Tuesday, February 21, 2012
"Roundtable" Latest NASCAR TV Victim
It had become a tradition on Mondays for many fans to tune into Allen Bestwick and his expert panel as NASCAR Now took a full hour and reviewed the happenings of the race weekends. That tradition has now come to an end.
Bestwick had originally coined the term roundtable as the continually changing ESPN2 set had the panelists literally spread out around a huge table. It was always fun to see what had changed early in the series and just who was seated around the host.
This week in a brief and lifeless media release ESPN confirmed that another slice has been chopped off the NASCAR Now pie. The Monday show now joins the Tuesday through Friday programs as 30 minutes long. The roundtable is no more.
TV series have interesting lives and NASCAR Now is no exception. Originally hosted by a lawyer and an urban DJ, neither of whom had ever attended a race, the program stumbled out of the gate and then lost all sense of direction.
Erik Kuselias and Doug Banks combined to produce some of the worst NASCAR TV in history. Here is a little trip down memory lane.
"NASCAR Now: ESPN2's Dismal Failure" from March of 2007.
"ESPN2's NASCAR Now Gets Lost In Translation" from early May of 2007.
After three months of chaos, a moment in time finally happened for both the show and the entire production team. One man changed the course of the entire series.
"Allen Bestwick Rocks NASCAR Now To Its Core" from late May of 2007.
This from a reader comment on that post: " When I heard AB’s voice I started jumping around the room like a kid on Christmas morning!"
Eventually, Kuselias and Banks left the program. The network brought in Ryan Burr from ESPNEWS and then made the move toward a larger group of experienced on-camera personalities with a background in the sport. At the heart of this group was Bestwick.
Veteran fans can remember Bestwick's painful firing from the Monday night TV franchise on SPEED originally called Inside Winston Cup Racing. After a change in management at the network, Bestwick and Johnny Benson were fired for not being "exciting enough" for NASCAR TV.
Bestwick, Benson, Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip had gone from a poorly-produced cable TV show on an obscure network to a smash hit as SpeedVision transitioned to SPEED and NASCAR content moved front and center.
"Can Allen Bestwick Save NASCAR Now?" was a TDP post from February of 2008. ESPN had given Bestwick an expanded one-hour show on Mondays and the opportunity to have a panel of experts with him to talk racing. That format certainly sounded familiar.
For the past four years, Bestwick and his Monday roundtable production team have produced some of the best NASCAR TV ever seen. Hundreds of personalities have been featured as guests. Theme shows involved racing brothers, former teammates and regular off-week panels of NASCAR journalists. It was a diverse mix of content.
Viewers got to see Ray Evernham, Randy LaJoie and Ricky Craven make an impressive trio of panelists. Names like Ed Hinton, Ryan McGee and Marty Smith made a Monday impact. Fans were able to put faces with the familiar names of working NASCAR journalists like Jenna Fryer, Nate Ryan and Jim Utter.
Bestwick's ultimate revenge happened last season when two new names were added to the list of Monday panelists. It made quite a sight when Bestwick appeared on NASCAR Now once again alongside Benson and Schrader. With Ricky Craven or Ray Evernham playing the Michael Waltrip role, a bit of the old magic seemed to return with that combination.
The writing on the wall for NASCAR Now appeared when ESPN created the Sports Nation show. Bumped from its 5PM ET timeslot, NASCAR Now was pushed all the way back to 3PM in the afternoon as ESPN2 continued to expand the daily sports talk franchise.
During that shift, the West Coast re-air of the show was also scrapped. Once again this season it will sometimes appear after midnight at different times, but is often just cancelled. NASCAR Now went from a featured TV product to the ESPN scrap heap in a relatively short time.
The only remaining hour in the line-up is the weekend preview show that airs at 9AM on either Saturday or Sunday depending on the day of the race. Ricky Craven will continue to appear on that program with hosts Mike Massaro and Nicole Briscoe. ESPN will also use in-house announcers like Lindsay Czarniak and Michelle Bonner to host as needed.
There are three years remaining in ESPN's existing NASCAR contract to show all the Nationwide and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races. While things can always change, it once again appears that NASCAR Now will be DVR Theater for those who care as the new season gets underway on Monday, February 13.
It would not be fair to just let the big Monday show leave quietly. A good TV hour of reviewing three races, having a featured interview and then a robust discussion of the current NASCAR news will be missed. Thanks to Bestwick and all the production staff who worked hard on this program for the past four years.
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