NBC’s Very Serious™ Sunday talk-show Meet the Press spent more than a decade at No. 1 in the ratings under Tim Russert, but it’s been hemorrhaging viewers for the last three years. These days, the David Gregory–hosted program, TV’s longest-running show ever, is in third place behind CBS’s Face the Nation and ABC’s This Week, having hit bottom in the most valuable 25-to-54 age demo. But NBC is not just sitting idly by and watching Gregory sink the ship — it’s been revamped to move faster through broader segments, while dedicating special attention to finding out what the heck is wrong with its host.
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.
Why the Gregory family would agree to such a bizarre and invasive exercise is totally unclear, as are its findings.
What the psychologist may have noticed, if he or she is trained in the Bruce Willis/Sixth Sense school of thinking, is that Gregory is chronically haunted by the ghost of Tim Russert, irreplaceable in the permanently distorted view of the Beltway Establishment. “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,” said Gregory. “I have nothing but respect and admiration for Tim and his legacy. And I’m doing my own thing, just like Tim did.” But worse.
Update: NBC News is seeking to clarify the consultant story. In a statement to Poynter, the network said, “Last year Meet the Press brought in a brand consultant — not, as reported, a psychological one — to better understand how its anchor connects. This is certainly not unusual for any television program, especially one that’s driven so heavily by one person.”
Reporter Paul Farhi told Politico, “I checked [the term “psychological”] twice with them yesterday. No objections then.” The Post’s story has not been altered (yet?).