelists on TWIN. There is a whole lot of potential in this program series.
In the end, we applaud SPEED for allowing the producers to change the format and open-the-gate to more fun and flowing conversation. As usual with the NASCAR TV partners, they have proven to be ultimately responsive to the views of the fans.
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