The Washingtonian's excellent longform article about why David Gregory was fired from Meet the Press outlines five factors that led to his ultimate ouster from a show NBC still considers their flagship political property.
Reason #1: Comcast According to the article, Comcast had a much more hands-on approach than GE did. They were connected in Washington, DC, had lobbyists and political operatives all over Capitol Hill, and viewed Meet the Press as yet another lobbying arm to further their corporate objectives.
Comcast also had an even more personal way of sucking up to Washington. Its government-affairs team carried around “We’ll make it right” cards stamped with “priority assistance” codes for fast-tracking help and handed them out to congressional staffers, journalists, and other influential Washingtonians who complained about their service.
A Comcast spokeswoman says this practice isn’t exclusive to DC; every Comcast employee receives the cards, which they can distribute to any customer with cable or internet trouble. Nevertheless, efforts like this one have surely helped Comcast boost its standing inside the Beltway and improve its chances of winning regulatory approval for its next big conquest: merging with the second-largest cable provider in the country, Time Warner Cable.
Announced in February 2014, the $45-billion deal could become the most consequential corporate transaction in a generation. If it goes through, it would put Comcast in control of 35 percent of the nation’s broadband internet coverage. Combined with its robust cable penetration and its ownership of NBC content, that’s unparalleled reach into America’s living rooms.
All Comcast needs, once again, is Washington’s blessing. Which is why Meet the Press, the company’s marquee Beltway property, is not just another show.
Reason #2: Rather than listening to viewers who left the network, they ran focus groups who came to incorrect conclusions
By early 2013, NBC—which had now been under Comcast’s control for two years—began a concerted effort to revive Meet the Press. The network hired a New York branding firm, Elastic Strategy, to organize a series of focus groups to help diagnose the show’s problems, according to people familiar with the research. There was one key finding: Viewers liked Gregory well enough; they just didn’t feel they really knew him.
Had they asked viewers who left the network, they might have gotten a different impression. It's likely that different (and correct) impression wouldn't have saved David Gregory, but it almost certainly might have saved the show.
Who cares whether people "know" the host of Meet the Press or not? That's just public relations gobbledegook, meaningless and empty. The problem wasn't "knowing" David Gregory. The problem was that Gregory couldn't be bothered to challenge his guests, no matter how wrong they were.
In 2013, when their focus groups determined that all viewers needed was a warmer, fuzzier view of the show host, there was some serious criticism happening here and elsewhere over the unchallenged nonsense and bizarre guests appearing on MtP.
Rich Lowry was allowed to lie about the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. Jim DeMint was allowed to go on about how women just want free ultrasounds. Putting Ralph Reed and Jim DeMint on to whine about the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA and then just letting them spew while hoping Rachel Maddow picked up the slack.
And more. Letting David Brooks slam every supporter of the ACA by calling it the "Rube Goldberg Act." Constantly obsessing over "entitlements" while using lazy talking points generated by the right wing and deficit hawks everywhere.
Those are just a few from the 2013 hit parade, but those ratings didn't tank overnight. The more corporate and milquetoasty Meet the Press got, the less viewers it drew in. Think maybe there's a relationship there?
Reason #3: Joe Scarborough
When Gregory was in the hot seat, some thought Scarborough reached for the knives. And the staff wouldn’t have welcomed him in the moderator’s chair. In 2012, NBC executives had given Scarborough a shot at guest-hosting Meet the Press in Gregory’s absence, according to sources. But the network’s news division protested. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was booked for that week’s show, and letting Scarborough interview a fellow conservative would undercut the franchise’s nonpartisan bona fides. As a compromise, Savannah Guthrie moderated and Scarborough led the roundtable.
Reason #4: Chuck Todd
Todd’s Meet the Press ambitions made for tension. “It was obvious that Chuck knew a lot more about politics than David did, and so that was uncomfortable,” says a person familiar with their relationship. “And then on Chuck’s end, David had the job he wanted, so that’s uncomfortable.”
Earlier this year, Sures, Todd’s agent, approached the NBC brass in New York, according to a former senior NBC executive, and demanded that Todd be handed Gregory’s job.
“They were very aggressive with the new NBC News leadership,” the former executive says, “and told them that if Chuck didn’t get Meet the Press soon, he was going to leave.” Sures denies this, and NBC declined to make Todd available.
Reason #5: Boredom and bias loses viewers According to the article, Gregory was phoning it in by 2013, though he denies it. Even after Deborah Turness started ratcheting up the idea machine, Gregory hung back, choosing to resist ideas he thought would turn MtP into a "political gong show."
And [Turness] pressed the staff to book more politically active celebrities that non-white, non-male, non-senior citizens—the people who aren’t watching Meet the Press—might be drawn in by.
Gregory chafed at these changes, people close to him say, fearing they were too radical and would cheapen the brand. But he complied. On one show, rapper will.i.am joined former White House communications director Anita Dunn, Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz, columnist Kathleen Parker, and Chuck Todd for the roundtable segment. Instead of loose, as Turness wanted, the result was utterly stiff.
At one point, Turness suggested that Gregory have a live band close out the show to commemorate the death of Nelson Mandela. Gregory was appalled, people close to him say. Although he recognized the need to broaden the program’s appeal to a younger, more diverse audience, he worried that Turness’s approach was about to turn Meet the Press into a political gong show.
In fairness, I'm not sure the live band or the worry about cheapening the show would make much of a difference. The problem wasn't entirely David Gregory, as we now see from Chuck Todd's remarkable ability to actually cheapen it while keeping it biased and boring.
The problem was the same problem corporate Democrats have. If viewers want Fox News, they turn on Fox News, in much the same way voters will vote for the real Republican instead of Republican Lite Democrats.
Meet the Press offered nothing to those looking for an alternative to Fox News. It had no edge, no interesting takes, and absolutely no personalities on there who would interest people in the middle-aged demographic, much less younger ones. They would have been far better off by taking a risk, turning it back to the format that made the show a success in the first place, and getting a host who would actually challenge guests instead of patting them on the back and telling them it was perfectly fine for them to lie.
Meet the Press became Comcast's servant and by extension, the US Chamber of Commerce's servant as well. It was (and is) corporate, conservative, loaded with false equivalencies . No real person wants to spend an hour of their Sunday with those people, even if David Gregory in person is funny and has a killer Tom Brokaw impersonation.
What Turness and Comcast seem to intentionally ignore is the viewers themselves, and perhaps more importantly, the former viewers. Perhaps they should try listening to them instead of public relations and advertising's focus groups where the focus is on the wrong piece.
[Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey]