NBC News chief Deborah Turness sent a memo to her staff today today, dismissing as “quite ludicrous,” “vindictive” and “untrue, ” the press coverage of a news report about a consulting firm hired to help fix ratings on NBC’s Sunday Beltway show. “I wanted to reach out to reiterate my support for the show and for [show host] David [Gregory], now and into the future, as we work together to evolve the format,” she wrote in her memo (see entire memo below).
The Washington Post wrote Monday that NBC had hired a “psychological consultant” to look at Gregory, including interviews with his friends and his wife. The reaction in the media is what is known in journalism circles as Pirahna Discovering Raw Meat. A frenzy of NBC Hires Psychologist to Evaluate David Gregory, and NBC Thinks David Gregory Requires Psychiatric Help press reports ensued. Columnists mulled why Gregory was so hated; Cenk Uygur (aka The Guy Formerly Let Go By NBC) gleefully advised Gregory, “Dude, read the writing on the wall, you’re a goner”; websites ruminated on the death of the Sunday Beltway shows; Rush Limbaugh clucked that NBC should perform psychological tests on its execs rather than on Gregory, and a good time was had by all.
Though NBC News has said it did not dispute the Post’s use of “psychological consultant” at the time, it subsequently issued a statement saying, “Last year Meet The Press brought in a brand consultant — not, as reported, a psychological one — to better understand how its anchor connects. This is certainly not unusual for any television program, especially one that’s driven so heavily by one person.” The company — New York-based Elastic Strategy — was hired by NBC News’ marketing team a year ago, before Turness was named NBC News chief. On its Web site, that firm says its “expertise is in gaining an objective understanding of the current and potential value of your brand to its various stakeholders.”
Meet The Press is ranked No. 3 among the Sunday Beltway shows, with a season-do-date average of 2.933 million viewers — behind CBS’s Face The Nation (3.320 million) and ABC’s This Week (3.007 million). In the news demo, MTP (849,000) also trails Face The Nation (949,000) and This Week (874,000). MPT used to be No. 1 in the ratings and held on to that spot for many years, back when it was hosted by Tim Russert, who died at the studio in summer of ’08. Tom Brokaw took over for Russert and anchored the program through the presidential election cycle, after which Gregory — NBC News’ chief White House correspondent — was named Russert’s replacement in December of that year.
Read the memo here: