NBC News plans to name David Gregory as moderator of “Meet the Press,” infusing one of television’s most-prized franchises with a sharp edge leavened by a youthful style and versatility, according to network executives.
Gregory, 38, celebrated his 30th birthday – complete with cake – aboard George W. Bush’s presidential campaign plane, the assignment that solidified his stature as a network rising star. Enjoying a gravitas boost from his prematurely salt-and-pepper mane and friendships with Tom Brokaw and other of the legendary figures of NBC News, Gregory quickly became one of the biggest network stars of his generation.
The plan to anoint Gregory is not final but will be as soon as today, the executives said. NBC spokespeople refused to comment, saying the network would make the announcement.
The decision was made by Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive officer of NBC Universal, and Steve Capus, president of NBC News.
As NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Gregory has been a dogged – occasionally prickly – questioner of both the president and his press secretaries. The perceived tension benefited both sides, and Gregory maintained productive relations with senior officials.
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Gregory would be "an excellent choice": "No one was a tougher, more aggressive questioner in the Briefing Room than David Gregory. But when it came time to go on the air, he was always nothing but fair."
Gregory’s playful side emerged during stints as guest host of the “Today” show” and of the former “Imus in the Morning” back when the simulcast was the most successful part of MSNBC’s lineup.
Gregory’s current assignment is anchor of “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with David Gregory” (formerly “Race for the White House with David Gregory”), an hour-long talking-head show on MSNBC at 6 p.m. Eastern.
The title of “moderator” – unique in network news – reflects the 61-year history of “Meet” as the premier forum for Washington insiders to talk to the country and each other.
The choice carries long-term ramifications for NBC and its news division. “Meet,” the longest-running program ever on network television, is a cash cow and a major source of prestige for NBC Universal and its corporate parent, GE. However, ABC officials hope the change provides an opportunity for George Stephanopoulos to increase the cachet of the competing “This Week.”
NBC issued a release Monday citing Nielsen Media Research data showing “Meet” as the leading Sunday morning public affairs program in November, in Washington and nationally, with 4.5 million viewers.
Brokaw was named “interim moderator” after the death in June of the beloved but formidable Tim Russert at age 58, a loss that is still felt in the Washington bureau. On Sunday, Brokaw is to interview President-elect Obama in his first appearance on the program since July, when the show originated from London as he concluded an overseas tour.
Betsy Fischer, one of Washington’s most respected behind-the-scenes network forces, will remain as executive producer, the executives said.
The executives provided elliptical information that did not either raise or preclude the possibility that a supporting cast could be named along with Gregory.
The plan, first reported by The Huffington Post, resolves one of the biggest topics of gossip in New York and Washington journalism. Others who were often mentioned as possibilities were NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd; CNN’s John King; PBS’s Gwen Ifill; CBS’s Katie Couric; and Ted Koppel, the founding anchor of ABC’s “Nightline,” who is leaving a gig producing documentaries for the Discovery Channel.
NBC sources described the choice as partly a process of elimination, and spoke of a fear that the network would eventually lose Gregory if he were denied the prize, since “Today” or “NBC Nightly News” might not have a lead anchor opening for years.
Here are excerpts from Gregory’s NBC bio: “David Gregory is NBC News’ Chief White House Correspondent, leading the network’s coverage of the Bush presidency, reporting regularly on ‘NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,’ ‘Today,’ and for NBC News’ 24-hour cable network MSNBC and on MSNBC.com. In addition, Gregory is the host of MSNBC’s ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,’ a fast-paced daily look at the latest election news. In the fall of 2005, Gregory began substituting regularly for Matt Lauer on ‘Today.’ He has served as substitute moderator on ‘Meet the Press,’ and has been a substitute anchor for the weekend editions of ‘Nightly News’ and ‘Today.’ As a political commentator, Gregory is a frequent contributor on ‘Meet the Press’ and the syndicated ‘The Chris Matthews Show.’
“He has circled the globe, traveling with President Bush on every major foreign trip and to nearly every state in the nation during the presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2004. … On the campaign trail in 2004, Gregory was the most heavily utilized network correspondent on television, according to the Tyndall Report. … During the historic 2000 campaign, Gregory also led the network’s election night coverage from Austin, Texas and stayed on to chronicle the legal standoff during the recount. … Since joining NBC News in 1995, Gregory has covered nearly every major story for the network: from the O.J. Simpson trials, to the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, to the impeachment of President Clinton, and the death of Pope John Paul II in Rome.
“Previously, he worked as an NBC News correspondent based in Los Angeles and Chicago, and in 1998, he anchored for NBC’s cable network MSNBC. Gregory began his journalism career at the age of 18 as a summer reporter for KGUN-TV in Tucson, Arizona. He also worked for NBC’s flagship West Coast affiliate KCRA-TV in Sacramento. A native of Los Angeles, Gregory graduated from The American University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. In 2005, he was named the School of International Service’s alumnus of the year and now sits on the Dean’s advisory council. Gregory lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife Beth Wilkinson, … along with their three children.”