Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nicole Manske Stakes Her Claim

Amid all the talk about the new hour-long Monday show and the continuing presence of co-host Ryan Burr, there is another developing story on NASCAR Now. Perhaps, no one is under more scrutiny this season than Nicole Manske.

Brought-in back in August of 2006 by SPEED to replace several popular on-air veterans at The SPEED Report, Manske struggled. The new format at SPEED and a non-supportive co-host put Manske behind the 8-ball.

She was put in the role of the dizzy blond newscaster, regardless of the reality of her professionalism. Her attire was scrutinized every time she hit the air and even posted on the Internet. Sometimes, those clothing choices led TV viewers to draw their own conclusions about her on-air abilities and her off-camera personality.

At the conclusion of the 2007 season, both Manske and her SPEED Report co-host did not have their contracts renewed. Transition in the television world is normal, but it was Manske who announced that she would be moving to Bristol, CT and co-hosting NASCAR Now.

After a tough season, ESPN was re-vamping this daily show from the ground-up. Manske would be part of a three person hosting team that included distinguished veteran Allen Bestwick and former ESPNEWS anchor Ryan Burr. It was a total on-air change.

From the first moment she stepped onto the ESPN2 set, Manske experienced a new level of exposure and began to understand what it meant to be an ESPN anchor. As many on-air talent have learned, ESPN throws a lot of work at you right away, and Manske was no exception.

Assigned first to the field, Manske began to establish herself with interviews of drivers and personalities that had a bit of spice and attitude. She knew her NASCAR, and often took her interviews a little bit off the beaten path to the delight of those answering the questions.

In addition, she began a careful re-structuring of her on-air image that has continued to this day. Gone is the blond hair and the "interesting" outfits. Manske now joined the other female ESPN announcers in a dress code that takes the focus away from the TV anchor and puts it right back on the subject at hand.

Her first big test came with the assignment to anchor a one hour weekend edition of NASCAR Now from the racetrack. Sitting alongside Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and other ESPN personalities Manske established herself as a credible presence and began a positive change in her public perception.

Now, a little over one month into the NASCAR season, Manske has quietly done what good TV anchors learn to do. She gets out of the way. Just like her co-host Allen Bestwick has done for years, Manske directs traffic and lets the attention be drawn to the news being discussed or the person being interviewed.

Given a fair chance by ESPN, Manske is continuing to grow into the role of a national TV anchor/reporter with solid results. After watching her struggle through the off-balance and "trendy" SPEED Report, many of us were curious as to how she would transition to the ESPN stage.

Say what you will, one of the big stories of this season's NASCAR Now has been the easy integration of Manske into the NASCAR on ESPN team. Her ability to talk effectively with a wide variety of racing personalities has been on display for some time now, and is only getting better.

When ESPN made the commitment to change this show, they took a risk on a former local TV station anchor who was appearing once a week on a one hour motorsports show. Now, it seems that gamble has paid-off and the network has found a reliable and credible co-host for this high-profile daily series.

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