He’s the face of the longest-running TV show in American history, a news program that debuted in 1947.
But now, officials at NBC have ordered psychological research of “Meet the Press” host David Gregory and his family, in a desperate attempt to make the newsman more likable, as the show’s ratings have plunged off a cliff, sounding alarm bells among top network brass.
Published reports indicate friends of Gregory and even his wife have been interviewed by a psychologist mandated by the network to figure out how the Sunday-morning host could possibly relate better to the American populace.
The Washington Post reported: “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.”
Meanwhile sources told Page Six of the New York Post that NBC also commissioned audience tests of other replacement hosts, including NBC political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who is said to have scored even less favorably than Gregory.
An NBC spokesperson told Page Six, “Last year ‘Meet the Press’ brought in a brand consultant – not, as reported, a psychological one – to better understand how its anchor connects, and they all have their own methods for doing that. This is certainly not unusual for any television program, especially one that’s based on one person. It is absolutely false that any audience research has been done on an alternative host.”
For decades, “Meet the Press” was consistently the No. 1 news show on Sunday mornings, with former host Tim Russert attracting an audience 40 percent larger than his rivals, an unheard-of margin in TV. But since Russert’s death in 2008, ratings with Gregory at the helm have plunged to No. 3, and remain in the midst of a three-year slide.
In the first three months of 2014, for instance, Gregory’s program finished behind rivals “Face the Nation” on CBS and “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on ABC, despite the assistance of two weeks of Winter Olympics celebrations. In the final quarter of 2013, ratings among the highly coveted 25-to-54 demographic plummeted to its lowest level ever.
“I get it,” Gregory told the Washington Post. “Do I want to be number one in the ratings? Every week I want to be number one, and we fight like hell to get there. And it’s tough right now. It’s a fight.”
He adds, “I’m not just trying to sell you – well, I am trying to sell you – but I’m not going to B.S. you, either. Yeah, it’s hard. I see what our challenges are. But we’re going to fix our problems.”
Among the biggest hurdles for Gregory is overcoming the “ghost” of Russert, who, according to one NBC colleague, still haunts Gregory’s tenure six years into the job.
“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,” Gregory told the Post. “I have nothing but respect and admiration for Tim and his legacy. And I’m doing my own thing, just like Tim did.”
The meltdown at “Meet the Press” has reportedly attracted the attention of NBC’s News’ new president, Deborah Turness, a veteran of Britain’s ITV News, but Gregory’s job does not appear to be in any immediate jeopardy, said the Post.
The show itself has undergone several logistical changes since the days of Tim Russert, so it now bears just a vague resemblance to the legendary version. Russert would often spend multiple time segments questioning a single newsmaker, but Gregory now barely goes more than seven minutes on any particular topic or guest.
Gregory says the new look “delivers on the core of what ‘Meet the Press’ is” but “widens the aperture … . I’m dedicated to building something that says we’re not just thinking about politics. We’re thinking about who the real influencers are in this country.”
Police in Washington, D.C., reportedly warned NBC not to show a high-capacity gun magazine on the air before “Meet the Press,” and confirmed the show’s anchor was under investigation.
“NBC contacted [the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department] inquiring if they could utilize a high capacity magazine for their segment,” Gwendolyn Crump, a police spokeswoman, said in an email to WJLA-TV, the ABC television affiliate in the nation’s capital.
“NBC was informed that possession of a high capacity magazine is not permissible and their request was denied. This matter is currently being investigated.”
Despite the warning, Gregory held up the ammunition magazine on national television for a discussion on gun control.
“Here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets,” Gregory said on “Meet the Press” as he brandished the magazine. “Now isn’t it possible that if we got rid of these, if we replaced them and said, ‘Well, you could only have a magazine that carries five bullets or 10 bullets,’ isn’t it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?”
His commentary came after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting where 20 children and six adults were killed by a 20-year-old with several guns he had obtained, despite state restrictions that already should have prevented him from using them.
But the program is taped in Washington, D.C., and the district has a ban on such pieces of equipment. No charges were ever filed against Gregory.