Err: NBC hired a ‘psychological consultant’ to research David Gregory?
posted at 10:01 pm on April 21, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham
Good Lord, can someone just give Tapper a Sunday show and be done with it? As “Meet the Press” flails into third place under the leadership of David Gregory, and the institution of the Sunday show rides the downward slope toward irrelevance, NBC sent a psychologist to Gregory’s friends and family on a hunt for Gregory’s charm in an odd attempt to right the ship.
But before we get to that, how bad is the Sunday scene? Schieffer’s winning overall and in the demo. The young people, they’re flocking to Bob over the 43-year-old Gregory:
These days, the leader is “Face the Nation,” hosted by Bob Schieffer, the grandfatherly 77-year-old newsman. Schieffer not only attracts the largest overall audience (a weekly average of 3.35 million during the first three months of 2014, 5 percent more than “This Week,” 8 percent more than “MTP” and 61 percent more than “Fox News Sunday”) but the largest audience among the coveted 25-to-54 set, too. (Schieffer’s competitors are quick to point out that comparisons aren’t quite fair since “FTN’s” ratings are based on its first half-hour, not the standard full hour; the program’s second half-hour isn’t broadcast by CBS stations in many cities).
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).
UPDATE (11:17 a.m.): In an email, Pianta challenged Farhi’s reporting, saying that the network brought in a “brand consultant” not a psychological one as Farhi reported:
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.
UPDATE (11:25 a.m.): Farhi said he checked with NBC twice on Sunday about the term “psychological” and that they had no objections at the time.
“I checked it twice with them yesterday. No objections then,” he wrote in an email.
UPDATE (1:05p.m.): The company that did the consulting for NBC was Elastic Strategy out of New York, Pianta said.
I sympathize a bit with what the Gregory team and “This Week’s” teams are trying to do, speeding up the shows, trying to modernize for the modern media scene. ABC has added a 30-year-old “Stephanopoulos protege” to run “This Week.” But doesn’t Schieffer’s supremacy show that this may be the only slot left on TV where people aren’t looking for something fast-paced and Twitter-ready? I’m as happy as anyone to watch these guys have to compete in a media world with a ton of competition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the longer-form newsmaker interview Schieffer’s preserving that are keeping it atop. For now. It can’t last long.
This kind of silly D.C. myopia can’t help at “Meet the Press”:
The impossible burden for Gregory, of course, has been to follow the beloved Russert. As one NBC colleague describes it, Russert is a “ghost” who still haunts Gregory’s tenure at “MTP” six years into his run.
“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 says. “I have nothing but respect and admiration for Tim and his legacy. And I’m doing my own thing, just like Tim did.”
Russert was a nice man who did a pretty good job and died too soon. This reads like Gregory goes to down to Russert’s enshrined replicated MTP office at the Newseum—that’s a thing!—to sketch out the show every week.
The good news is many think Steph will get a promotion to do the nightly news—relics everywhere!—and Schieffer will soon retire, so the field will be open to Gregory’s mediocrity and whatever charisma his psychological consultant dug up.
“For political junkies and those who just want to catch up the Sunday shows still are relevant but they’re not the signature events they once were,” Tom Brokaw, the NBC News veteran who briefly moderated “Meet The Press” in 2008, said in an interview. “I first appeared on ‘Meet The Press’ during Watergate and it was a secular mass in Washington; the faithful never missed it.”
Political veterans, congressional aides, former administration officials and longtime journalists all attested to the Sunday shows’ decline. The programs are no longer the agenda-setting platforms of days past, they said. Instead, the broadcasts have become a venue for lawmakers to push familiar talking points and for talking heads to exchange conventional wisdom. Occasionally there is an interview or discussion that will make headlines — Vice President Joe Biden’s endorsement of gay marriage, which preceded President Barack Obama’s own announcement, comes to mind. But that has become the exception rather than the rule.
The only people who are: “Not surprisingly, the few who adamantly insist that the programs are relevant are the hosts and producers.”
The solution to all of this, by the way, is ALWAYS BE DANCING:
I’m actually serious. The dancing is my favorite thing he does. Love it every time.