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Chuck Todd carries on Tim Russert's legacy ... with a Buffalo assist

Every "Meet the Press" viewer undoubtedly is aware of moderator Chuck Todd's affinity for the late Buffalo legend Tim Russert.

But they most likely are unaware of another significant Buffalo angle to Todd's three-year run as moderator that continues Sunday (9 a.m., WGRZ-TV) with the 70th anniversary celebration of television's longest-running program: The executive producer of "Meet the Press" is University at Buffalo graduate John Reiss.

"I joke that apparently there is a rule here somewhere in the bylaws, that there has to be one Buffalo Bill fanatic working as either moderator or as executive producer," said Todd. "And he is."

Reiss has been the executive producer since Todd took over as "MTP" host from David Gregory three years ago.

John Reiss is Buffalo's connection to the 'Meet the Press'

"He helps constrain my thoughts and my ideas and make it smart television," Todd said. "I feel like we are one brain. But he understands writing for television in a way I'm still learning. I still consider myself more of a print guy that sort of got transplanted into the TV space. He has worked in TV a long time. I look at it as a partnership."

Todd, who was hired by Russert at NBC, has expanded the program so much that you wonder if Russert would recognize it. He has added a "Meet the Press Daily" on MSNBC and does a podcast.

"I was building upon what (Russert) did," Todd said, noting that Russert expanded the program from a half hour to an hour and added an hour a week on CNBC.

Tim Russert


"I would argue adding a daily cable show was probably going to be inevitable for him," said Todd. "To me, the podcast is just his CNBC show. In that respect, I think it would all feel familiar to him. The platforms might have changed.

"The thing about Tim is he was always worried about where does 'Meet the Press' exist on this next platform. So for him, that CNBC show was him testing out cable a little bit. He was tiptoeing even more on cable by anchoring special hours. I'd like to think he would see as an evolution and not a revolution."

The bigger question is would Russert recognize the country politically?

"Yes, I think he would," said Todd. "I believe in 50 years what we are witnessing today will be easier to understand than when you are in the moment. And Tim always took a long view in things like that."

Todd is taking the long view on where "Meet the Press" is going. Sure, there will be flashbacks on Sunday's program, which will devote only about 15 percent to the anniversary. But he seemed most excited about the first-ever "Meet the Press" Film Festival, which is being held in Washington, D.C. later this month.

"I love the ESPN '30 for 30' series," he said of the documentary sports series. "It is a way to do a big dive on a single topic in a narrative that allows it to be more accessible. Sometimes, it is great profiles of people. I want 'Meet the Press' to get in this game."

With "Meet the Press" working with the American Film Institute, Todd was impressed by the submissions of documentaries about social issues that could go no longer than 40 minutes. Todd said some of the films eventually will be online or on Netflix.

"Most of them are trying to bring another angle to a story that you think you know about it but you don't," said Todd.

Todd said he feels the "30 for 30" approach "is a natural place for us to get to" if NBC eventually greenlights it as a series.

"I have this idea in my head," said Todd. "I hope someday 'MTP Docs' has the same instant recognition as '30 for 30.' I believe 'MTP' stands for something that is bigger than a one-hour television show on Sunday. Its brand can send a message that this is a thoughtful well-put together, smart piece."

"MTP Docs' may be the future. But the original "Meet the Press" is still going strong. Todd heard the noise a few years ago that the Sunday shows were out of touch. But he views them as needed now more than ever.

"I'm proud of the fact that I feel like 'Meet the Press' is relevant and a lot of people view it as more relevant and necessary than ever," he said. "In some ways, it has been a great moment for the whole Sunday format because I think the speed of social media and the noise of cable has sort of reminded people why they need a place that sort of sorts it out in a calm way where you sit down and get to sit back on your couch a minute and digest it."

He said he doesn't feel it is difficult to cover media-bashing President Trump fairly.

I think the difficult part is agreeing on the definition of fairness," he said. "I think we would meet the definition of fairness for a good 65 to 70 percent of the country for most people would consider what is fair and what our role is. I don't think everybody in President Trump's orbit has the same definition of what fairness looks like."

In fairness, he noted that Trump isn't the first politician who has felt this way.

"I think the real struggle some of my colleagues have is learning how not to take this stuff personally," said Todd, who has been nicknamed "Sleepy Eyes" by the president. "By the way, it is hard. It is not fun to be singled out, to be attacked this way and it is human instinct to defend what you do and to defend it loudly and maybe defend it boldly on a social media platform or on television. Then you are falling into a trap and you are potentially suddenly becoming a player in this political debate when ultimately the best role we play is as the interpreter of what is happening in this political debate for the public to understand. And if you want the public to trust what you are doing, don't be a participant."

A "Meet the Press" regular during the campaign, Trump hasn't participated on the program since being elected. A visit this Sunday would have been a great 70th anniversary present. It didn't happen.

"We've had long conversations," said Todd. "We're pretty confident we'll have him on soon."


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