Can Chuck Todd Save a 'SOSO' <i>Meet The Press</i>?

For Todd and NBC to make something of, they have to ditch the SOSO attitude: Same Old, Same Old. They have to try shake things up, bringing back some old ways while integrating the new.
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MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: Chuck Todd, Political Director, NBC News, appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. (Photo by William B. Plowman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: Chuck Todd, Political Director, NBC News, appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. (Photo by William B. Plowman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Congratulations to Chuck Todd. He inherited Meet The Press, the longest-running show on TV.

If you for one second think a new moderator will save the show, think again. Todd is still a Villager, a relatively young one, but a native who grew up professionally in the political class. There's little room for outside thinking when the Village convenes to pass judgment.

For Todd and NBC to make something of Meet The Press, they have to ditch the SOSO attitude: Same Old, Same Old.

Media Matters has done some fine work tracking the demographics of the modern talk show. It's about what you think -- lots of older white men in general (not that there's anything wrong with being older and white), and lots of John McCain in particular. For no apparent reason, he's a Sunday morning regular, even thought it's not at all clear how much how pronouncements affect what goes on in Washington.

For Meet The Press to recover, it has to try shake things up, bringing back some old ways, while integrating the new.

Bring Back 'The Press'

When Tim Russert took over in 1991, he radically altered the format and the tone of the show. It stopped becoming about the guests, and began being all about Tim. Until that time, MTP was more like a press conference. A guest faced questions from a panel of reporters with a moderator.

For the guest, the questions would be a lot more varied, but the emphasis was where it should be -- on the newsmaker.

The move to a single moderator livened things up for a little while, as the panelists and moderators were wearing out. Yet while the Village fell in love with Russert, the show ceased to be about who the guest was or what he (more times than not) had to say.

Instead, it became a story of what "gotcha" moment Russert might spring on someone and whether the person was another member in good standing of the Washington Village, putting forth the Standard Wisdom.

When Russert died, David Gregory took over. Unfortunately, the cult of personality continued, but Gregory didn't have the personality to sustain it. While Russert at least could adopt the persona of the good old Buffalo guy, Gregory was the high-and-mighty know-it-all who gained a reputation for being simply the regurgitator of Republican talking points.

The guests stalemated. Who really wants to see Sen. Dick Durbin and Newt Gingrich?

Even the roundtables sort of wore out -- just another gabfest as on any cable channel, of the kind which didn't exist when MTP started, but which are all too common now.

To make the show unique, MTP has to dust off the old format. Make it about the guest again, facing a panel of questioners.

Today's Show Today

The guests, and the panels, have to reflect today, not 50 years ago. That's the new.

If the questioners are the SOSO reporters who are on all the time, they will quickly get tuned out. The good news is that there are lots of good writers and reporters out there, on all kinds of topics. Most never get a chance at a seat on a network show, even though their work deserves it.

Some work for major news outlets. Eduardo Porter, for example, always has great insights in the New York Times with his economic column. Frank Rich writes for New York magazine these days (even if he is former NYT, it's been a while), and is still the best political writer out there, perhaps tied with Charles Pierce from Esquire and Jonathan Chait, also from New York.

Then mix in some network correspondents who are covering hot stories of the week, like Dr. Nancy Snyderman or Miguel Almaguer, who's usually on a hot story. Add to the potential in some regional reporters from local outlets, news services like Bloomberg, minority and other Web sites. There are lots of people doing fabulous work who could contribute to the questioning and discussion.

Now it's time to play with the guest list. What has been the hottest political video of the summer? Those two DREAMers, Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, confronting Rep. Steve King (Tea Party-Iowa), while Sen. Rand Paul (?-KY) quickly swallows his burger and scoots. Who wouldn't like to see them on TV answering questions and putting forward their case?

That's a winning formula. Established pols, business leaders or interesting candidates paired with the kind of people you don't usually see on TV. Who is that? Look at the Media Matters chart and do the opposite. There are more voices out there who don't have a megaphone like MTP than do, and it is those voices who would make the show more relevant and interesting.

If he could curb his ego, Todd could make the show about the guests, with the questioners as supporting players and he could make it all stick together.

I know, good luck with all of that. But it's worth a try.

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