Sunday morning shows --Yawn-- lose viewers, but there's hope

Sunday morning shows --Yawn-- lose viewers, but there's hope

You know those earnest but tedious Sunday morning talk shows that you don’t watch anymore?

Well, more people are also not watching.

New data from the Pew Research Center and even later numbers from Nielsen show total viewership for the four major network shows — NBC’s Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, CBS’ Face the Nation and ABC’s This Week — continued their viewership decline last year, only by a slightly larger number.


Nielsen ratings confirm those year-over-year viewer losses, except for Fox News Sunday. That show hosted by Chris Wallace trails the others weekly with about 1.4 million viewers.

That’s less than half the initial total of third place ABC and only 38 percent of the 3.7 million who tune into Meet the Press, the oldest Sunday morning show and, in fact, the longest-running U.S. TV show.

However, the Fox program was the only one of the four to increase its total first quarter viewership over 2018’s first quarter. Total viewership (first-run broadcast plus repeat cable replays) for that Fox program jumped 10 percent over 2018 to 4.05 million.

The others sagged four percent (NBC Chuck Todd), four percent (CBS Margaret Brennan) and ABC down two percent (George Stephanopoulos).

The Pew Center numbers were different, showing all four shows declining eight percent year-over-year in 2018 from 2017 with an average show viewership of 2.3 million.

Such morning political shows have been a Sunday staple since Meet the Press launched in 1947 with an aggressive moderator named Lawrence Spivak leading a panel of journalists questioning people in the news, both domestic and foreign.

CBS began Face the Nation seven years later and ABC did not debut This Week until 1981.

For people interested in serious public affairs, the programs were once must-watch TV. But there’s more viewing competition now with shows like I Hate My Aching Joints, Abs of Steel and How to Tighten Crepey Skin. Just kidding.


Personally, the troubles to my ears are the tiresomely predictable topics, questions and cast of self-important MSM characters.

Remote interviews from outside the Washington studios (gasp) are technically challenging for talk shows. But the relentless DC-centric chatter is so patronizing for us rubes and terribly disconnected from the lives and interests of most Americans. Why not do the shows sometimes from flyover country with local people?

The only time real-life Americans get on the programs now is if they happen to be in DC. Even then, the questions all have roots inside the Beltway.

It’s like we’re supposed to care about the inner frictions of Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrat caucus or President Trump dissing another of their colleagues or even the controversy over the Redskins name. It may seem important there but, NEWS FLASH, few outside see a compelling connection to their lives.

Did none of those people learn anything from 2016, when a wealthy New Yorker of all people was more in touch with American voters?

But, wait! There’s hope for a refreshed Sunday morning show.

Gray Television, which owns TV stations in 92 markets across the country, has hired Greta Van Susteren to helm a new Sunday show, Full Court Press, starting in September.

Gray has stations (and sells advertising) in Iowa, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, among other places, all important primary/caucus states.


For years Van Susteren earned an admirable reputation for her smart, nonpartisan questions on CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

But cable TV wants food fights these days. Gray intends to syndicate Van Susteren into other markets too and draw from its large local TV news operations. Van Susteren noted all communities face problems like infrastructure and student debts.

She emailed me:

All communities are facing these problems. The other Sunday shows are great but often focus mostly on what happened in Washington.

I intend to take advantage of the 143 stations Gray has around USA – including 2 in Alaska, 1 in Hawaii and all the stations in the all important swing states.

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John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023