NEW YORK (AP) — If he's to succeed as the new moderator of "Meet the Press," Chuck Todd says viewers need to be thinking about the show more than just on Sunday mornings.
Todd begins his effort to lift the long-running public affairs program out of its doldrums this weekend with the biggest "get" possible for one of those shows — an interview with President Barack Obama. Todd replaces David Gregory, let go by NBC with "Meet the Press" sinking into third place in the Sunday morning ratings.
Todd, a fixture of NBC's political coverage since 2007, said he wants the "Meet the Press" brand at work all week with digital and online reports, and analysis provided to other NBC News shows. He's given up his "Daily Rundown" morning show on MSNBC to concentrate on the effort.
"I don't want to overpromise here," he said. "I feel that in three or four months, you're going to be able to say, 'good grief, 'Meet the Press' is turning out stuff almost hourly. It's not a weekly anymore.' If you're not feeling that in four to six months, then that's not good."
That's a long way from the slogan Tim Russert voiced during his years as moderator: "If it's Sunday, it's 'Meet the Press.'" Russert, who died in 2008, thoroughly dominated the genre, beating his closest competitor by more than a million viewers a week. This year, "Meet the Press" averages 2.71 million viewers, or about a million fewer than Russert in his last year. CBS' "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer is averaging 3.09 million and ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos is at 2.9 million.
Gregory's exit was ugly. After a story in April said NBC hired a "psychological consultant" to interview Gregory's wife and friends — NBC said it was a brand consultant — there was a steady drip of news reports that he would be fired until it was done last month.
"Nobody wants to start in that fashion," Todd said. "But this is a tough business. Everyone who's in it knows what you're getting into. It doesn't change how I put together the show."
He takes over at a time many people have tuned out Washington politicians and journalists, said Frank Sesno, a George Washington University professor and former Washington anchor for CNN. Yet programs like "Meet the Press" are needed more than ever to provide context, especially with fewer opportunities on TV for long-form interviews, he said.
Todd is an inspired choice with a deep knowledge of Washington dating back to when he was editor of National Journal's "The Hotline," Sesno said.
"His challenge is to take his insider knowledge and make it appealing to people outside the Beltway," he said.
Fortunately for Todd, "I view Chuck as an outsider," said Alexandra Wallace, senior vice president at NBC News in charge of the Washington programming. She's been looking at a map, figuring out places across the country where Todd will be sent to report over the next few months.
"Meet the Press" also was built for a different time, when people couldn't get news and analysis instantly and newsmakers needed the Sunday shows to get their messages across. The show needs to adjust, Wallace said. NBC never thought the brand had outlived its usefulness, she said.
A panel planned for Sunday with mayors from across the country is an example of a broader look that is being sought, Wallace said.
"It's important to point out to Washington places where politics is actually working," Todd said.
NBC announced that "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough will join "Meet the Press" as a regular member of a roundtable discussion. Tim Russert's son, Luke, will begin regularly reporting for the show his father led. Other changes, such as a new set, will be introduced gradually, Wallace said.
Todd is anxious to begin, his anxiety amplified by not having his MSNBC show as an outlet this week.
"I've been trying to get three hours of sleep a night," he said. "It's been difficult."
David Bauder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder .