Monday, March 3, 2008

Phil Parsons Helps SPEED Fill The Void

The original idea of having three drivers stop by the TV studio and talk about the race on Monday was a good one. In one form or another, the Monday night NASCAR show on SPEED has been around for over a decade.

This Monday night, there was only one small problem. All of the "usual suspects" were in Phoenix, AZ testing with the Cup Series. Luckily, SPEED had a great "replacement player" in the wings.

Phil Parsons joined host Steve Byrnes to make-up the studio panel for This Week In NASCAR. It was interesting at first to see only two people, but Parsons was the perfect choice. His personal experience in the sport and his calm and easy-going on-air presence worked very well.

Byrnes hooked-up by satellite with both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle for a timely interview. Both drivers have good relationships with Byrnes, and the interview was informative and covered the right ground. The two drivers were more at ease than in normal media interviews, and the effort to get them on-camera during testing was appreciated.

Byrnes leaned a lot on edited features throughout the show, and the quality of the NMG video in almost every piece was outstanding. Parsons was great in following-up many of the video pieces with his own veteran take on the subject.

As the show progressed, it was easy to understand why Craftsman Truck Series viewers have enjoyed Parsons for years. His style and sense of calm just draws viewers into what he is talking about. His plain-spoken manner gets NASCAR issues across to all kinds of fans with all levels of knowledge.

When Biffle and Edwards returned later in the show, Biffle was outstanding in addressing the safety concerns surrounding the Jeff Gordon accident in Las Vegas. Without interference, Biffle also talked about several other subjects in the same informed manner that he brought to Inside NEXTEL Cup.

It was a nice touch to dig deep in the NMG archive and bring out a Jeff Gordon interview from his rookie year. Mixed with footage and soundbites from the present day, it made for an outstanding feature that fans will remember for a long time. Parsons and Byrnes did a solid follow-up on the Gordon feature and put the impact of Jeff Gordon teaming with Rick Hendrick into a good perspective.

Each week, Dave Despain appears to offer his opinion on one topic. This time, it was Jeff Gordon. Despain put into perspective his unique open-wheel experiences with Gordon, and the pathway that ultimately led Gordon to NASCAR. All comparisons to Andy Rooney aside, this Despain feature is going to lead to great discussions when the full panel is on the program.

In the next-to-last segment of the program, Parsons did a great job of answering viewer mail. His NASCAR knowledge really hints to SPEED that perhaps the Craftsman Truck Series needs some additional TV programming during the week with Parsons in the mix.

Byrnes did a good job directing traffic, and dealing with a situation that called on a lot of his TV skills. After a rough start, this program seems to be sorting itself out in terms of features and sponsored elements. Once the full panel returns next week, it will be the first time that Byrnes and the gang will be together this season. That show might be one to circle on your TV calendar.

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ESPN Continues To Shuffle The Monday Night Deck

Targeting the one hour Monday NASCAR Now show, the ESPN executives took a chance and made a big change. It has paid-off in spades.

The series introduced a roundtable format that gathers four NASCAR on ESPN personalities and lets them talk. This week, Ray Evernham joined host Allen Bestwick, Boris Said and Mike Massaro.

Mixed with highlights and soundbites from the track, the conversation flows from topic-to-topic. It is an interesting change of pace that comes at a time when NASCAR fans have already seen the highlights, and want more information and perspective.

Boris Said has been a regular on this program, and continues to be the free spirit that this program has needed to turn loose. Sometimes a bit outrageous, Said has been a vocal advocate for the "little guy" in the sport and relates well to the other ESPN personalities including regular hosts Ryan Burr and Nicole Manske.

All the hard work of Mike Massaro has been rewarded with an active role on this panel. Massaro has the true perspective of a veteran reporter, and he is not afraid to challenge the statements of the other panelists on almost any topic. While he was not chosen to be a co-host, his role as a pit reporter continues on the entire NASCAR on ESPN package.

The interesting personality on the horizon is Ray Evernham. How and why he suddenly showed-up as a member of the ESPN team has never really been explained. Evernham has a very good presence on TV, and he could easily slip into an analyst role for the network in the future. This season, he will be working on NASCAR Now as well as contributing to other programs like SportsCenter and also ESPNEWS.

While he is still active as a team owner, Evernham has been careful to steer away from even casual conversation about his GEM cars. He contributes from a veteran perspective and often took the lead in the conversations throughout the show. While fans have lots of strong feelings about him, ESPN has made it clear that Evernham is here to stay. It should be interesting to see if his role changes in 2009.

At about the halfway point of the show, there is an extended video piece that recaps all kinds of happenings at the track from practice through the final race. It is a wonderful feature that allows a break from the studio conversation, and gives fans the kind of behind-the-scenes peek they used to enjoy on some former NASCAR TV series. Getting this footage "turned around" and edited is no easy task.

Bestwick has been a breath of fresh air for ESPN, and this program gives viewers the opportunity to see ESPN personalities in an informal setting where they can speak freely on a wide variety of topics. Perhaps, ESPN may someday choose to allow the panel to take questions from fans and expand the conversation outside the studio.

The NASCAR Media Group provides a lot of footage and support for all the NASCAR-related TV programs, and NASCAR Now is no exception. The wonderfully edited video piece featured in each Monday show has become a favorite, and really begs for a NASCAR Now year-in-review program in November.

ESPN has hit on a recipe for success, and should get credit for making the changes needed to create a Monday wrap-up show that fans can finally enjoy.

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In-Progress: Monday "NASCAR Now" On ESPN2

The big one-hour Monday edition of NASCAR Now rolls out at 5:30PM Eastern Time on ESPN2. This show has been completely re-vamped for 2008, and now features a roundtable style discussion group focusing on the topics of the race weekend.

The program is hosted by Allen Bestwick, and this week will feature Ray Evernham stopping by ESPN for a visit. Evernham is the newest member of the NASCAR on ESPN crew, and fits-in well with Bestwick.

ESPN has tried to integrate all the NASCAR announcers into one big team, and this program usually features a good percentage of the on-air talent. The change from last season has been amazing.

There will be a review up later, but this post will serve to host your reactions to the program in-progress. We have tried to offer these posts so that viewers can log their opinions without having to wait for a later story on this site.

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So, What's Up With Jamie Little?

Current ESPN pit reporter and NASCAR Now contributor Jamie Little is generating a lot of email and a lot of comments about her interviews of drivers in the Nationwide Series telecast on Saturday.

Little is an aggressive reporter, and she certainly showed that with some of her live interviews on ESPN2. Little pushed Kyle Busch after his accident in the Nationwide Series on several topics, and evoked strong reactions from the fans. Busch kept his cool.

Comments included "she has to know when to stop" and "another (ESPN) question to try and get a reaction." Fans called her interview technique "baiting" and "over the line." Pushy was the word used most often.

Last season, fans watched Mike Massaro continue an interview with Dale Earnhardt Junior after he fell out of The Chase. Massaro looked as if he kept trying to end it, only to have the Producer talking in his ear push him to continue to try and force Junior into some sort of emotional reaction. It was one of the lowest points of ESPN's NASCAR coverage in 2007.

Now, after a high-speed accident on a track where he very much wanted to win, how do you feel Jamie Little treated Kyle Busch? How about the other drivers that she interviewed, including Tony Stewart? His reaction to her question was interesting. What do you think of her on-air style and knowledge of the sport?

If you would like to read the comments of The Daly Planet readers as the original incident unfolded, you can click here.

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