NEW YORK -- Chuck Todd knows his show’s long-running tagline is, “If it’s Sunday, it’s ‘Meet the Press.’”
“Sunday is one day of the week,” Todd said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “Sunday is a big day of the week. But Sunday is one day of the week.”
This Sunday is an especially big one for Todd, who will kick off his hosting duties by interviewing President Barack Obama. But Todd, 42, said he hopes to eventually transform the show from a weekly, hour-long event to a 24/7 political brand.
“I come from a daily background, come from an Internet background in many ways,” Todd said. “My life at Hotline was sort of the Internet before the Internet. I’m certainly not shy on social media. And there is a sense they want the 'Meet the Press' brand to have daily relevance.”
By “they,” Todd means the higher-ups at NBC News, who've watched “Meet the Press” fall from first to third place in the ratings since David Gregory took the mantle from the late Tim Russert in 2008.
Earlier this year, NBC News president Deborah Turness tasked senior vice president Alex Wallace with transforming the Sunday show's site into a “7 days-a-week source for politics and beltway buzz.” In March, Wallace insisted that Gregory was the host to do it, telling The Huffington Post that the network was “doubling down” on him amid a rollout of new digital features, including a mid-week interview segment.
But the ratings continued to sag, and while Gregory had traditional broadcast chops, he didn’t seem to have the temperament needed to dive headfirst into the ongoing political conversation on the Web, cable and social media. Todd, by comparison, lives in that world. He regularly breaks news online, riffs about politics (and sports) on Twitter, and, until landing this job, interviewed lawmakers and journalists each morning on MSNBC's “The Daily Rundown.”
So if the NBC brass wanted someone immersed in politics for "Meet the Press," they're in luck. But Turness also recently said that “the show needs more edge."
For Todd, that won't mean dyeing his goatee blue or dropping F-bombs like HBO's John Oliver. He said he thinks Turness is looking for increased "urgency and relevancy," which he hopes to bring to the show by focusing on reporter-driven analysis over “pie-in-the-sky” punditry. He plans to bring newer voices to the table, like The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and BuzzFeed’s John Stanton, both scheduled to appear Sunday. Todd also said he may break news on the show and incorporate investigative segments.
Even if it becomes more edgy or relevant, “Meet the Press” is still unlikely to quickly draw a younger audience, as 20-somethings aren't exactly known for spending their Sunday mornings watching political talk shows.
“Are they rejecting the brand or are they just not getting up?" Todd said. If it's the latter, he has a plan.
“I think that TV executives in general have to be careful desperately trying to go after this younger demographic and begging them to watch,” he said. “Look, just get in front of them with your brand where they are and build your credibility on how they consume information. And over time, they may decide, ‘Oh, I really like following this guy on Twitter, I’ve enjoyed the Reddit conversation I’ve had, whatever it is. When I see he’s going to do this on Sunday, I want to see that or I’m going to TiVo that.”
“It isn’t something that you just flip a switch and they automatically gravitate to on Sunday morning,” Todd added. “I think it’s about me going to them Monday through Saturday and then, over time, they gradually make the transition.”
But even if Todd gets new viewers to give “Meet the Press” a chance, many people continue to view the Sunday shows as too insular, lacking diversity and failing to adequately challenge politicians spouting talking points with, well, facts. So what will Todd do about that?
Ignoring The 'Elected Pundits'
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested to Todd last week that “Meet the Press” doesn't need to change.
That's not surprising, given that McCain has appeared on the program a record 69 times. He's a ubiquitous presence on the other Sunday shows and across cable news as well, providing a reliably interventionist view of foreign policy and steady criticism of the Obama administration.
Todd didn’t rule out having McCain on again, but plans to avoid seeking analysis from what he called the “elected pundit,” a lawmaker who isn’t involved in active legislation and doesn't have a leading role in an ongoing debate. Political journalists, Todd said, shouldn’t “let the elected officials play pundit.”
“They’re the policy-makers,” he continued. “They’re the ones we’ve, in our great wisdom in America, sent to Washington to solve these problems. Make them discuss that, not just opine about what they’d do if they were in another job.”
Todd also said he plans to "put Washington on talking-point detox” and will challenge politicians on air when they contradict their past statements.
The Diversity Factor
Liberal watchdog Media Matters found that 84 percent of last year's guests on the four broadcast network Sunday shows -- “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” ABC’s “This Week,” and “Fox News Sunday” -- were white.
On cable, CNN’s “State of the Union” didn’t fare much better: 73 percent of its guests were white and 27 percent were people of color. MSNBC’s two Sunday shows were more ethnically diverse, with whites comprising 54 percent of guests and people of color making up 45 percent. Adding gender to the equation, Media Matters found in a separate study that 75 percent of guests on the network Sunday shows in 2013 were men.
Todd said that his track record at “The Daily Rundown” proves he’s able to book a diverse group of guests. He also noted that “diversity isn’t just a color of the skin,” but also cuts across ideological, geographic, and socio-economic lines. “I believe all of that diversity needs to be reflected,” he said.
Reaching Between ‘The 5s’
Todd believes most Americans don't feel like the media, largely concentrated on the coasts, fully understands their plight.
“There’s life on the 5s -- I-5 and I-95 -- in America," Todd, said referring to the interstate highways running down the West and East coasts of the United States. “There’s life between the 5s and it’s pretty different."
Those in between, he said, feel that New York, Washington and Los Angeles are "out of touch with the reality and the struggles going on.” For instance, Todd pointed out that the economic recovery “is going gangbusters in the Acela corridor” -- which stretches from Washington to Boston -- and in the space between Southern California and Seattle, while that's not the case elsewhere in the U.S.
Todd said he plans to travel outside the Beltway with the show and highlight places where politicians are working together, unlike in dysfunctional Washington.
"This is about using this incredible platform," Todd said, "the longest-running television show in the world on the American political debate, and using it to try to restore a place where Americans feel as if we’re hearing them.”