Monday, April 21, 2014
NBC wanted to see if David Gregory was nuts.
So the beloved network that replaced the beloved hack Tim Russert with everybody's favorite box of rocks David Gregory, commissioned a psychological study of the Gregory lad to see why his ratings on the beloved Sunday gasbag show Meet The Press are in the crapper.
The Sunday shows — which comprise what Schieffer calls “the smartest morning on TV” — are more than just prestige projects for the networks; the relatively large and affluent audiences they attract make them magnets for corporate image advertisers that pay premium prices for airtime. Russert’s dominating position helped NBC earn a reported $60 million from “Meet the Press” in 2007.And the end result is that MTP is, under David Gregory, as shallow as a puddle of piss. The questions usually follow whatever talking points the management likes this week and whatever journalistic skill Gregory ever had are now dead and buried. And they wonder why the ratings are dropping like bird shit.
Thus, “MTP’s” meltdown has sounded alarm bells inside NBC News and attracted the attention of its new president, Deborah Turness, who arrived from Britain’s ITV News in August. Gregory’s job does not appear to be in any immediate jeopardy, but there are plenty of signs of concern.
Last year, the network undertook an unusual assessment of the 43-year-old journalist, commissioning a psychological consultant to interview his friends and even his wife. The idea, according to a network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta, was “to get perspective and insight from people who know him best.” But the research project struck some at NBC as odd, given that Gregory has been employed there for nearly 20 years.
Around the same time, the network appointed a new executive producer at “MTP,” Rob Yarin, a veteran media consultant. Yarin, who had worked with Gregory on an MSNBC show, “Race for the White House,” during the 2008 campaign, succeeded Betsy Fischer Martin, who reigned over “MTP” for 11 years. Fischer Martin had helped Russert soar to glory, but had disagreed with Gregory over matters of style and substance (she was promoted to oversee all of NBC’s political coverage).
In interviews, Yarin and Gregory say they are tinkering with the show to keep it abreast of a changing media environment. They’ve made the program’s pacing faster, with shorter interview segments. The range of topics and interview subjects has been opened up, too. Last month, for example, Gregory interviewed NCAA President Mark Emmert about proposals to unionize student-athletes — stealing a little thunder, he notes, from CBS, which was televising the NCAA basketball tournament at the time.
The overall effect is that the program now bears only a vague resemblance to the one over which Russert presided. Whereas Russert would spend multiple segments grilling a single newsmaker, Gregory now barely goes more than six or seven minutes on any interview or topic.
The changes were readily apparent on Sunday’s program, recorded at NBC’s studios in Northwest Washington. After opening with Gregory’s taped interview with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the host moved swiftly to live dual-screen chats with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Then it was on to the journalists’ roundtable discussion, followed by an interview with Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) about health care and the midterm elections.
Then, still more segments: A new recorded feature called “Meeting America” in which reporter Kevin Tibbles looks at something happening outside Washington (in this case, a debate in Kentucky over the building of a Biblical theme park using tax subsidies); more roundtable discussion; and a photos-of-the-week feature called “Images to Remember.” The program closed with a short interview with New York Times reporter Jo Becker about her new book about gay marriage, “Forcing the Spring.”
Gregory says the new look “delivers on the core of what ‘Meet the Press’ is” but “widens the aperture . . . 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.”
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