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Opening Arguments

Lamest of the lame

With Tim Russert as the host, NBC's "Meet the Press" was a strong No. 1 among the Sunday talk shows. Under David Gregory, it's a dismal third and still sliding, and the network hotshots are in a panic:

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.

Just bizarre. Just what kind of report could a"psychological consultant" give them? Could they mak him a better newsman if they get at the root of his deepseated complexes? Can they make him smarter by massaging his neuroses? I have no great love for Gregory, but I'd be highly offended by this treatment.

The show's ratings are in a dive because it sucks. It's two chief rivals, "Face the Nation" on CBS and "This Week" on ABC suck, too, but a little less that "MTP." They all have tired formats and lame, predictable journalists who ask the same old questions of the same old public officials. Throw in the utterly unsurprising liberal bias, and I can't think of a worse way to spend an hour.

Get this:

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.

Yeah, shorter segments and a faster pace. That's just what I want as I try to understand the important stories of the week. Gregory isn't clever enough, I suspect, to see his and the show's problem. When the show started,  some of you may recall, there was a panel of journalists who grilled a single interview subject, which allowed for in-depth coverage and a good chance all the right questions would be asked. Under Russert, a show would also often be devoted to a single guest but with only Russert aking the questions. Now we ave multiple guests, grilled by Gregory alone, followed by a gabfest of highly opinionated but only marginally informed journalists. So the show has been "progressing" to a shallower and shallower substance, and their next move is to make it shallower still. Go back the other way, and I might actually watch the show.

UPDATE: Here's someone with similar thoughts:

. . . conducting a psychological screening of their host is just, well, insaneMaybe the exercise will help Gregory get in touch with his inner child, or something. However, the nature of television isn’t a therapy session, and viewers could care less about Gregory’s psyche when they tune in for interviews. If NBC execs have questions about Gregory’s mental structure in relation to his job, then maybe they should just look for another host. Gregory seems to have taken it in stride, but it’s difficult to understand why. If my employer was unhappy with my work, the last thing I’d expect is for them to start talking to my wife and my friends about it.