Sunday, March 23, 2008

This "Big Monday" Not About Basketball

Updated: For those asking, LW Miller did win the weekend opening Whelen Modified race at Caraway Speedway. He was almost chased down by Teddy Christopher, the Northern Modified veteran. Miller was featured in a NASCAR Now interview with Nicole Manske last week, and the show deservedly received great reviews for keeping the regional NASCAR racers on the agenda for this season. Maybe on Monday night there will be some race results.

When ESPN employees talk about "Big Mondays," they are referring to the basketball double and now triple-headers that feature top college teams. Debuting in the 1980's, it was the first presentation of college hoops during the week on ESPN. It changed the way TV viewers watched sports.

This Monday, ESPN2 will host another edition of what is rapidly becoming "Big Monday" for NASCAR fans. Even without a Sprint Cup race being run, Allen Bestwick will host a one hour edition of NASCAR Now from the ESPN studios.

Each week, Bestwick has been matched with a panel of three veterans from the NASCAR on ESPN team. This week, he will be joined by NASCAR Now's Lead Reporter Marty Smith, analyst Andy Petree and Brad Daugherty.

Over the past several weeks, it has been reporter Mike Massaro who has provided the spark on this panel, and it should be interesting to see how Smith does in filling the journalistic role. Petree was on-hand to call the Nashville Nationwide race, and is having a very good year in terms of his comfort level on TV.

Daugherty continues to fill a very unique role. In some settings, like the NASCAR Now Monday shows, he can be entertaining and opinionated. Featured on the weekday shows alone, he is not given a role in which he can thrive and often speaks simply as a fan. On Cup weekends, he poses questions to the experts from a fan perspective. When Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree are answering those questions, the results are bound to be interesting.

Ray Evernham is the newest member of the ESPN team, and his appearances on NASCAR Now have drawn both positive and negative comments. While he is off this week, it should be interesting to see if Evernham can continue to build his personal credibility back with some fans through his on-air exposure. His perspective as a team owner does bring good information to the show, but his off-track issues continue to linger.

Since the inception of this "roundtable" format, this show has drawn the attention of fans in exactly the way ESPN had planned. Memories of the disaster that was last season's Monday programs has been completely erased. NASCAR fans respond to commitment and that is what ESPN has delivered this season.

As the show continues to grow, look for additional reports from the field as well as a continuation of the slickly-edited weekend wrap features. ESPN has shifted their NASCAR resources to provide a wealth of talent and experience in support of this featured program.

Monday at 5:30PM Eastern Time, it should be interesting to see what topics the panel will discuss following a stand-alone Nationwide Series race weekend. Hopefully, this hour program will provide an opportunity to open the door on some pressing issues in NASCAR. One thing is for sure, lots of NASCAR fans are already getting ready for their own "Big Monday."

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"NASCAR Confidential" Brings Down The House

The debut of the new program series from the NASCAR Media Group filled a void that fans had been asking SPEED Channel to fix for several years.

Few things can be better than Ken Squier as the first voice fans heard on NASCAR Confidential. Squier set-up the debut as a slice-of-life program following several different and diverse personalities on the Daytona 500 weekend.

For the past several years, the official TV production arm of NASCAR was called NASCAR Images. Originally a joint venture with Fox, the company is now part of a broader organization called the NASCAR Media Group and is totally owned by NASCAR.

The organization is diverse, and provides everything from on-site TV production services to NASCAR home videos. One other thing the company provides is outstanding post-produced TV series. Several networks have provided the outlets for this type of product, but things have been a bit slow over the last several years.

ESPN has almost no room for additional long-form NASCAR programming like NASCAR Confidential. They have added a ton of NASCAR content with races and a daily news show called NASCAR Now. The burden of carrying additional NASCAR content like this really falls to SPEED.

With 24 hours dedicated to motorsports, SPEED has been focusing their NASCAR efforts on programming that originates from the track. Ironically, it is the NASCAR Media Group that produces all those shows seen on SPEED from Raceday to Victory Lane. Finally, SPEED has decided to add this new six episode series.

“SPEED knows how devoted NASCAR fans are and how much they want every tidbit of information and insight they can get their hands on,” said Steve Craddock, SPEED Senior VP of Programming. “NASCAR Confidential will give viewers a different take on the behind-the-scenes workings in NASCAR. It will bring NASCAR to the fans in more depth and detail than they’ve ever had before.”

In this first program, cameras followed T. Taylor Warren, the photographer who has chronicled in photos every Daytona 500. Also, DeLana Harvick, wife of 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick and Jay Howard, president of JHE, the company in charge of pre-race entertainment were featured. Finally, both Ryan Newman and Michael Waltrip showed-up as drivers with unique perspectives going into this event.

The stories of each of the participants were told in slices and were weaved together quite well. The pace was fast and this series was different than the single-theme programs we have seen from NMG in the past. It was refreshing to once again be able to see behind-the-scenes in a realistic way the sport that contains so many diverse human interest stories.

Perhaps, you could tell us what you thought of this pilot episode. The show will re-air on Monday in the TWIN timeslot at 8PM Eastern Time on SPEED if you missed the original airing. Maybe SPEED could be persuaded to continue this series beyond the original six episodes ordered so far.

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