Sunday’s Beltway shows should be humdingers after this week’s yeasty episode of reality competition series Road Rage to the White House. NBC’s Meet the Press has booked Mitt Romney — the 2012 GOP nominee brought out of his Hyperbaric Dignity Chamber (Stephen Colbert 3/3/16) by the Republican Party on Thursday to explain to Americans that GOP front-runner Donald Trump is a con artist who is taking the country for a ride.
CBS’ Face the Nation has booked Ted Cruz, the evangelical senator from Texas who regaled 17 million debate viewers last night with dire warnings about Trump’s “tenuous relationship with the truth.” Cruz also scored big laughs at FNC’s GOP debate when he coached Trump to count to 10 and practice deep breathing every time he started to foam over.
The White House race has been a boon to the Sunday programs. Face the Nation, for instance, finished the February ratings derby with the largest overall audience of the bunch (4M viewers) and its best February sweep in that metric in four presidential cycles – since 1991. Meet the Press, meanwhile, logged its best February-sweep performance in two presidential cycles, since February 2008, in both overall audience and in the news demo, ranking No. 1 among 25-54 year olds (1.15M viewers). ABC’s This Week (3.6M viewers, 1.06M in the news demo) clocked its largest overall sweep audience in more than 15 years and its best news demo sweep performance in more than seven.
Sunday Beltway shows are, like the White House race they’re covering, not entirely shenanigan-free. It has been, for instance, a thorn in the side of ABC and NBC that CBS for nearly four years has continued to book, produce and market one hour’s worth of Sunday Beltway show, while continuing to rate, and boast about, the program’s first 30 minutes. CBS explains the second half-hour is broken out as a separate program owing to national coverage issues. Competitors argue that more than two-thirds of the country sees Face the Nation‘s full contiguous program for much of the calendar year. Face the Nation in February was rated for 120 minutes, compared with Meet the Press’ nearly 190 minutes, for example. Tempers tend to flare when booking competition is fierce and ratings close. This past week, only 42K separated NBC’s show from front-runner CBS in overall audience, though MTP was rated for an additional 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, ABC’s one-hour This Week was rated for 147 minutes during the sweep, or about 35.5 minutes per program. This was accomplished by moving the placement of the show’s final national ad and weeding out lesser-rated minutes toward the show’s end.
But it’s common practice for Sunday shows to place White House candidate interviews in those less-watched segments.
Guess which candidates tended to get placed there?
For six of the past 14 weeks, CBS has aired presidential candidate interviews in its separate second half-hour. That included three interviews with Dem hopeful Bernie Sanders, two with GOP hopeful John Kasich and one with former GOP candidate Rand Paul.
In the past 14 weeks, ABC aired presidential candidate interviews in its unrated minutes of the show on nine occasions. Five of those interviews were with Sanders, one with Dem front-runner Hillary Clinton and one each with Kasich and benched Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
Once in the past 14 weeks has NBC interviewed a candidate in the final unrated minutes of Meet the Press, when Paul appeared on the show the Sunday before the Iowa caucuses.