Ed Driscoll

Ugly Behind the Scenes Turmoil at Meet The Press Revealed

david_gregory_brandishes_illegal_gun_clip_6-23-13

At NewsBusters, P.J. Gladnick quotes from a juicy Washingtonian article on how David Gregory — once nicknamed “Stretch” by President Bush due to his 6’5″ height — lost his swank gig as replacement for the late and sorely missed Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press. Network news executive Deborah Turness, imported in 2013 from England’s ITV channel, played a large role in Gregory’s exit, but not before she engaged in classic network meddling with the show. Including — as if Gregory wasn’t enough of a reactionary leftwing dinosaur — the suggestion that “Gregory stack newspapers on his desk to give the set an intimate, coffeehouse feel.” To which Gladnick quips “How about a pile of VHS movies placed on his desk for that traditional old timey feel?” But as if Gregory wasn’t hosting a clown show already (see above photograph of Gregory’s nadir as the second coming of Network’s crazed Howard Beale, or perhaps NBC’s own Keith Olbermann), Turness’s wacky ideas would only get worse:

And she pressed the staff to book more politically active celebrities that non-white, non-male, non-senior citizens—the people who aren’t watching Meet the Press—might be drawn in by.

Gregory chafed at these changes, people close to him say, fearing they were too radical and would cheapen the brand. But he complied. On one show, rapper will.i.am joined former White House communications director Anita Dunn, Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz, columnist Kathleen Parker, and Chuck Todd for the roundtable segment. Instead of loose, as Turness wanted, the result was utterly stiff.

So, will.i.am, what is your opinion of Dodd Frank? The Quantitative Easing by the Federal Reserve? Okay, forget all that. What’s the latest dish on Beyonce?

At one point, Turness suggested that Gregory have a live band close out the show to commemorate the death of Nelson Mandela. Gregory was appalled, people close to him say. Although he recognized the need to broaden the program’s appeal to a younger, more diverse audience, he worried that Turness’s approach was about to turn Meet the Press into a political gong show.

How about Peter Pan flying around the Meet The Press set on wires to commemorate the victory of nepotism in live musical TV productions?

Suddenly, stories about the palace intrigue at Meet the Press began appearing with suspicious frequency. By March 2014, only two months into Turness’s turnaround effort, rumors that Gregory was on the chopping block had gained so much traction that he asked NBC to respond and quell them.

“I cannot be more declarative about David—[he] is our guy, is going to be our guy, and we are really happy with him,” Turness’s top lieutenant told the Huffington Post.

Translation: “Stretch is a dead duck who doesn’t know it yet.”

Gregory was becoming a spectacle, and it was clear to him, friends say, that this was no accident—someone was planting these stories in the press to discredit him. The question was who.

Do we really need to call in Sherlock Holmes to find the source?

Heh. Maybe Dan Rather, O.J., or Rolling Stone could investigate.

But Gregory’s debacle wasn’t something that happened in a vacuum, and it didn’t occur overnight. There’s a great book waiting to be written, along the lines of Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad’s Backstage History of Saturday Night Live or William McGowan’s Gray Lady Down, on the recent history of NBC and its subsidiary channels. NBC was the network in the 1980s, whose shows, from Cosby to Cheers to Miami Vice and beyond, appealed to a vast audience. Its network news division was seen as relatively fair, at least by today’s standards. During the early to mid-1990s, while Roger Ailes oversaw CNBC and the very early days of MSNBC, those channels didn’t antagonize conservative viewers. On the flagship network during the mid-1990s, Seinfeld, Friends, and Mad About You continued the winning sitcom formula. By the early “naughts” though, the dramatic events of the 2000 election, followed by 9/11, sent a psychic shock through the network, and certainly through its then-network president Jeff Zucker, these days working his “magic” with CNN. During his reign of error at NBC, the network and its subsidiary cable channels all swung increasingly to the far left, and tossed objectivity out the window, in everything from the sports programming on NBC to the rampant racist obsessions of MSNBC. When the bottom fell out in 2013, parent channel NBC finished fifth in the ratings, losing to ABC, CBS, Fox — and even to Spanish language channel Telemundo.

How this sea change in philosophy swept through a once great network and increasingly rendered it anathema to mainstream viewers would make for excellent reading, if any of its current or former executives would be willing to go on the record and explain how advocacy replaced ratings and at least the appearance of objectivity at this once great institution.