"Meet the Press," which has been part of the American political landscape for more than 60 years, has been losing viewers ever since the death of its beloved longtime host Tim Russert last year.
David Gregory, the network's former White House correspondent, was named the host of the marquee NBC News program in December. He is a smart guy and capable journalist. But he has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of a legend who was the king of Sunday morning talk. As the Washington Post pointed out, "Meet the Press" has shown itself to be quite mortal over the past few months.
"In the first three months of the year, 'Meet the Press' drew 4.16 million viewers, a decline of 6 percent from the same period last year, " the Post said. "ABC's 'This Week' attracted 3.36 million (up 12 percent); CBS's 'Face the Nation' 3.19 million (up 8 percent); and 'Fox News Sunday' 1.48 million (basically flat). On April 5, 'This Week' came within 200,000 viewers of 'Meet,' and 'Face' was within 290,000 viewers."
These numbers do not tell the whole story. Sunday morning talk shows are a cash cow for the networks because they are relatively cheap to produce and attract a wealthy audiences that advertisers will pay top dollar to reach. Though "Meet the Press" performs a valuable public service, the network's corporate parent General Electric Co. (GE) won't keep Gregory or the show's producers around for much longer if the audience continues to drop. Too much money is at stake.
Remember, Russert took over "Meet the Press" in 1991, a lifetime ago in the media world. It was also a watershed moment for TV news, with CNN'S coverage of the First Gulf War winning critical praise and gaining huge ratings. But that was then and this is now.
The power of flagship television brands have eroded since the dawn of the Clinton era. In 1991, top-rated shows such as "Roseanne," "Cheers" and "Murphy Brown" each attracted more than 16 million viewers. People are not as loyal to their favorite programs as they used to be. While "American Idol" recently attracted 23.5 million viewers, "CSI:NY" had an audience of just 12 million.
Gregory, who lacks the personality of his deceased predecessor, needs to prove to the audience that he is every bit their friend as Russert. Unfortunately, many of them have already made other friends elsewhere on the TV clicker.
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