Wednesday, January 20, 2010

SPEED Shifts Gears And "TWIN" Is The Casualty

News Update: Michael Waltrip announced on Thursday morning that he is joining the cast of Showtime's new "Inside NASCAR" series. Click here to jump to our Facebook page for more news and comments on this topic.

Well, this is certainly going to be an interesting column to write and it should get equally interesting reactions. No topic in the three years of TDP has ever gotten more email and comments than This Week in NASCAR on SPEED.

In 1996, then SpeedVision Executive Producer Bob Scanlon tried to get some NASCAR programming into the mix for the new cable network. He enlisted the help of the old Sunbelt Video Studios in Charlotte, NC. The result was an iconic show that ultimately became a cult hit for a small audience of hardcore race fans.

Inside Winston Cup Racing was a familiar title. Ned Jarrett had hosted a show by that name on TNN also produced by Sunbelt. But, now TNN was gone. The title moved over to Mondays on SpeedVision, flexing over the years with the changing sponsors and emerged in 2009 on SPEED as This Week in NASCAR.

Monday, reporter Michael Smith of The Sports Business Journal offered an advance peek at SPEED's NASCAR TV plans for 2010. Click here for the full article. One paragraph jumped off the page:

The network's stalwart This Week in NASCAR on Monday nights has been cancelled. The news and analysis format, hosted by Steve Byrnes, Michael Waltrip and a variety of other guests, "just wasn't connecting with the fans anymore," SPEED President Hunter Nickell said.

One original member from this TV series is Waltrip. He addressed this topic on his Twitter feed:

"So TWIN was an incredible 14 year experience. I'm happy I was part of it. Alan, Kenny, Johnny, I'm thankful we had the chance to hang out. Steve, me and you are veterans. I'm glad we got to hang. Greg, Chad, Jimmy y'all were a joy to work with."

SPEED has already rolled out a new Monday through Thursday evening NASCAR news and interview show called Race Hub. Smith reports that the network will also revamp Monday nights with some new NASCAR oriented programming.

From the Sports Business Journal article:

Among the new programming: A show that delves into the lifestyle of the fans who tailgate and camp at the track; a show that recaps the Sprint Cup race through scanner communication between the drivers and their crews; and Jimmy Spencer's own show, a first for the former driver and outspoken co-host of Speed's at-track show, NASCAR RaceDay.

While the tailgating show is new, fans of TWIN may recognize two elements of the old show that are being retained. The "Scanner Chatter" feature where NASCAR Media Group video and audio footage is edited into highlight form was always popular on TWIN. Expanding that content into a stand-alone show is not a new concept, but it's better than losing it all together.

Jimmy Spencer was added to TWIN during the 2009 Chase for the Championship. He was the odd man out from the beginning and never fit in. What he did bring to the table were his passionate and outspoken rants on various NASCAR topics.

It seems that SPEED may believe that Spencer's willingness to put himself on the NASCAR firing line will pay off in ratings. The format of Spencer's new TV offering has still not been made public. One thing is for sure, Spencer does not keep a low profile when the cameras are on. The RaceDay program confirms that.

Most goodbyes in TV are awkward and sometimes they never even happen. Suddenly, something is just gone. The abrupt departure of Allen Bestwick and Johnny Benson from TWIN years ago backs-up that reality. There will be no highlights show from SPEED of the best moments of TWIN over the last 14 years.

The garbage truck emptying the dumpster outside the studio's flimsy garage door. Someone having the bright idea to give Michael Waltrip a slo-mo replay controller. Bestwick about to have a coronary because the show was completely out of control. Kenny Schrader asking Mike Helton every season how much he made, for information purposes only.

Over the years dogs have wandered through the set, hundreds of NASCAR personalities have been guests and thousands of topics have been discussed. While the show had declined over the past several seasons, the efforts to revive it by SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group seemed half-hearted. Maybe, the time is right to move on.

How do you feel about the cancellation of this long-running show? Do you have a favorite memory that made you a NASCAR fan or stuck in your mind forever? Do you feel that this timing is right or would you have liked the show in some form to continue?

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