Even at 6-5, Gregory Has Big Shoes to Fill at 'Press'
Monday, December 8, 2008; Page C01
Sitting in Tim Russert's old office at NBC yesterday, hours after being named the new moderator of "Meet the Press," David Gregory recalled when the longtime host offered him advice on being a father.
"He was so earnest when he would talk about that," Gregory says. "He would say about parenting what he meant about work: 'You can't fake it. You've got to do the work. They've got to know you're the real deal.' "
The handoff to Gregory became official when interim moderator Tom Brokaw announced yesterday that the network would be turning over the coveted chair to a 38-year-old correspondent best known for his combative questioning in the White House briefing room. It is a move that reshapes the Sunday-show landscape and puts considerable pressure on the man with the thick shock of prematurely graying hair.
"I'd be crazy if I wasn't nervous about it," Gregory said. "Succeeding Tim Russert is humbling, and I think I'm appropriately nervous." The deal, he said, was not signed until Saturday night.
NBC News President Steve Capus said he had watched Gregory "grow into one of the best-known and most respected political reporters" and "grow as an interviewer" while anchoring MSNBC's "Race for the White House" this year. "We really feel good about David's ability to do it on live television, which is a different beast," Capus said. "He happens to be darned good in the hosting role as well."
The program's importance was underscored yesterday when Brokaw interviewed Barack Obama, in the president-elect's first appearance on a Sunday talk show since the election. Gregory's challenge is to keep "Meet the Press" atop the ratings heap, and several Sunday rivals say they see an opening.
Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation," said Gregory is "very smart and has a great wit about him. . . . He has really big shoes to fill here because they don't get any better than Tim. There's no question it will give all of us an opportunity. We're going to try to beat his brains out, just like Tim and I used to do with each other." Schieffer, 71, is expected to head "Face the Nation" for at least two more years.
Chris Wallace, host of "Fox News Sunday," called Gregory "a first-rate broadcaster. . . . But he'd be the first to admit he's not Tim Russert or Tom Brokaw. He's going to have to earn his audience the way they did and all the rest of us do."
George Stephanopoulos, who hosts ABC's "This Week," said Gregory would be "a tough competitor. 'Meet the Press' has a stellar brand and a million-viewer lead. We're going to go out and fight for our share every week."
CNN plans to announce today that correspondent John King, a rising star at the network, will take over its Sunday show "Late Edition," two executives said. The show has been anchored for a decade by Wolf Blitzer, who has been looking to lighten his load, since he already hosts 15 hours of weekday programming on "The Situation Room."
This season, "Meet the Press" has averaged 3.7 million viewers; "This Week," 2.8 million; "Face the Nation," 2.5 million; "Fox News Sunday," 1.8 million; and "Late Edition," 850,000.
The format of the Sunday programs has changed remarkably little since "Meet the Press" debuted in 1947. All the shows except "Face the Nation" have expanded from a half-hour to one hour -- a change pioneered by ABC's David Brinkley in 1981 -- and most feature pundit roundtables. They have also moved from a panel of journalists to a single moderator.