COMMENTARY: Ousted host didn't get the format suitable to his talent
To the surprise of no one, Chuck Todd was tapped Thursday to replace David Gregory in the anchor chair at NBC’s struggling “Meet the Press.” Rumors of his demise had been rampant for so long that his removal was a foregone conclusion.
Even Gregory’s harshest critics should have some sympathy for the guy. He had some bumps in the road but for the most part proved himself just as tough an interviewer as his peerless predecessor, Tim Russert. Perhaps Russert was really the problem here: When a legend casts a shadow that long, no one underneath it really has a shot at shining through.
NBC threw out the baby instead of the bathwater that is the show’s real problem: its format. Terrific an interviewer as Gregory is, there was too much airtime devoted to overheated, predictable rhetoric from both sides of the aisle. What few light tweaks that were made to the format, like Jim Miklaszewski’s bland dispatches, weren’t nearly enough to fix Gregory’s problems.
Had NBC News chief Deborah Turness, who is now suggesting that significant format changes are ahead with Todd in place, experimented meaningfully with the “Meet the Press” format while Gregory was still in the anchor chair, perhaps he would still be there.
Then there was the sight of Gregory twisting in the wind for as long as he had while NBC futilely tinkered on the show. Not a month seemingly went by without some press report on his imminent ouster, followed by strenuous denials from NBC. If Turness was going to stick so firmly by Gregory’s side, perhaps she owed him more time to make the kind of substantive changes to his show that never really materialized.
Given the sideshow Gregory’s fate became, no wonder he’s out of a job. Which isn’t to say that NBC can be blamed for making the tough choice to drop Gregory given the reality of the show’s ratings. At some point, there’s no distinction to be made between baby and bathwater–the latter taints the former if they’ve been in the tub together for too long.
As successors go, Todd is certainly worthy. He has years of practice under his belt on “Press” and MSNBC, building up a reputation as an insider with a keen eye for poll numbers.
It will be interesting to see what’s next for Gregory. The year-long vulture-pecking that preceded his ouster may make him damaged goods for competitors that might otherwise tap someone with his level of talent. Surely a CNN or CBS isn’t going to put him in the game on Sunday mornings, but there’s got to be other venues for Gregory to do his thing.
But thinking about his possibilities elsewhere on the dial may be an anachronistic way of thinking in an era when a veteran like Katie Couric now calls Yahoo home. For instance, what about Netflix?
The streaming VOD service stunned the industry recently by announcing its entry into the talk show genre, with Chelsea Handler. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Netflix has contemplated getting into the news business as well in some limited fashion, and someone with Gregory’s bona fides might represent just the opportunity.
No matter where Gregory goes next, it’s in his best interest in the short term to just lay low and let the memory of the last six months fade. In time, the industry and viewers will remember the talent that brought him to “Press’ in the first place.