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NBC News is denying that it commissioned a psychological consult of Meet the Press host David Gregory that included talking to his friends and his wife, as asserted in a Washington Post profile published on Monday. Rather, the examination was a brand assessment, a network spokesperson tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“Last year Meet the Press brought in a brand consultant — not, as reported, a psychological one — to better understand how its anchor connects,” the network said in a statement. “This is certainly not unusual for any television program, especially one that’s driven so heavily by one person.”
Networks routinely commission brand assessments of their programs. And an NBC News spokesperson says it is not unusual for consultants in the course of these studies to talk to friends of the on-air talent.
NBC News previously ordered a market study of Today that resulted in a new mission statement emphasizing “substance,” “uplift” and “connection.” And ABC commissioned an audience evaluation of The View that eventually resulted in the exits last year of Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Joy Behar.
Meet the Press has been stuck in third place behind Sunday morning competitors Face the Nation on CBS and This Week on ABC. And NBC News president Deborah Turness, who joined the division last August, is now focusing considerable attention on MTP after making Today her top priority upon entering the job. (The MTP study, however, was commissioned before Turness’ arrival at NBC News.)
Meet the Press is the longest-running program on television; it made its TV debut in 1947. But it still is inextricably identified with Tim Russert, who hosted MTP until his sudden death in June 2008. The show had its lowest-rated quarter ever among news’ target demographic of viewers 25-54 for the fourth quarter of 2013, while Bob Schieffer‘s Face the Nation is the top-rated Sunday program in the demo and among total viewers with a little more than 3.3 million each week so far this year. (MTP executives have long complained that CBS has an unfair advantage because Nielsen measures the first half-hour of FTN against full hours of MTP and This Week. But that is because the second half-hour of FTN, which was added in 2012, does not air contiguously in more than half of the country.)
The Sunday morning public affairs programs do not bring in significant ad revenue, less than $100 million a year according to some estimates. But they are important branding tools for the news divisions that stress serious political interviews and give Washington power players a still sought-after platform.
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