After a bad couple of weeks clunkily extracting Ann Curry as co-host of its morning infotainment show, NBC News found itself dealing with another unpleasant personnel report this week: David Gregory is on his way out as host of the network’s Sunday Beltway show, “Meet the Press.”
This week, the iPad news service The Daily ran a report that Gregory was right behind Curry in the NBC News Tumbril.
The report about Gregory is not new — it surfaced a couple of months ago (at that time, Joe Scarborough was said to be his replacement). But stone-cold denials were issued by “Meet the Press” exec producer Betsy Fischer and NBC News President Steve Capus.
Another stone-cold denial was issued this week: “The rumors recklessly reported by The Daily are categorically untrue,” NBC News said in a statement. That, even though this time, The Daily reported that “Meet the Press” anchor Tim Russert was spinning in his grave over the show’s numbers. Russert ruled the Sunday Beltway show ratings until his sudden death in June of 2008.
Last month, “Meet the Press’s” weekly rating hit a 20-year low among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 — the currency of news programming.
On the first Sunday of June, the public-affairs show averaged 2.46 million total viewers of all ages — but just 687,000 viewers in that key age bracket — which was its smallest 25-to-54 demographic performance for a regular broadcast since July of ’92. “Meet the Press” got beat in the demographic by ABC News’s “This Week” that week — the first time it bested both Gregory’s show and CBS’s “Face the Nation” in two years.
But NBC News’s bigger Sunday problem isn’t ABC’s show or its returned host George Stephanopoulos. It’s CBS’s Bob Schieffer.
Schieffer hosts “Face the Nation,” which this season is snapping at “Meet the Press’s” heels. Since the 2011-12 TV season began in mid-September, Schieffer’s show has snared the largest audience among the Sunday public-affairs shows a total of 18 times. In contrast, for the year spanning mid-September of ’10 to mid-September of ’11, Schieffer’s show finished first just three times.
Since mid-September of ’11, NBC’s “Meet the Press” is averaging 3 million viewers; while “Face the Nation” is averaging 2.93 million.
Back in April, CBS expanded Schieffer’s show from 30 minutes to one hour, which is the running length of “Meet the Press” and “This Week.”
In an interview with the AP at the time, Schieffer noted that, shortly after he started as the show host two decades ago, Russert went to his NBC bosses and got them to expand “Meet the Press” to an hour. Russert promised if the ratings did not go up in three months, he’d agree to cut it back to 30 minutes, Schieffer said. The numbers went up, and Russert ruled the Sunday Beltway show ratings until his death.
On the eve of “Face the Nation’s” expansion in April, CBS News execs told the AP that “Face the Nation’s” expansion is, likewise, an experiment — one that will be reviewed after 20 weeks before being made permanent.
In the meantime, that second half-hour of “FTN” is not included in the show’s weekly ratings report from Nielsen. Instead, it’s “broken out” as a separate show because, CBS explains, that half-hour is only cleared by 65 percent of CBS stations.
And that has NBC News’s knickers in a knot, because the second half-hour is attracting a far smaller crowd. In its first 12 weeks, the second half-hour of “FTN” averaged 1.43 million viewers.
“CBS is engaged in ratings gimmickry and claiming victories based on misleading numbers,” NBC News complains.
“ ‘Face the Nation’ has been booking, producing and promoting a one-hour broadcast for several months now, but they continue to only report ratings data for the first half-hour.”