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The mainstreaming of NASCAR into America’s consciousness took another leap forward this past weekend when four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon hosted “Saturday Night Live.” It was the perfect marriage for NASCAR and NBC. Both get to showcase one of NASCAR’s brightest stars to help expand the fan base, and NBC gets to expose the NASCAR demo to a show most race fans probably aren’t watching.

Gordon did a respectable job, remembering all of his lines and appearing to legitimately enjoy his stint. He showed the sometimes-snooty TV execs that some guy from a “redneck” sport can pull off hosting duties just as well as big-name athletes who’ve appeared on the show.

It’s just too bad that the show was awful.

The current writing team on “SNL” appears to be the same batch at NBC that brought us “Hello, Larry,” “Hell Town,” and “Supertrain.” Maybe the writers from ABC’s “Holmes & Yoyo” have found new life.

Anyone that watched the show had to be scratching his head. Isn’t this supposed to be a comedy? Perhaps this was the same team that wrote the “comedy” for the 2002 Winston Cup Awards Ceremony. That would explain a lot.

I counted my personal chuckles and the laugh-o-meter hit the high water mark of two for the evening. One of these laughs was elicited from the skit where the actors were cracking up at themselves during the performance.

Now comes word this week that NBC is counter-programming Shania Twain and the Super Bowl halftime show with 20 minutes of “Saturday Night Live.” NBC Entertainment honcho Jeff Zucker, one of the brightest minds in television, had a momentary brain freeze when he said that “'SNL' is having a great year and this will be a great platform for the show." He would have been much better off sticking with last year’s plan of Playboy models hanging out on “Fear Factor.”

Speaking of which, it seems somewhat ironic that “SNL” made fun of “Joe Millionaire” on Fox numerous times while running legitimate promos for “Fear Factor” and “Meet My Folks.”

The writers did Gordon a disservice by continually placing him in skits that simply weren’t funny. A show that once brought us the Blues Brothers, the Coneheads, Hans and Franz, and Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood seems to have hit a dead end for good ideas. None of the skits were particularly strong, but the low point of the evening had to be the two aquarium repairmen interrupting Super G’s dinner party. The bright spot for Gordon was his last skit where he got to goof off a little by playing an Olan Mills Studio worker who guested on a local cable TV show.

Some NASCAR fans may be perplexed why the writers didn’t feature any NASCAR-related skits or allow Gordon to poke fun at himself a little bit. The only NASCAR references were in the monologue, when a cliché-dominated redneck couple was exposed as two “regular people” from Connecticut. That seemed to go out of its way to refute the traditional understanding of the NASCAR demo.

But the real reasons that there were no more NASCAR references were probably because the writers know little or nothing about NASCAR and the core audience would understand none of the inside-NASCAR jokes. Heck, the writers couldn’t make anything else funny; there was no way they would have been able to pull off NASCAR humor. Clearly, it would have made a lot more sense for Super G to beat up Tony Stewart or Brooke’s divorce attorney instead of Gary Busey, but who would have understood the joke in SNL’s core audience?

Nevertheless, Gordon turned in a respectable performance and NASCAR has to be pleased with the opportunity and results. But somebody please get me rewrite.

THIS WEEK’S NOTES: University of Nebraska football stadium announcer Rick Schwieger will handle Craftsman Truck Series duties for SPEED . . . Speed Channel is now in over 55 million homes in the U.S. Look for them to continue to grow in much the same way that FX did. This is another way that Fox needs to grow revenue to make the monster NASCAR TV contract pay off . . . ARCA racing will have 13 events on SPEED and 4 events on The Outdoor Channel . . . Fox NFL coverage will sign off this weekend, and that means a third consecutive year of the network promoting its NASCAR coverage on its final NFL telecast. DW, Tony Stewart, and Joe Gibbs will be on “NFL Saturday” during prime time, with DW and Smoke sticking around for Sunday’s post-game show from Philadelphia . . . XM Radio now has 360,000 subscribers and expects to hit the 1 million mark by the end of the year . . . Isn’t it great to have those nightly shows from Daytona on Speed Channel? 32 days without Winston Cup programming was too long.





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