Robert Mueller's Made-for-TV Moment Arrives: "This Is the Super Bowl of Hearings"
"Bob Mueller is not known for providing riveting TV," CBS News bureau chief Christopher Isham cautioned.
Here's what is known: Former special counsel Robert Mueller will appear before the House Judiciary Committee for three hours of testimony and question-taking this morning, followed by two hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee this afternoon.
Here's what isn't: whether Mueller will fully answer the questions posed of him by Democratic and Republican legislators, and whether these two hearings will be much to see.
"Bob Mueller is not known for providing riveting TV, so I think the expectations are modest," said CBS News Washington bureau chief Christopher Isham. "But, given the nature of the material, which is obviously compelling in itself, and given the fact that the president has been under investigation, I think it will be intrinsically interesting."
CBS News, Isham said, will broadcast the entirety of the first hearing, with newly minted Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell leading the coverage. "We just haven't made a decision on the second hearing yet," he said. (The streaming service CBSN will carry both hearings online.)
The major broadcast networks and cable news networks have all announced plans to take at least the first hearing live, with both pre- and post-coverage scheduled. (A rumor spread on Twitter that Fox News would not take the hearing, but the network always intended to do so.)
"I don't think this is going to be anything hugely enlightening, but I think people will turn it on to see what's going on," said former cable news host Greta Van Susteren, now a political analyst for Gray Television. "But I think it's going to be more addictive than enlightening."
Van Susteren predicted healthy ratings for the broadcasts. "[Americans] may turn it on and it will linger in the background, so the ratings will seem particularly high, but I don't think most people on either side of the aisle are as hooked on it as people in the Acela Corridor," she said.
MSNBC host Ari Melber, who also serves as the network's chief legal correspondent, traveled from New York to Washington, D.C. ,on Tuesday, where'll host his show and attend the hearings in person, "seeing what it's like in the room."
"Even though Bob Mueller's careful and prone to deliberately dry hearings, there's so much intrigue and firepower with him finally breaking his silence I think it will be very interesting even if it doesn't deliver the results some people want politically," Melber said.
The news value of the hearings will be determined by Mueller, Isham said. "There are many questions," he said. "We'll see if he answers them or not.... If he stays within the four corners of the report, as he said.... I think there won't be a lot of news in the sense of moving the ball forward."
For many TV news hosts, the Mueller hearings will be the culmination of the more than two-year-long drama that began with the appointment of Mueller in May 2017. Congressional Democrats are hoping that the findings of Mueller's report will come to life before the cameras and attract renewed scrutiny to President Trump's behavior.
"As a journalist, I'm psyched for the hearing," Melber said a day earlier. "I think it's must-watch."
Melber compared the hearings to the finale of a popular television franchise. "The last episode of Games of Thrones or Breaking Bad is not just judged on what's in it, but how it builds on everything that comes before," he said. "People have already invested a lot into what's led up to this."
Making another analogy, Melber said, "As far as hearings go, I think this is the Super Bowl of hearings."