The nation’s longest running public affairs broadcast changed hands Sunday as NBC News announced that David Gregory -- a tenacious questioner and an Oscar-caliber mimic-- would move into the moderator’s chair on Meet the Press.
The change is tinged with emotion since it was triggered by the death of Timothy J. Russert, the longest serving host in the program’s 61-year history. Russert, a powerful and much admired figure in Washington journalism and political circles, died suddenly in June.
The Russert legacy
There were many things to admire about Tim Russert beyond his well prepared cross examinations of public figures. At his extremely well attended memorial service at the Kennedy Center, friends were struck by the many stories of his private acts of kindness to those in distress.
He carved out time a very busy life to devote to charities, including his much loved Boys and Girls Clubs of America. His devotion to his son, Luke, was legendary. And those of us from the world of print found him unfailingly generous in giving on-air credit to stories that had appeared our newspapers.
Former NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw had been hosting the broadcast on a temporary basis since the passing of Russert, his close friend. On the first Meet the Press broadcast without Russert, Brokaw briefly lost his composure while paying tribute to his colleague, one sign of their personal bond.
Going out in style
Brokaw announced Gregory’s selection after conducting an exclusive interview with President-elect Barack Obama, the kind of “get” for which the program is famous. “After that discussion about the future of the country, in a moment, the future of Meet the Press,” Brokaw said.
Shaking up talk show ratings
The change in anchors could shake up the rankings of the Sunday morning shows, where Meet The Press has enjoyed an unbroken 11-year run at the top. Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, told TV Newswer: “ I like David, I think he's a very effective broadcaster. I think he'll do well. But -- and I think he'd be the first to admit it -- he's not Tom Brokaw and he's not Tim Russert. And I think that some of the traditional Meet the Press audience will shop around."
One example of the coming competitive battle: ABC News announced that “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” had booked two exclusives – Senator John McCain next week, and Vice President Elect Joe Biden on December 21.
Oscar-level mimicry skills
During their chat on the Meet the Press set in Washington at the end of the program, Brokaw alluded to Gregory’s fabled skills as a mimic. In his new role, Brokaw said, Gregory would no longer be doing his “drop dead imitation of me.” Brokaw called Gregory a “great friend and cherished colleague” and encouraged him to include “journalists of your generation” on the program. The prematurely gray Gregory is 38 years old -- considerably younger than the program itself.
For his part, Gregory said he was “deeply humbled” by the new role and had “thought a lot about what it means to succeed somebody like Tim Russert.”
Gregory has served as NBC’s chief White House correspondent during the Bush presidency. Washingtonian Magazine called him the “firebrand in the front row” for his aggressive questioning in the briefing room.
He will continue to serve as a substitute anchor on the “Today” program, another venue to display his high octane intelligence and extensive background in national and international news.