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Chuck Todd (helped by Obama) launches his ‘Meet the Press.’ So how did he do?

NBC’s new ‘Meet the Press’ host Chuck Todd has a big job ahead of him: Raising the struggling Sunday TV show’s third-place ratings to Tim Russert levels while attracting younger viewers through social media.

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    Chuck Todd, moderator of "Meet the Press," has been a fixture of NBC's political coverage since 2007. He wants the "Meet the Press" brand at work all week with digital and online reports, and analysis provided to other NBC News shows.
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Chuck Todd kicked off his tenure as NBC’s new host for its struggling “Meet the Press” Sunday TV political talk show.

How did he do? OK, according to snap reviews … although the bigger challenge may be TV’s problem with attracting voters burnt out on politics as usual as represented by the usual suspects who typically fill such shows, not to mention younger people who look to other outlets (mostly online) for their news and commentary

Huffington Post senior editor Jack Mirkinson describes Todd’s approach as “not radically different than David Gregory's, but … certainly livelier, less stuffy.” (Gregory was the “Meet the Press” host recently fired when MTP – which had led the pack of Sunday news shows for years under the late Tim Russert – dropped to third in viewership.)

“It was like a living room that has been subtly tweaked – same basic concept, but isn't that a new lamp over there?” Mirkinson writes. “The biggest changes were not in content, but in tone…. Todd himself was chattier and funnier than Gregory ever managed to be; more importantly, he eschewed Gregory's tendency towards pomposity. He was engaged (and nicely tough in some places) with Obama … and he didn't seem too cowed by the task before him.”

Todd had President Obama as his principal guest Sunday, certainly a big deal even though Obama had his own agenda and talking points.

Todd went to the essence of important issues. Immigration, for example, since Obama had just gone back on his pledge to use executive power to effect change now in the face of Republican intransigence – which brought a firestorm of protest from immigration advocates and critics alike.

"What do you tell the person that's going to get deported before the election that this decision was essentially made in your hopes of saving a Democratic Senate?" Todd asked, then came back at Obama’s lengthy attempt to explain that this is not the case with several pointed follow-up questions.

Observed Politico’s Dylan Byers: “Obama had the upper hand in steering the conversation, but Todd elicited some newsy comments from the president on his plans to address the nation regarding the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, on the potential spread of the Ebola virus, and on his struggle with optics – specifically playing golf after making remarks on [Islamic State militant’s] killing of James Foley.”

“I should’ve anticipated the optics,” Obama admitted. “Part of this job is also the theater of it. That’s not something that always comes naturally to me. But it matters.”

Eric Alterman at The Nation wonders why “any sane person should care who hosts Meet the Press?”

“They remain influential with the rest of the mainstream media and therefore offer a clue as to how its denizens define their job, but they are not really ‘news’ shows at all,” Alterman writes. “Instead, they are branding exercises for network news divisions.”

But writing in The Washington Post the other day, Michael J. Socolow, associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, listed what he said are “Five myths about the Sunday talk shows.”

“Though often derided as wonky and formulaic, these shows retain value – journalistic and financial – in a fractured media world,” Socolow writes.

Among his five myths: “Nobody watches them anymore.”

Socolow points out that “In July, the most recent sweeps period, ABC News’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” averaged 2.7 million viewers. This exceeds the combined print and digital subscribers of the Sunday New York Times (slightly more than 2.5 million) and nearly matches viewership of the Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” (2.8 million average in July), the top-rated program on the top-rated cable news network.”

Another myth: “The shows don’t make news; guests just recite talking points.”

Part of Socolow’s rebuttal: “When Vice President Biden ‘accidently’ told David Gregory on ‘Meet the Press’ in May 2012 that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, the so-called gaffe was immediately (and correctly) read by the Washington press corps for what it was: an attempt to declare support for gay marriage while preserving deniability about a policy change in an election year. It worked.”

And a third myth: “No one will be as good as Tim Russert.”

To which Socolow replies: “Yes, each host is unique, and none will possess the singular attributes of Russert, whose shadow still looms over ‘Meet the Press.’ But recall that when Lawrence Spivak retired as the show’s host in 1975, many believed that he, too, was irreplaceable.”

“Arguing that there will never be another Russert misses the point,” he continues. “There was never another Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, but Roone Arledge and Peter Jennings successfully reinvented the nightly newscast, while today Brian Williams continues to transform the anchor model. And were Russert still with us, he probably would have updated his show for our social-media-driven time.”

Chuck Todd probably is feeling pretty good about today’s performance. But he realizes that “Meet the Press” still is in third place, and it’ll take more than today’s opening – much more – to change that.

“To be sure, the true test will come next Sunday, when he doesn’t have a presidential booking to fall back on,” says Politico’s Dylan Byers. “But already the show feels more lively and engaging.”

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