When Danny Shea broke the news that the big chair at Meet The Press was going to David Gregory, one could sense a great disturbance in the collective unconsciousness, as if a million voices were screaming out at once. That was the nation of Chuck Todd fans, expressing their disappointment.
So, yes. It looks as if NBC's goateed battler of polls will not, as many dreamed, take over the reins from the late Tim Russert. The same goes for presumed contenders Gwen Ifill and Andrea Mitchell. All brought some interesting qualities to the table. For Todd, it was a name brand that bespoke steadiness and trust. For Andrea Mitchell, it was years of experience and an appreciable range of expertise. And Gwen Ifill seemed like an unconventional choice for a news organization working to brand itself as the bird's eye on an unconventional political period.
Let's not waste too much time dithering over the other would-be NBC contenders. Tom Brokaw's stewardship of the show has been, in a word, disappointing. Chris Matthews -- have you heard? -- he's running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, maybe? Joe Scarborough really doesn't need another hour to fill with the Joe Scarborough Monologues. And while Tina Brown may think the job should fall to Rachel Maddow, I don't think I'm being unfair when I suggest that maybe she'd be better off just running her own show.
So, yeah, how do I feel about David Gregory taking over? Uhm ... it's okay I guess? Like a wall painted with a particularly intense shade of beige? To put Gregory in contrast to the other contenders, I'd say: Gregory is free from the disadvantages the other known contenders brought to their MTP audition. For all Chuck Todd's qualities, he just doesn't have a long history of going toe-to-toe with political figures. Andrea Mitchell does, but she's also the wife of Alan Greenspan, and with the economy shaping up as a key issue over the next year, NBC doesn't need a host that has to retreat to her Cone of Silence every time the topic comes up. I've always thought that Tim Russert had a special place in his heart for Gwen Ifill, but the whole flap that occurred over her forthcoming book and debate moderation probably poisoned the well for her (unfairly).
David Gregory is a company man who came up through the trenches of news reading, and who frequently succeeded in managing circumstances as a White House correspondent in a way that led to boffo confrontational footage for his network. Which is not a slag! That's what a White House correspondent from TV news is supposed to do, and Gregory did it exceedingly well. And that's the clear advantage he brings to Meet The Press -- he's comfortable as an interlocutor, is not intimidated by powerful people, and can skillfully manage a conversation so that at the end of the day, NBC News has some provocative looking footage to blast around the world.
Gregory came across reasonably well in the White House Press Room. Still, I've always thought that when he's come out of the trenches to appear on one of NBC's slickly produced news programs, a discernible gravitas gap has widened to Gregory's disadvantage. This has been on display all year as Gregory participated in the soul-crushing experience known as The Race For The White House, a dismaying festival of conventional wisdom that played like a televised version of Time's "The Page" if you stuffed Mark Halperin full of Martian creatine and gave him viral echolalia. From the silly stripes that chased Gregory around in the opening sequence to his painful evocations of a "panel that comes to play," The Race For The White House was a monumentally silly enterprise, and, as its bandleader Gregory showed a propensity for keeping aloft every idiot press meme that came along.
I'm also concerned about Gregory's tendency toward clubby insularity. Media Matters describes a recent, trademarked incidence of this, in which Gregory insisted breathlessly that "everyone was talking about" Christopher Hitchens' criticisms of Hillary Clinton, when in reality, the only people doing so were those in the MSNBC Green Room.
Nevertheless, with David Gregory, Meet The Press is probably going to successfully pull off the picking-up-where-it-left-off moment following the untimely death of Tim Russert. If you were a fan of the Russertian style of inquiry (and I was not), the show is probably going to feel familiar. I'm interested in how the look and feel of the show changes to suit Gregory, who I feel will come off better with a reduction in production gloss. Anyway, it will have to do. In another decade, ten-year old cub reporter Damon Weaver and the splendid Amanda Lorber from MTV's The Paper will hopefully have taken over the media, and on that day, there shall be much rejoicing.
UPDATE: A commenter, "WriterRoss," opines: "Since the show is called Meet the PRESS, perhaps NBC could have gone back to a panel of press people instead of simply meeting ONE member of the 'press.'"
Indeed, this would have been my preference.