Changes on ‘Meet the Press’ are not just a case of viewers missing Tim Russert - The Buffalo News

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Changes on ‘Meet the Press’ are not just a case of viewers missing Tim Russert

Three months after I suggested that NBC give David Gregory time to grow into the job as host of “Meet the Press,” he’s history.

Andrea Mitchell, who was the substitute host Sunday, gave her friend a nice send-off Sunday in a brief video package that highlighted Gregory’s 20-year career at NBC that ended with his departure late last week.

You certainly can’t blame Tim Russert country for his demise.

Believe it or not, the ratings of “Meet the Press” rose by 23 percent on Channel 2 this July from a year ago and the program was in a statistical tie locally with CBS’ “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer on Channel 4 that airs later in the morning and gets a big lead-in from the popular “Sunday Morning.”

ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos isn’t a factor here, primarily because it suffers from being on a weak network affiliate. It airs at 10 a.m. on Channel 7, after “Meet the Press.”

The stronger July ratings for “Meet the Press” came after the program had a 4.5 rating under Gregory in February, the same rating it had in Russert’s final sweeps period before the South Buffalo native’s death in June 2008. Of course, this past February sweeps deserves an asterisk because NBC got a boost from the Sochi Olympics.

But as reported in May, there was evidence that things didn’t change to a scary degree. During the last four sweeps periods from February 2013 to February 2014 under Gregory, “Meet the Press” averaged a 4.0 rating on Channel 2.

Russert’s show from February 2007 to February 2008 averaged a 4.5 rating on Channel 2, with almost all of the difference coming from a 6.5 rating in February 2008 when NBC carried the Beijing Olympics.

“Meet the Press” under Russert was No. 2 here to CBS’ “Sunday Morning” from 9 to 10 a.m. It remains No. 2 under Gregory.

I was rooting for the guy, especially since he was taking a beating in the national press and was the underdog. Still, I understand why NBC ousted Gregory in favor of Chuck Todd only a few months after giving him a vote of confidence. Todd takes over Sept. 7.

The ratings of “Meet the Press” were suffering nationally, indicating that NBC’s attempt to rehabilitate Gregory’s image over the last three months just wasn’t working.

The Sunday morning media shows on Fox and CNN analyzed reasons for Gregory’s failure, with the most interesting observation claiming that he was never able to make viewers realize that he was on their side against the bitter stalemate on both sides of the political aisle in Washington.

I imagine it goes much deeper than that. As I suggested in May, Gregory never was able to humanize himself in the same way as the lovable everyman Russert.

• Glad to see that the 13th Annual Buffalo Wing-Eating Championship will air on ESPN3 on Aug. 31 from Coca-Cola Field.

And I loved the quote from festival founder Drew Cerza that “having ESPN carry the event live brings the festival to a new level” as much as I used to love hot wings when my doctor allowed me to eat them.

But let’s be honest: It isn’t on ESPN; it’s on ESPN3, which isn’t on local cable or satellite systems. It’s a broadband network streamed to computer and tablets and has a fraction of the audience of the regular ESPN channels. The Chicken Wing contest really will have made it when it airs on ESPN or ESPN2.

• Andy Parker isn’t the only happy weatherman at Channel 7. Channel 7 General Manager Michael Nurse also reports that Aaron Mentkowski, who anchors the weather during evening newscasts, recently signed a new three-year deal.

My guess is that Parker makes more money than Mentkowski because he had more leverage before agreeing to move from Channel 2.

• Cheers to the ESPN feature Sunday on the former Boston College baseball player, Pete Frates, with Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS, who inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge that has become a viral sensation that is raising millions to find a cure for the disease.

The feature is extremely moving and certainly must have been a challenge for anyone to watch during Sunday’s “SportsCenter” programs without tearing up.


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