Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Night TV Mayhem

Krista Voda wore a hat, Marty Smith was stuck in the airport and somebody told Michael Waltrip to be quiet. Monday's NASCAR TV was certainly interesting.

This is the new Monday TV line-up that features NASCAR Now on ESPN and then Race Hub and This Week in NASCAR on SPEED. Fans get five more weeks of this TV tripleheader.

Allen Bestwick and the suit and tie set started the day from the ESPN2 studios. NASCAR Now is the most polished of the three shows and Bestwick played a big role in establishing this Monday power hour. Ray Evernham and Ricky Craven were alongside Bestwick as usual, but this week Marty Smith rounded out the panel.

Smith looked a little glazed after a nightmare air travel day. Bestwick did his best to avoid yet another Hendrick Motorsports lovefest, but to no avail. The #48 dynasty was front and center, including a telephone interview segment with Chad Knaus.

Craven and Evernham are a dynamic team in this environment. Once again they were finishing each other's sentences and sharing opinions. Smith held his own despite the circumstances as Bestwick led the panel through the highlights.

Ultimately, Smith offered to confirm that the Chase is basically over. Craven and Bestwick are still pushing the scenario that anything can happen in racing. In an ironic twist, it was Evernham that tried to work both sides of the street.

SPEED's mystery show is called Race Hub and runs Monday through Thursday. Now entering its second week, the Monday program had little original content and no featured drivers in the studio. Instead, Larry McReynolds and some recorded interviews tried to fill the thirty minutes. It did not work.

Krista Voda and Adam Alexander co-hosted. These two are great on TV with some structure, but this program gave them very little to work with. Monday is a key day because This Week in NASCAR is next on SPEED and is going to offer one hour of race highlights and commentary.

Race Hub was designed to get drivers, owners and other NASCAR personalities in the studio for casual conversation. On this day, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was featured. Unfortunately, his contribution consisted of recorded questions from the weekend with Alexander. His Hall of Fame responses were now days-old information.

If SPEED is going to have on-air talent and guests walking around the studio, it's important to have the place well lit. The network continues to struggle with this element, which was made worse when Voda wore a hat for the program. While this may be her trademark outside, it certainly did not work in a studio environment.

TWIN has been changing ever since Jimmy Spencer was added to the program to shake things up a bit. Spencer was his outspoken self once again, which has positive and negative ramifications for the show. Spencer challenged panelist Chad Knaus on several issues and also made his opinions known to Michael Waltrip.

In return, Waltrip tried to force himself into the program and finally heard the words "be quiet" from host Steve Byrnes. These are words that perhaps Byrnes should have said to Waltrip long before October.

The same race highlights seen on NASCAR Now and Race Hub flew by again, this time with a different set of faces making the comments. Knaus is a patient man and he often seems personally amused on this program simply by watching Waltrip and Spencer.

When asked about his ringing cell phone, Knaus told the panel he had other interviews to do after the show. That would be NASCAR Now calling. Knaus brings a fun spark to this show and offers top flight information on tracks, cars and the latest technology.

What exactly Spencer and Waltrip bring to the show these days is debatable. Waltrip offered several pro-NASCAR rants. Spencer struggled once again to even put a group of sentences together. He likes making statements. A lot of statements. Spencer should learn this is not RaceDay.

Byrnes is a veteran and navigated his way through the program with ease. What this show is becoming in these last few weeks of the season is unpredictable. That may be exactly what SPEED wanted when the network inserted Spencer into the line-up.

A little more respect for the person speaking and a little more control over the panelists by Byrnes would go a long way toward letting TV viewers really see what this group has to offer. A lot of content was lost with multiple panelists speaking at the same time this week.

All in all, an interesting Monday of NASCAR TV. If you watched, how about taking a moment to give us your opinion of these programs. Just click the comments button below to add your views. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Chase TV At The Tipping Point

It took hours to clear over 500 emails after the Saturday night Sprint Cup Series race. TDP logged over 750 comments on our website's live race blog. Hundreds of fans used Twitter to send us messages. All of them focused on just one thing. ESPN's coverage of NASCAR racing.

Rather than offer another column from my perspective, I'm just going to publish one note from a longtime fan we received. It is written as an open letter to ESPN:

I'm wondering just how much disdain you (ESPN) have for NASCAR and the fans of the sport? Are you now so angry that you bought the sport with this expensive and long (TV) contract that you're just throwing substandard broadcasts at us each week?

Or do you truly not have the expertise and understanding of NASCAR to deviate from "the script" that's been discussed in the days leading up to the race?

There have been pages of solid, specific feedback offered to you via this (TDP) and other websites. There have been emails and letters from fans. There have been comments on the NASCAR Fan Council surveys and plummeting TV ratings.

Yet, in the face of all that, you still determinedly and stubbornly stick to your same (TV) formula and essentially tell us, the fans, that we're wrong. That we are ignorant of what goes into a great race broadcast and that because you are "the professionals" we should just sit down, stop talking, and be grateful we're even getting to see anything on the TV screen.

It doesn't work that way any more, ESPN. We now have other options, choices and alternatives. We can keep up with our sport in new ways. Listening to new (and old!) voices and watching new images. We can Twitter and blog and online chat. We can tune-out your sponsors and DVR the race so we can speed through the bulk of the broadcast without even listening to the on-air talent.

And we're doing exactly that. Making informed choices, turning to sources who respect us and our sport. That means we're tuning you out and may opt to not tune back in to your portion of the season next year.

You are no longer the only game on town for NASCAR fans. We are responding to your substandard work by turning off the TV, cancelling or not beginning subscriptions to the magazine and not rewarding your website with hits. Some of us have already tuned you out, more will do so as the rest of the season plays out.

So, good luck with the balance of the season. You've already messed it up so badly for many fans that they have simply disappeared and won't be back until February. Others will hang on because we're NASCAR fans. We love our sport and can't turn our backs on it for even a week.

Make no mistake. If you offer nothing new next year, if you refuse to accept fan feedback as having value and knowledge, we will punish you across every part of your empire. You are perilously close to a tipping point with us, ESPN.

Well, that got my attention. Maybe it got yours. Hopefully, it will get ESPN's.

We welcome your comments on this topic specifically. To add your opinion of ESPN's performance in this Chase, click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

"Race Hub" Faces A New Challenge In Week Two

From out of the clear blue sky, SPEED suddenly dropped a weekday NASCAR news and interview show into the network's line-up. To say this program was a last minute scramble is an understatement.

The Monday through Thursday shows are designed to bridge a huge gap that has existed in SPEED's NASCAR coverage for years. Why this new series appeared with only weeks left in the ten month NASCAR season is anyone's guess. SPEED certainly isn't talking.

Week one of NASCAR Race Hub revolved around the Hall of Fame selections made last Wednesday. Now, that sideshow is gone and the reality begins to sink in. There is a new thirty minute NASCAR show to produce from the SPEED studios four days a week.

Back in 2006 when the new NASCAR TV contract was announced, I wrote a letter to ESPN's head honcho John Skipper about how important it would be to establish a small TV studio in the Concord or Mooresville, NC area.

NASCAR is unique in the fact that almost all the teams and associated businesses are located in a relatively small area. I reminded him of the RPM2Night legacy as the new NASCAR Now series got ready to launch.

ESPN declined and now often uses the ESPN Regional TV and ESPNU facility that is located in the far South end of Charlotte, almost on the South Carolina line. That is often the nameless location for Ryan McGee and Marty Smith's appearances. Not exactly the same as having NASCAR folks just stop by the studio.

Well, now SPEED has jumped into the game and this week some heavy hitters are on the line-up at the Hub. Perhaps, none bigger than Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will be on the Monday show. Tuesday features driver Matt Crafton while Wednesday's doubleheader is Tony Stewart and David Gilliland. The week ends with Jeff Gordon and Richard Childress on Thursday.

SPEED's location and intentions are good, the question is do they have the manpower and production planning to pull it off? ESPN is in the third season of NASCAR Now and is on a roll. Changes in talent and format have made that show solid all six days of the week it airs.

Unlike the hundreds of TV crew folks at ESPN, SPEED is patching together a crew for this new series at a tough time of the year. Lots of other sports keep the Charlotte area freelance TV folks rather busy. Keeping things simple and basic is the only way to go for this new show.

Krista Voda seems to be at the heart of this series, although she has not been formally named as host. Voda lives in Pittsburgh, PA and has a very real life outside of the sport and the Charlotte area. She also hosts the truck series pre-race shows and is a pit reporter for the NASCAR on Fox telecasts. What a combo platter.

This week, Voda is matched with Adam Alexander on Monday, John Roberts on Tuesday and Steve Byrnes on Wednesday. She has Thursday off and I am guessing it's a mental health day. She hosts the truck series this Saturday in Martinsville, VA.

No plans have been announced yet for what will happen to Race Hub once the NASCAR season is over. SPEED has just abruptly ended NASCAR coverage over the past several years and then picked things up again in late January.

Since ESPN also ends NASCAR Now in November, perhaps SPEED will be smart enough to keep things going during this very important off-season and become a new TV information source for fans.

We will keep up with the guest and hosts on this show as it develops. Despite the interesting timing, fans now have a locally produced show that targets NASCAR and hosts extended conversations on topics that are current in the sport.

TDP welcomes your comments on this topic. To add your opinion about NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.