When a show is on the air for almost three quarters of a century, it’s bound to have its ups and downs. Such is the case with NBC’s Meet the Press, which has survived the advent of color television, 24-hour cable news, the internet, social media, countless format overhauls, and 14 presidential administrations since its first episode aired in November 1947.
The perennial Sunday news program is still a ratings winner in its category, but like any brand that established itself on linear TV, it’s faced increasingly existential questions over the last decade about how, when, and on which platforms viewers will find it—and whether they will even want to. In a fragmented media ecosphere of unlimited streaming choices, how do you keep a brand as old as Meet the Press relevant?
Chuck Todd says he was asking those questions seven years ago when he was named the 12th full-time moderator of the series. “There’s a memo I wrote in 2014, before I took over the show, when I was asked to what I would do if I were handed the keys, and this was the first thing I identified,” he tells Fast Company. “My theory of the case at the time was that you can’t expect Meet the Press to just be a Sunday show anymore. And really we’ve sort of taken that attitude.”
Since then, efforts to diversify the brand have probably been most fully realized in Meet the Press Reports, a weekly series of long-form, magazine-style reporting, which just began its third season on Peacock and NBC News Now, the network’s over-the-top streaming service for news content. Todd describes it as “Real Sports meets Meet the Press,” referencing the the long-running Bryant Gumbel series on HBO. The series tackles such topics as climate change, the new space race, and activism in professional sports. In the latest episode, launching today, Todd explores the evolving political influence of evangelical voters. “It’s the type of topic you need 30 minutes with,” he says. “You can’t just do it in five minutes.”
By going deep on a single topic, Meet the Press Reports addresses some of the core criticisms of the traditional Sunday show format—that it’s too focused on presidential horse races, for example, or that its surface-level interviews and rotating guests are more conducive to sound bites than in-depth discussions. Todd himself often bears the brunt of those critiques, notably on Twitter, where it’s not uncommon for clips of his interviews to be picked apart and dunked on by viewers and fellow journalists. For what it’s worth, he doesn’t scroll through the site each week after Meet the Press airs to see if his name is trending, which it often is. “The only time I ever look at Twitter on a Sunday is if there’s some bad call in a football game and I’m curious to see if others noticed,” he says.
NBC News is not alone in strategic efforts to meet viewers where they are. News divisions at ABC and CBS both have free streaming options (ABC News Live and CBSN) that are easily accessable on smart TVs. Fox News has a subscription-based counterpart, called Fox Nation, and CNN is launching its own version, CNN Plus, early next year. Just about every major news show, including Meet the Press, has a podcast, and many shows put their clips up on Twitter, YouTube, or elsewhere for easy consumption. This doesn’t even get us into TikTok, which is likely to be a powerful political force for young voters in 2024, and which many established news brands are still trying to figure out.
It might have been easier to push all this aside five years ago—or even last year—when news outlets were enjoying the famous “Trump Bump.” Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic, historic protests over racial justice, a presidential election in which one candidate wouldn’t accept the results, and the Capitol Hill insurrection, and it’s easy to see why anxious news consumers could not tune 2020 out, even if they wanted to.
News brands have the opposite problem this year. Viewers are feeling burned out and the next presidential election is still three years away. It’s no longer a revelation to say news consumers are living in their own echo chambers, but for brands like Meet the Press that still try to position themselves as nonpartisan, the ever-deepening chasms of our hyperpartisan news landscape will make finding and keeping viewers all the more challenging—today and for the next 74 years.
“This is a moment when we’re fragmenting,” Todd says. “This is both a good and bad thing. I worry about fragmentation as far as how we get our information, but obviously it’s an opportunity for us to do more.”