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Sunday Morning Still Searching For Successor To Russert's Throne: Will It Be Stephanopoulos?

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"The throne is empty."

So said "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, meaning that there has been no successor as the king of Sunday morning television since Tim Russert's death last June.

Wallace made the comment to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz (himself a player in the Sunday morning TV game with his "Reliable Sources" hour during John King's "State of the Union" on CNN).

Kurtz interviewed all four of the Sunday morning news show hosts -- David Gregory, moderator of "Meet the Press" on NBC; George Stephanopoulos, host of "This Week" on ABC; Bob Schieffer, host of "Face the Nation" on CBS; and Fox News' Wallace -- and declared the news throne up for grabs.

According to a piece Monday in the Los Angeles Times, however, Stephanopoulos is posing a threat to NBC's long-standing dominance in the top spot. Meg James writes:

After years of toiling in the shadows of a giant, ABC's Sunday morning public affairs program, "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," is finally beginning to step into the spotlight once exclusively occupied by NBC's "Meet the Press."

One analyst cites Stephanopoulos' roundtable -- which Kurtz notes "features George Will and, at times, paid ABC contributors: Krugman, the Nobel-winning New York Times columnist; CNN's Donna Brazile; former Bush campaign pollster Matthew Dowd; and onetime Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke" -- as one of the driving forces behind its surging popularity.

News analyst Andrew Tyndall told James that the "This Week" roundtable "is the best forum on Sunday mornings."

Kurtz looks at the way each of the hosts has adjusted his program to reflect the void in any de facto leading voice on Sunday morning. Gregory, he says, has loosened up and tried to bring a new generation of voices onto the program. Stephanopoulos has "been injecting more of his opinion," Schieffer lobbied for President Obama's first Sunday morning sit-down, and Wallace has challenged the administration on issues such as dropping the term "the war on terror."

Perhaps most importantly, Kurtz notes, the battle for supremacy is playing out in the ratings: "Meet the Press" was down 6% in Q1, while "This Week" was up 12% and "Face the Nation" was up 8% ("Fox News Sunday" was essentially flat). And, as both Kurtz and James note in their pieces, "This Week" is closing the viewing gap with "Meet the Press" -- on April 5, Stephanopoulos trailed Gregory by just 200,000 viewers, and on April 12 by just 360,000 viewers.

Read Kurtz's piece in the Washington Post here and read James' piece on the Los Angeles Times here.