Brokaw’s the One for ‘Meet the Press’
Yes, Tom Brokaw, the next moderator. As always, NBC News is luckiest news division ” despite what happened last Friday ” simply by virtue of having Brokaw on its payroll. Once again, duty calls and if I know Brokaw, and I think I do, he’ll answer that call as he’s done so many times before.
There are so many reasons why Tom Brokaw should be the next moderator of “Meet the Press” — at least on what might be called a “transitional basis” — that the best way to lay them out is a list, so here goes.
1) Soothing for viewers AND the network: The death of Tim Russert is, like any death, disruptive, but this one was profoundly so. Russert manned this program for 17 years and manned it brilliantly. He WAS the face of Sunday morning, to a large degree, and WAS the face of NBC’s political coverage. As a result, NBC needs a new face that is also profoundly familiar and trusted. There’s only one at NBC which comes to mind.
2) Brokaw knows the territory. He, like Russert, is an encyclopedia of political fact and trivia, so much so that he’s had to bat down rumors for literally decades that he would run for office from home state South Dakota. Moreover, Brokaw has worked by Russert’s side, on-screen and off, for nearly 25 years. No one knows the rhythm of this coverage better than Brokaw.
3) No one else is ready. This is beyond self-evident. Of course, there will be the insta-rumor that Katie Couric is up for the gig, but any whiff of positioning on her part will kill this possibility so quickly that heads will spin. Yes, NBCU topper Jeff Zucker wants her back at NBC, or so I believe, and maybe for a role at MSNBC. Katie wants the 9 p.m. “Live” slot on CNN ” that I believe too. Now, “Meet the Press” will be considered almost a certainty too. But she won’t be back, if ever, at NBC until next year. NBC needs someone next week. The others? Chris Matthews? Never ready for this job — he’s too cable. David Gregory? Smart guy and first-rate interviewer, while his agent would dearly love him to replace Matt Lauer one of these days. I say as good as he is the guy’s got “trust” issues with viewers who are pretty good at reading faces on the tube. Gregory’s not ready for this job, and maybe never. Brian Williams? No. Absolutely, no. Viewers and NBC staffers will see it as a part-time gig for him, and one to which he will devote neither all his time nor energy. He’ll fly down to Washington on Fridays, and back to NYC on Sundays; this schedule would devalue his role at “Nightly,” and you can’t have that.
4) He’ll answer the call. I think and believe Brokaw will. He’ll need assurance, and I’m sure get it, that this is only a temporary measure, say for six months or at most a year. He’ll get the assurance too that NBC will offer tryouts to others, so that someone else will be ready to step in the moment he’s ready to move aside. He won’t want this forever, but maybe he’ll grow into it. I’ve always believed that Brokaw needs more work, even though his doc unit keeps him very busy. On some level, one that even he won’t admit to, he misses the “Nightly” tonic ” the stardom, influence, excitement, rush. Brokaw, meanwhile, is a terrific multi-tasker in the game of life: He can work very hard, and play pretty much the same way. (His idea of “play,” of course, is running the rapids in some wild river out west.) This shouldn’t be a major pull for him, again if it lasts only through election.
5) Brokaw will get the big-shots to appear. Sure anyone would wanna come on “Meet.” But what about the other Sunday shows? They compete for guests too, and without a major player at the helm of “MTP,” those guests may be more disposed to appearing on ABC or CBS. With the eminence at the helm “MTP” will be better positioned to meet this immediate challenge.
6) Brokaw will be handling much political coverage through November anyway ” this will make him both sharper, and give the network more gravitas in the process, much as David Brinkley did for ABC News. So, Tom as anchor of “MTP” through inauguration, and THEN hand-off to someone else.
7) Finally, Brokaw is is the choice that will most completely, and most deeply, honor Russert. Yes, I leave this until last, even though it may be the most important reason of them all. There is only a handful of on-air people left in this business who exemplify the glory of the Big Three network news divisions of decades past. Bob Schieffer is one. Russert was another. And Brokaw is the last. It’s a very abbreviated list for the simple reason that the heavyweights are all gone. Even Mike Wallace will likely NEVER appear on the air again. “Meet the Press” is network television’s oldest program, born in the half-light of this industry’s creation. It crept out of the primordial ooze, so to speak, and became, instantly, a vitally important program in news and politics. Russert intuitively believed that, consciously understood it, and adjusted his professional bearing accordingly to meet that vital role. This is why Russert was so successful, and why the mourning that we now see on NBC’s air (and elsewhere) is so genuine. There’s only one person who similarly understands “Meet the Press’s” role and who can meet it accordingly, and imbue it with the symbolism that it so richly deserves. You know by now who that person is.
Well, Tom. What’s your answer?