The death of the Sunday shows

The public affairs shows — “Meet The Press,” “Face The Nation,” and “This Week” — used to set the agenda for the nation’s capital with their news-making interviews and immensely influential audience. Now the buzz around the shows is more likely to center on gossipy criticism about the hosts, notably Meet The Press’s David Gregory, whose fate has become an incessant subject of conversation, most recently in a Washington Post story on Monday. Meanwhile, fans complain about the recurrence of familiar guests — Sen. John McCain again? — who simply relay party talking points that often go unchallenged.

“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.