NEW YORK (AP) — Chuck Todd debuted Sunday as moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," bringing a low-key style and surrounding himself with fellow pundits as NBC turns to him to erase a slide that has taken the long-running Sunday morning political affairs program from first to third in the ratings.
The bulk of his first program was centered on Todd's Saturday interview with President Obama, the biggest "get" possible for one of the Washington-based chat shows. It also included a look at cities around the country where mayors are successfully moving their communities forward.
Todd opened by paying tribute to four of his 11 predecessors on the show that has aired since 1947, including David Gregory, who was let go by NBC last month as "Meet the Press" has fallen behind CBS' "Face the Nation" and ABC's "This Week" in the ratings.
"As you can see, we're making a few changes around here," Todd said, "or as I'd like to say, we're living in a house as we remodel it, so the program and studio will continue to evolve over the coming months."
He sat behind a new desk. While Gregory often opened the show alone, Todd was joined on the stage by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, national security analyst Michael Leiter, the Washington Post's Nia-Malika Henderson and "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough. Later in the show, Mitchell and Leiter were swapped out for Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and John Stanton of Buzzfeed.
Todd opened his interview with Obama simply and sharply by asking: "Are you preparing the country to go back to war?"
The first segment, discussing Obama's plan to speak to the nation about Islamic State militants, was the newsiest. At one point in the interview Todd noted inaccurately that Obama had not mentioned Syria, then corrected himself back in the studio.
Todd has talked about moving the show beyond a strictly Washington mindset, but his three questions to Obama on immigration reform and the panel discussion about it afterward all dealt with the political impact of the president's decision to delay action and not about the substance of reform.
The most illuminating part of the interview came when Obama, gently prodded by Todd, admitted weakness in dealing with the "optics" of his job after he was criticized for being pictured golfing shortly after denouncing militants for beheading American journalist James Foley.
Todd brought the mayors of Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh and Tacoma, Wash., to the set to discuss whether gridlocked Washington politicians can learn from their ability to get things done.
"It's not politics that people hate," Todd said. "It's the politicians who don't know how to do it."
Todd had a short segment called, "What everyone in Washington knows, but is afraid to say," with a discussion of Hillary Clinton and a possible presidential run in 2016. Scarborough, who began an expanded role at NBC News with the first of what will be regular appearances on "Meet the Press," proved the contrarian. He said he's not sure she's running.
"Meet the Press" is also adding Luke Russert, son of longtime moderator Tim Russert, as a reporter. He didn't appear on Sunday's show.
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.