Tuesday, April 10, 2007

ESPN's NASCAR Now: Birds In A Scripted Cage

A while back, The Daly Planet published a column on the difference between people who know NASCAR, and the people who TV networks "say" know NASCAR. ESPN has put NASCAR Now co-host Doug Banks in a very tough spot. It is clear that he is new to NASCAR, but the network continually puts him in the position of interviewing high-profile drivers, team owners, and even reporters. Time-after-time ESPN asks him to "know" what it is very clear he does not know. After several weeks of tough times on-the-air, NASCAR Now has decided on a solution. Everything is scripted. Each word is read carefully and slowly by Mr. Banks so as not to make an error. Unfortunately, the result is a disaster.

Certainly, other ESPN programs like SportsCenter use scripts and teleprompters, but one thing is very different. The announcers doing these shows "really know" the sports that they are talking about. That is why they have those jobs. In this case, Mr. Banks does not. Tightly scripting Banks in this program might work just fine if he was not forced to interview guys like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Shane Huffman live on-the-air. Surprisingly, that is just what happened in this show.

Junior opened the new JR Motorsports shop and appeared via liveshot with Shane, who drives for him in the Busch Series. Banks started with a scripted question that was just completely incorrect. It forced Junior to correct him, and then Banks followed with several disjointed questions that made little sense. Junior appeared to be bored to tears, and kept taking very deep breaths. Banks obviously had no clue as to the Huffman family history in racing, or the connection with the Hooters Pro Cup Series as a feeder for Busch. While Huffman and Earnhardt managed to crack each other up, Banks stayed as serious as a heart attack. He might have been having one.

Marty Smith and Stacy Compton also made appearances in this show, and their information was just fine. Somehow, NASCAR Now has this thing about forcing Compton to "grade" drivers that is just ridiculous. This is not baseball, football, or basketball. The dynamic of racing does not respond well to being "graded." RBI's, yards-per-carry, and three point shots are not part of this sport. NASCAR fans want inside info from the teams, features on the personalities, and updates on the news stories. That would get an "A."

Unfortunately, what they are getting from ESPN2 and NASCAR Now is no behind-the-scenes profiles, reporters forced to answer scripted questions, and show hosts who have absolutely no history in the sport that they have been hired to discuss. As of April 10th, NASCAR Now gets a "D" on their own report card.