Meet the Press is boring, predictable, stodgy, and... boring. There, I've said it. Someone had to, especially now that Tim Russert, the 18-year moderator of the show has moved on to wherever television journalists go after they've given their final sign-off from this earthly plane -- and let me be in the minority by refusing to speculate on his after-life destination -- it's time for the NBC weekly Sunday morning news program to ditch their old format and leave the 20th century behind.
Last weekend, NBC summoned Tom Brokaw out of his Montana retirement McMansion to host Meet the Press and one question lingered: Has he really gone native by wearing cowboy boots on-air? Cool. However, watching Brokaw manage the old-fashioned Snoozeville format made me realize just how dated the program has become when compared to MSNBC's Countdown and Hardball, or even, CNN's Anderson Cooper and, yawn, Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room.
While Brokaw led Meet the Press with affable true-blue professionalism, without the gravitas and tradition of Russert's bulging blue eyes and lawyerly questioning technique -- posing the question, listening to the rambling answer without interruption and then ambushing the guest with his/her former statements in direct contradiction to what they've just said -- the show was a flat-liner. It wasn't Brokaw's fault. It's the format, stupid!
The longest running television show in international broadcast history, Meet the Press is showing all of its 60 years. Enough already of the one-on-one absurdly polite interviews -- which Russert specialized in as a way to keep the Beltway big dogs returning to his program and which had the effect of adding almost no meat to the political discourse of the day.
A prime example of this systemic program weakness (aptly spun by the network and Russert's pals as a positive during the interminably long post-Russert death rattle brattle on television) was this past Sunday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't answer one question from Brokaw. Instead, the governor stayed on message, talking about what he wanted to discuss rather than answering Brokaw's questions, and as Russert would have done before him, Brokaw politely let 'The Arnold' ply his partisan schtick.
I couldn't help but imagine Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews in the same spot as Brokaw and how differently they would have managed the Schwarzenegger interview. Pow! Pop! Bam!
Sure, they are wildly entertaining, offering their opinions freely and interrupting politicians, political operatives and guest pundits. But, somehow both Olbermann and Matthews come across as more honest than the so-called honest, objective political reporters of the past who are still operating inside the Beltway. They're also a whole hell of a lot more interesting than Tim Russert or Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press.
It's time to bury the old Meet the Press format and replace it with a new host and a new format that more closely connects to the visual and content pitch of the 21st century, where bloggers and Internet speed can be matched with the heavy-duty interviews in the hands of someone who isn't afraid to give an opinion or piss-off a powerful Beltway politician.