The view from my couch

Monday Night NASCAR on ESPNEWS
by Cheryl Lauer
September 16, 2005

When I read that ESPN was starting a show about NASCAR again, I was excited. There hasn't been any show covering NASCAR on ESPN since the forced demise of RPM2Nite a couple of years ago. When I heard the show was being relegated to ESPN News, I was surprised. I'm fortunate that I have satellite service and have ESPN News, but I'm not really sure if this channel is available on all cable systems. I was worried about how large an audience this show would really have. When I heard the show would be hosted by ESPN's Linda Cohn and former driver, Geoffrey Bodine, I was curious to find out how the two would do. I tuned into the show's premiere this past Monday night and was impressed with the hosts and the content. However, I was not impressed by the fact that this was was supposedly a one-hour show but it started late and was interrupted many times for live shots from Monday Night Football and to show us scores from every other sport out there.

I'm not taking anything away from Cohn and Bodine; they did an excellent job in the time alotted to them. I guess my question is why is ESPN claiming to have a one-hour weekly show on NASCAR if it's not willing to devote the entire hour to that sport? At least 25 minutes of the 'hour' were everything else but NASCAR!

The show actually got going at 9:08 p.m. after a couple of teasers during continuing sports news, saying "coming up momentarily." I'm not that familiar with Cohn's work, though I've seen her on other ESPN shows, so didn't know how knowledgeable she was about NASCAR racing. She did a very good job on this show. Occasionally it did seem like she was reading from a teleprompter. Regardless, she came across as a talented professional (unlike some of the people we've seen on NASCAR shows elsewhere this season). I'll admit I tuned into the show mostly to see how Bodine would do, and was favorably impressed. Having never done anything like this before, he came across very genuine, but professional and very articulate as well.

Cohn did the opening five minutes of the show before going to Bodine. They seemed to play very well off each other, with Cohn asking questions and Bodine giving his insider's view on such things as his pick for who he thought would win the Chase. He also talked about the failure of Jeff Gordon's team to make the Chase. I was impressed that ESPN didn't constantly feel the need to remind viewers of Bodine's career highlights or the fact he drove for Hendrick Motorsports. To me, it seemed like the producer felt the audience consisted of knowledgeable race fans and therefore, they didn't need to hammer us over the head with Bodine's credentials.

There was a good taped feature by Mike Massaro covering all 10 of the Chase contenders. It was good to see Massaro back covering NASCAR - he's been sorely missed the last couple of years.

After taking a long break from 9:27-9:40 for the network to show other sport highlights, ESPN News finally returned to the show. They had Greg Biffle on the phone for an interesting interview with Cohn and Bodine.

I noticed that the picture during the show was extremely narrow. The sport ticker that ran across the bottom of the screen during the entire show was full screen, but the show picture was slightly more narrow. I'm not sure if this is the normal appearance of things on ESPN News or not, since I never watch that network any other time.

Cohn had an interesting question for Bodine about "How do you beat the 5-headed monster of Roush?" That was an interesting way to look at the car owner having five drivers in the Chase.

Jeff Burton, who's had great success at the New Hampshire track gave us a preview of this week's race there. There was a "ride around" the track, however, it was using a video game of the track. I'm not sure if this was just to give things a different look or because ESPN was not allowed access to drive around the track or that they didn't have any recent footage of the track. I suspect the latter (because of the exclusivity rights given to Fox and NBC). The show ended with the hosts answering some questions from viewers.

For the most part, I enjoyed this show. Cohn and Bodine worked well together and provided some different insight than we see on the usual NASCAR channels. The only real weakness with the show despite it's claim to be giving us "expanded NASCAR coverage," was the continued interruptions to show us football and other sport shows. It was more like a "NASCAR break" than expanded coverage. If ESPN wants to get back in the NASCAR business, they need to make more of a committment in order to get their feet wet again. Why not put this show on ESPN2 at least? And for goodness sake, keep on the topic of racing even if the show has to reduced to a half hour! As a fan of racing, I don't want to be bombarded with other sports when I tuned in to watch a racing show. That aspect was just a little reminiscent of something Fox Sports did with their previous nightly show. Trust me, not every viewer is of such short attention spans that they can't sit through a show devoted to one sport for at least 30 minutes.

Otherwise, keep up the good work!

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