Thursday, March 24, 2011

Getting The Band Back Together (Update)

Update: Kenny Schrader will be joining Ricky Craven and ESPN the Magazine writer Ryan McGee on Monday's NASCAR Now program on ESPN2 at 5PM ET. Allen Bestwick hosting.

This is a repost of an item that ran earlier after ESPN's original announcement of Schrader and Johnny Benson appearing on NASCAR Now this season.

To many who read the recent NASCAR on ESPN media release, it was just another sentence about the network's plans for 2011. The impact on most of the NASCAR media was a resounding thud. There is a group, however, that found deep meaning in the following words.

Veteran NASCAR drivers Johnny Benson Jr. and Ken Schrader will be frequent guests on the Monday roundtable edition of NASCAR Now in 2011.

It was not lost on hardcore fans that a happy Allen Bestwick recently posted pictures of his off-season marriage on his Facebook page. That was a big departure for the formerly very private and highly-organized TV pro who has been a presence in NASCAR for decades.

Allen Bestwick's most personal venture on television began as a Monday night show on a fledgling cable TV network called SpeedVision. It was a one-hour show taped in the late afternoon that featured three local NASCAR personalities discussing the racing from the weekend. At least, that was the theory.

Johnny Benson, Kenny Schrader and Michael Waltrip became cult TV hits as Inside Winston Cup Racing hit the air. Seen under several titles, the show featured the kind of uniqueness that has now been almost wiped from NASCAR TV. Unlike the current crop of cookie-cutter shows, this one was different.

Bestwick relished his role as the ringleader of the NASCAR circus. His personality just meshed so well with the three troublemakers. Waltrip repeatedly bounced comments off the wall that just defied all forms of human logic. Benson was the straight man who tried to keep his cool and interpret Waltrip's observations. Schrader was the enforcer who kept everything in perspective, including Waltrip.

This show clicked because of Bestwick. He arrived early on taping day, reviewed the highlights and prepared the entire show format with the producer. It was clear to those who watched that it was his baby.

Instead of finding it annoying, Bestwick celebrated when the dumpster truck arrived in the middle of the show and was clearly heard through the thin walls of the Sunbelt Video studios. In the early years, so many things just happened that discussing the show with fans became a great conversation. Remember the replay controllers? Not a good idea.

As with all things in TV, change is usually awkward and forced. A new production executive swept through SPEED and decided that the network was going to go Hollywood. Among the changes was the firing of Bestwick and Benson on the spot. No goodbye show, no video memories and nothing but the awkwardness of Dave Despain trying his best to follow orders. It was miserable.

The saga of Bestwick includes his rebirth at ESPN. Starting as an entry level pit road reporter, Bestwick has risen in five years to his current status as the senior man on the NASCAR totem pole. Along the way, the network wasted time, effort and money on a ton of wannabees before putting Bestwick in the Infield Studio and as the host of the Monday NASCAR Now . The idea that Bestwick should replace Marty Reid in the broadcast booth was a popular one after Reid struggled in the Chase.

They say good things come to those who wait and Bestwick has been a patient man. This season, his influence may finally help to guide ESPN back into the good graces of many fans. The faces of Benson and Schrader, along with a bit more fun and a bit less formality, will go a long way toward bridging what we call the "Bristol gap."

With Michael Waltrip gone to the Inside NASCAR series on Showtime, the popular suggestion among the ESPN personalities to fill the final place on the Monday panel is Ricky Craven. It should be fun to watch this dynamic unfold. It should also be fun to watch Kenny Schrader at ESPN in his High Definition make-up and necktie. I wonder how long that will last?

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

TV Police: Sprint Cup Series From Bristol On FOX (Day Four)

Sheriff Buford T. Justice is on the case. Some further investigation seems to be needed judging from the comments, tweets and emails already arriving.

The first conflict arose when the Bristol Motor Speedway again had hyped-up driver introductions with each driver picking their own theme song and making a brief statement over the PA system. SPEED helped the problem along by ending RaceDay with reporters talking about these introductions as they were about to happen.

Then Chris Myers, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond appeared on the FOX pre-race show without being able to address the topic. Instead, fans got upset because what had just been teased by SPEED was not followed-up by FOX. The pre-race show was a jumble of topics. The situation was exaggerated by the fact that FOX moved the outside pre-race set to the head of pit road.

Either the FOX program had been recorded earlier or somehow the entire speedway reacting to the chosen driver music and comments was magically muted. It made for a wild TV transition for those who had been watching RaceDay.

After several hours of SPEED and ESPN2, it's still a rough change to the act Chris Myers does on FOX. Like it or not, Myers has adopted a "goofy guy" approach and repeats it on every pre-race. It is a complete and total act.

FOX proudly uses its philosophy of shooting NASCAR races in a "hyper-tight" style. This is the style the network team has used all year and it appears that they will run it all the way through the FOX portion of the season.

At Bristol, there was no opportunity for TV viewers to have a perspective of the racing on the track. Rarely under green was the entire track or even half the track show on-camera. "Hyper-tight" shots and in-car cameras dominated the day.

At one point of the race, under green, FOX actually had split-screen views of two in-car cameras on drivers. There they were...driving. The philosophy of jumping from one tight shot to another and just identifying the cars on the screen is certainly an interesting one.

As we spoke about in the live blog post, the pit reporters and the Hollywood Hotel gang disappeared early on in the telecast. Green flag racing with super-tight shots of only two cars made field recaps and updates on big name drivers non-existent.

Fan attendance is not an issue for this blog, but FOX certainly took every precaution to not show the grandstands. We all know hotel prices, tough economic times and gas prices are affecting the sport. That is one reason TV coverage needs to be so focused on telling the stories of all the teams in the race.

Mike Joy is having a tough time because he must react to the pictures on the screen as the primary source of his commentary. Jumping from one two-car battle to the next just loses the flow of the race and makes him look out of the loop.

The big crash was with about 60 laps to go. FOX was on a tight shot and when the large crash began to unfold chose not to cut to a wideshot. Instead in-car camera angles caused TV viewers to miss virtually the entire incident. Literally, the commentary from the announcers did not match the pictures for a good ten seconds.

FOX immediately began to flood viewers with replays. This is the primary way that the network offers information on what has transpired on the racetrack. It is a direct result of the "hyper-tight" coverage philosophy.

After choosing to show only the winning car cross the finish line in the first few races, the FOX director was forced to cut back to one race among three cars in the field when Mike Joy called out for coverage. Those three were the only other cars shown finishing. This "single car finishing" appears to alwo be a part of the new FOX production philosphy.

There is no doubt that the technical folks are producing good pictures and sound. There is no doubt that Mike Joy and the pit reporters can offer solid and accurate information. There is also little doubt that this style of production will continue through the end of the FOX portion of the season.

We welcome your comments on the FOX production of the Sprint Cup Series race from the Bristol Motor Speedway. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.