- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday morning + political talk shows + coffee.

The equation has been a vital ritual in Washington for six decades now, manned by a rarified fraternal order of newsmen who practice some very basic journalism.

It’s the David Gregory, Chris Wallace, George Stephanopoulos, Bob Schieffer hour of charm.

They ask questions, they get answers turning the well-coached politician or policy wonk into a genuine newsmaker, at least for a few hours, anyway.

The weekly format has remained essentially unchanged since NBC’s “Meet the Press” went on the airwaves in 1947. It remains the longest running TV show in history.

Yet in the frantic age of nonstop news with multiplatform delivery, the genre is no dinosaur. The combined audience of the Big Four is solid and consistent, and the shows continue to drive the national discourse and articulate issues of importance.

In media land, Sunday political talk shows are the ultimate survivors.

“I always felt that Sunday morning is the smartest time period on TV. The shows are still information driven. Our broadcasts are oriented towards making news and staying a step ahead. As my friend Tim Russert used to say, there are no bells and whistles. We sit people down, we turn on the lights, we ask questions,” said veteran newsman Bob Scheiffer, host of “Face the Nation” on CBS, which first aired in 1954.

The recent one-year anniversary of the death of Mr. Russert, who moderated “Meet the Press” for 17 years, was treated with great solemnity and poignancy by the Washington press community. They paused. There was self-examination and reflection as journalists remembered that Mr. Russert died of a sudden fatal heart event in his NBC office while preparing for his show. He died with his boots on.

“We’re going through a transition after the loss of Tim,” said David Gregory, who took over the role of moderator in December, ending months of parlor games and speculation over the much-coveted position. At any given time, a dozen high-profile names were bandied about in the news media. Who would fill Mr. Russert’s big shoes, they wondered?

Such things are not simple.

Some insiders said Mr. Gregory was too combative for the role, citing moments when he openly sparred with White House press secretaries during his tenure as NBC’s White House reporter in recent years. Others said his edge had been tempered by chatty, good-natured appearances on NBC’s “Today” show.

“Gregory is another journalist to rise through the ranks by bad-mouthing Republicans and defending the Democrats,” said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center (MRC), a conservative media watchdog.

But Mr. Gregory said he was “honored and deeply humbled” when he won the moderator derby. These days, he seems even more aware of the programs’ stature.

“This show has been an American institution, a treasured platform. I’m the new kid on the block, finding my voice, my comfort zone, trying to be faithful to what this program is all about,” he said.

Story Continues →