Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday TV Shows Avoid The Obvious

If you did not know it, The Chase is on. Since this format began, it seems that one of the biggest challenges of the final ten races sits squarely with the two TV networks who are covering the sport at this time of the season.

ESPN2's revamped NASCAR Now Monday program has been the hit of the year. Moving Allen Bestwick into the host position set a tone for the season that helped the other NASCAR Now programs throughout the week. Bestwick brings what the TV series did not have, credibility.

From February through the beginning of The Chase, ESPN2's Monday hours have been fascinating. Themed shows have included all three Wallace brothers, several NASCAR reporter programs and even one all-ESPN announcer show. Bestwick's challenge each week has been to use the personalities of his panelists to create good TV.

As The Chase began, things changed for this Monday program. Brad Daugherty was now a Sprint Cup owner. Boris Said was no longer actively involved in the sport. Ray Evernham was again involved in controversial news and still owned a multi-car team. Rusty Wallace was now an outspoken Nationwide Series owner.

Even Allen Bestwick seems to have suddenly become a staunch defender of NASCAR on this program, often taking on the role of self-appointed devil's advocate. This Monday's show was another good example of how things had changed. The two drivers on the program, Boris Said and Ricky Craven from Yahoo! Sports, disagreed frequently on a variety of issues. Said was not a happy camper.

One got the opinion that this show had been well-planned in advance. Panelist Ray Evernham never once had to speak about his team business or comment on his own situation for next season. The ESPN wall of silence was up again.

Even as the NASCAR media wrote story-after-story about Evernham stepping or being moved aside at GEM, the issue was never raised as ESPN continued the dogged single-minded pursuit of featuring The Chasers.

Just as Jimmie Johnson was the class of the field at Martinsville, Craven was the class of this program. Whoever gets Craven for 2009 on TV is going to get a goldmine. If ESPN, TNT or SPEED decide to make some changes next season, Craven's name has to be on the short list.

After an hour of the buttoned-down and well-planned High Definition perfection of NASCAR Now, fans spun the dial to SPEED for three guys in shirts and jeans. This Monday, it was Martinsville winner Chad Knaus and top twenty finisher Michael Waltrip joining host Steve Byrnes.

If NASCAR Now is the best show of the season, then This Week In NASCAR is the most improved. Byrnes and The NASCAR Media Group production team have been tinkering with this new show since February.

On this Monday, they changed it yet again. After hearing it from TDP readers after dumping the Craftsman Truck highlights, that show element returned. The highlights were short and there was no winner interview, but that is a start. This series is important to SPEED and getting the struggling series some additional TV time was a smart move.

Since The Chase began, TWIN has been under the gun to insert a huge two-segment long feature on one of the Chase drivers. Since all of them are well-known, the time spent playing-back this edited feature really changed the rest of the show. This week, things were a little different.

First, viewers saw footage of the post-race meeting at RCR after the Charlotte event. Then, out of next commercial Byrnes showed video of Burton's Martinsville weekend. The scanner chatter and the new video is always fun to see, but the RCR meeting added nothing and all participating seemed bothered that the cameras were present.

Waltrip was coming off perhaps his best performance in the broadcast booth this season after calling the Saturday Craftsman Truck race on SPEED. Working alongside of Rick Allen and Phil Parsons, Waltrip was funny and glib without crossing the line into his sponsor-driven hype. He stayed focused and sharp for the entire race.

This seemed to translate into the Monday show. Waltrip let Knaus speak without interrupting, but managed to contribute his normal mix of racing experience and zany humor. The duo has certainly clicked and viewers got a lot of information about both Martinsville and Atlanta in the program.

Just like NASCAR Now, TWIN faces the almost weekly decision of whether or not to ask Waltrip about his MWR situation. Headlines this week spoke about Marcos Ambrose running an MWR car in Atlanta, Waltrip continuing to rotate drivers in the #00 car and the rumor of wholesale team changes for 2009. Just like ESPN, those topics were never raised.

NASCAR fans got a whole lot of experienced folks talking to them on Monday's two TV shows. As usual, ESPN2 and SPEED had two very different approaches to the exact same content. Now, with only a handful of shows remaining, it should be interesting to see how these two series decide to wrap-up a very long season.

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Media Notes:
Ford pulls-out of Truck Series, but signs 5 year deal with Roush (
Profile of Jamie Little and Shannon Spake (
Mike Helton answers TV questions (
Darrell Waltrip says The Chase is boring (Orlando Sentinel)
Behind the scenes with ESPN at Martinsville (Roanoke Times)
David Poole talks to Brian France (Charlotte Observer)
SPEED gets into bistro biz at PIR (Carolina Biz Journal)

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