Monday, May 7, 2007

Kuselias And Cowlishaw Team-Up: NASCAR Loses

The one hour edition of NASCAR Now tipped-off Monday with an ominous warning of things to come. The camera revealed only Erik Kuselias and Tim Cowlishaw on the ESPN set. There was no Stacy Compton, no Boris Said, no Tim Brewer...there were no experts. The only thing clearly on the set was very little "real" NASCAR knowledge.

Kuselias and Cowlishaw did their best Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis act while Kuselias read his way through the NEXTEL Cup highlights from Richmond. Kuselias would pause to allow Cowlishaw to throw in wise-acre remarks and snide comments. These guys were in their glory. It was just like doing baseball, football, or basketball highlights. Only, "Dean and Jerry" actually know something about those sports.

Believe it or not, Cowlishaw actually provided the race analysis after the highlights. He then offered his "expert" commentary. The Dallas Morning News sports "columnist" offered the race analysis on ESPN's NASCAR Now. With all the staff available to this network, they decided to have the opinion-based Around The Horn panelist provide this information. This is a new low for this show. What hurts the most is that this is the official "weekend review" show, and is the only one hour version of this program on weekdays.

While Boris Said was brought in via liveshot for a brief comment, he was not allowed to talk about anything unless it was asked by Kuselias. Said was quickly gone, and the show returned to its new obsession, Kyle Busch. After some ridiculous comments, they moved on to Jeff Gordon, and actually said he "failed to win his third straight race." Kuselias talked about Hendrick and the car of tomorrow, but without referencing the other Cup races. His information might be factually correct, but his perspective is completely wrong. That, my friends, is the problem with this show.

Reporter Mike Massaro came along and straightened the studio panel out. He spoke about the Research & Development crew at Hendrick. This led to a nice feature about the overall integration of the COT into the Hendrick company. It also put into perspective what the "other" teams chasing Hendrick are thinking about, and their chances. Finally, Massaro gave a nice little overview of the short track tensions that surfaced after Richmond. Darlington should be lots of fun.

NASCAR Now likes to judge. People must "choose" on this show, and the most ridiculous feature is "fact or fiction." Rather than let two panelists talk about a topic, there must be a choice made of "true or false." This is an extension of the Around The Horn format, and it does not work in this program. While Boris Said relayed some great information and opinion, Cowlishaw continues to be Bob and Tom's favorite character, "Mr. Obvious." Talk about a no-win situation.

The Daly Planet has liked DJ Copp, a pit crew member from Dale Junior's team, since he first appeared on NASCAR Now. Much like Stacy Compton, Copp speaks patiently and in clear terms about racing issues and the scene on pit road. He has been a nice addition to this program. Unfortunately, having DJ questioned by Erik Kuselias requires total scripting of the questions in advance, and no follow-up. DJ speaks in terms that Kuselias does not understand. Even as DJ spoke about a problem on a pit stop that he caused, Kuselias was unable to converse with him, and had to immediately read the next question. ESPN might say Kuselias knows NASCAR, but his performance certainly says differently.

Ryan Burr offered a great feature on Darlington, but it seemed to be out-of-place on a show supposedly focused on the previous racing weekend. Its only Monday, why are we talking about the following weekend already? Boris Said and Cowlishaw offered opinions on Darlington, but there is all week to raise this topic. One had the feeling that things were about to get ugly on this show, and they did.

ESPN had an all-star team working hard to present The Busch Series race under the lights at Richmond on Friday Night. Allen Bestwick hosted his first pre-race show. Dale Jarrett was back with Marty Reid and Andy Petree. The race was great, with Clint Bowyer coming through in the end to beat big names like Kenseth, Harvick, Burton, and Biffle. Certainly, this one hour weekend review show would feature a full report with on-camera "wrap-ups" from the announce team, and interviews with the winner and the top five finishers. With the Truck Series off, there was even more time for the Busch guys. Well, this is NASCAR Now, so you should know what we got...absolutely nothing.

One has the impression that NASCAR Now and The Busch Series TV production team at ESPN just don't like each other. How else to explain the total lack of Busch highlights in a one hour NASCAR show in primetime on a Monday night? Why spend four minutes previewing a race at Darlington that is six days away rather than showing Busch Series highlights from Friday night? The entire thrust of ESPN2 being awarded the Busch Series TV rights was for ESPN to get in and build this series. It is now May, and they have done nothing. What a shame for NASCAR, what a shame for the hard-working ESPN Remote Production crews, and what an embarrassing shame for this disjointed and struggling program. With these type of production decisions being made, can big changes at NASCAR Now be far behind?

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below or email if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for stopping by.

Readers Ask...We Answer

1 - Why do you criticize ESPN so much, got an axe to grind?

Nope, not at all. Who in their right mind could have imagined that ABC/ESPN would present Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty as the "faces" of The Busch Series? How could we have anticipated that NASCAR Now would be hosted by two hosts that know nothing about NASCAR? These things have "just happened" this season, and we have been very clear about the impact on the fans, and the sport. ESPN's race coverage and substitute NASCAR Now host Ryan Burr have received very positive reviews.

2 - Why don't you just change the channel and write about something else?

The entire purpose of this "media project" was to provide a daily update on the happenings surrounding the NASCAR TV partners. No one anticipated that SPEED would cancel the other Monday night programs surrounding Inside NEXTEL Cup. No one anticipated that ESPN2 would make Monday's NASCAR Now an hour show. These things are happening, and the sole purpose of this site is to write about them in plain language that makes it clear what is really going on at the network level.

3 - Do people in the TV business write to you?

I often receive emails from both production and on-air people right after their shows or races are over. There is a lot going on behind-the-scenes, and many TV folks care as strongly about NASCAR as The Daly Planet readers. This site is going to stay focused on just NASCAR TV this season, and we will not include news or gossip going-on in the industry. has a great site, and it includes TV/Media news and notes. Stop by and see Jay for your info.

4 - Why is Chris Myers so bad this year, does he hate NASCAR?

Absolutely not. Things in TV have a way of progressing and changing despite the best efforts of those who do not like change. Myers is having a hard time "selling" his same behavior that we found funny several years the same audience...again. The new "enclosed" Hollywood Hotel has not helped, and the fact that Myers is only a part-time guy surrounded by full-time NASCAR guys is making things kind of tough. Remember, since NEXTEL Cup changed to "the Chase," things get serious a whole lot faster. His brand of eccentric and corny humor just wore thin.

5 - Why does NASCAR Now on ESPN2 not include other NASCAR Series?

It seems that the focus of their efforts is on NEXTEL Cup. In many columns, I have wondered why Busch Series and Truck Series highlights have not been shown on a Monday program that was supposed to re-cap the weekend. In addition, the Modified Tours and the regional Busch Tours also continue to showcase up-and-coming talent. It certainly would be great to follow Mark Martin's son and Jeremy McGrath as they struggle through the ranks and try to get up to the big three. Perhaps, as the season progresses, NASCAR Now will realize there are a ton of great stories outside of Bristol, CT or Mooresville, NC.

6 - Why did you stop talking about The SPEED Report and WindTunnel on SPEED?

Neither one of these programs is exclusive to NASCAR, and after my initial columns about the programs, it was clear their focus was elsewhere. For the remainder of the season, The Daly Planet will focus only on NASCAR TV. This does not include "reality" entertainment shows that might have a NASCAR theme, or programs like NASCAR Garage that are post-produced and informational in nature.

Thanks again for taking the time to read The Daly Planet, we will continue to answer reader questions regularly, and continue to allow anyone to post respectable and clearly written comments on our posts. This is a community of NASCAR fans, talking about how the NASCAR TV partners are making their viewing experience better...or worse.