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David Gregory's Meet the Press off to a strong start

I am sure there will be folks who will be critical of David Gregory's debut today as host of NBC's Meet the Press. There is large portion of the public for whom new is never better. In their minds, things now lost were always better.

But from where I sit with 25 years of writing about Sunday morning public affairs television, I think Gregory and the new Meet the Press got off to a very promising start today. Most important, I think Gregory and executive producer Betsy Fischer are wisely and somewhat seamlessly shaping this venerable franchise for the new media future -- without losing any sense of its glorious past.

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First, The energy and pacing were impressive. Gregory brought intensity to the discussion worthy of the late Tim Russert. Let's be honest, Russert's demeanor and sense of urgency somehow made you feel that there was nothing that mattered more on the planet than what he was taking about. Of course, Gregory isn't there yet. But he was within shouting distance, and it was close enough to keep you in your seat and focused on what was being said.

Second, the choice of subject matter and use of guests were excellent. Again, this is at least as much to the credit of Fischer as it is Gregory, but Meet the Press wisely got the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich out of the way within the first segment, and devoted the rest of the hour to the economy.

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You have to deal with the craziness and venality of Blagojevich, but the economy is the topic on which the best minds in the nation need to be focused in shows like this, and Meet the Press delivered.

The panel of five was wonderful, and it was a great mix of philosophies and style. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, were engaged in battle over the proposed auto industry bailout immediately. And you could not get a better look at the two underlying philosophies of government at play in the larger debate than that provided by their words.

Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, offered a brilliant and upbeat assessment as to how innovation can get us out of the catastrophe the Bush administration has led us into. And while former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina argued for a solution that helps small businesses first, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott offered the most concrete explanation I have yet seen on TV as to how consumers were dealing with the downturn in their real lives when they enter his stores.

Thios needs to said: Most of the reporters, correspondents and columnist who have been covering the economic bailout have failed to deliver much clarity or insight. As troubled as I am by the spin and lies of the Wall Street gang, I am eager to hear what some of the business world's brighter lights like Schmidt have to say. This was a better panel than any group of journalists I have seen -- and it hurts me to say that.

Finally, some of my highest praise goes to the deft way in which Gregory and Fischer kept driving viewers to the network's MSNBC site.

For example, while interviewing Chuck Todd, NBC's political director, about Blagojevich, Gregory cited a blog post by Todd earlier in the week that discussed an NBC survey that I had not been aware of.

The bite from the post was displayed on the screen, and I cannot imagine thousands of viewers not checking it out after the show. That's the future of TV news, and Meet the Press gets it.

I have been hammering NBC for letting MSNBC go so partisan with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow while altogether losing its news compass for that cable channel. But based on what I saw this morning, it sure looks like the brass at the network made the right moves at least with Gregory and Meet the Press.

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