The rapid decline of an American institution, NBC's “Meet the Press,” has accelerated in recent months. It was reported Saturday by The Washington Post embattled host David Gregory has vowed to fix the "problems." The program is currently in third place among Sunday morning political news shows.
The situation is of enough concern among NBC executives that they commissioned a psychologist to interview Gregory’s friends and family. Apparently that was with the approval of Gregory – maybe to save his job.
The ratings war is not going “Meet the Press'” direction. During January – March, “Meet the Press" trailed "Face the Nation" on CBS, hosted by veteran 77-year-old Bob Schieffer, and "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on ABC.
From October – December, ratings in the 25-54 age demographic, the most coveted by advertisers, plunged to its lowest level since TV’s longest-running program was launched in 1947. “Face the Nation” average 3.35 million viewers
Schieffer’s show attracts an average weekly audience of 3.35 million viewers, leading Stephanopoulos by 5 percent and Gregory by 8 percent. Sadly, Gregory's predecessor, the wildly popular Tim Russert ruled the time slot for a decade until his tragic death in 2008. “Ruled” is the word since Russert demolished his competition sometimes by 40 percent.
The pressured Gregory is saying all the right things for NBC brass. "Do I want to be No. 1 in the ratings? Every week I want to be No. 1, and we fight like hell to get there. And it’s tough right now. It’s a fight, he told the Post in a recent interview. "I’m not just trying to sell you, well, I am trying to sell you, but I’m not going to B.S. you, either. Yeah, it’s hard. I see what our challenges are. But we’re going to fix our problems."
Gregory now faces a new set of eyes watching his every movement. Deborah Turness from Britain's ITV News, is now the new president of NBC News. Naturally, the ratings numbers have come under close scrutiny, along with the 43-year-old “Meet the Press” moderator.
No doubt due to Turness's arrival, NBC arranged a psychological interview with Gregory's friends and his wife "to get perspective and insight from people who know him best," according to network spokeswoman Meghan Pianta.
Could this be considered “intrusion” into a private citizen's wife? No one in the press has questioned that side of NBC's determination to raise Sunday morning ratings – nor Gregory himself.
More personnel changes at NBC bring a new executive producer for the program, Robin Yarin, replacing longtime boss Betsy Fischer Martin. The two apparently fought bitterly over program substance and pace. Tarin will speed up the show conducting shorter interviews and by broadening the range of topics and guests.
Gregory said, "I’m dedicated to building something that says we’re not just thinking about politics. We’re thinking about who the real influencers are in this country." But the main problem with “Meet the Press” may be its heavy dose of far left panel members and subjects.
The mixture is not surprising since NBC News has continued to support its ratings-weak sister network, MSNBC. They are buried deep at the bottom of cable news ratings.
It may be a fact that Gregory doesn't recognize. "I am fully aware that there are a lot of people who believe Tim Russert will never be replaced, and I’ve never tried to replace Tim Russert," he said. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for Tim and his legacy. And I’m doing my own thing, just like Tim did."
Gregory is right, but it may be fixable with a moderator not so brazenly liberal. Someone more like Russert who was much more middle-of-the-road to reach all sorts of political views in his audience.
David Gregory may be on his way to reassignment to a White House reporter job or something less public than “Meet the Press.”
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