‘Meet the Press’ Beats the Rest

Mar 8, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The ratings indicate the same thing Tim Russert says when he signs off each week: “If it’s Sunday, it’s `Meet the Press.”’

The longest-running of the newsmaker shows is coming off its 26th consecutive sweeps as No. 1 in its category with the biggest margin of victory ever. It averaged 5.5 million total viewers per week in February, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.

The chief competition among Sunday newsmaker shows is for second place. And CBS’s Bob Schieffer and “Face the Nation” have built a steady lead over ABC’s “This Week” halfway through its second season with George Stephanopoulos as moderator.

During the February sweeps period, “Face the Nation” averaged 3.2 million viewers to “This Week’s” 2.7 million viewers.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Chris Wallace emerged from his first sweeps test as the show’s moderator with an average of 1.5 million viewers. That’s down from the average 1.6 million who watched Mr. Wallace’s debut as moderator Dec. 8, 2003 and the 1.7 million season average before Tony Snow turned the moderator role over to Mr. Wallace.

On cable, CNN’s “Late Edition” has averaged 704,000 viewers since the 2003-04 season started.

Like other news shows, the newsmaker programs tout the value of their core 25- to 54-year-old viewership demographic as strenuously as they do their overall audience.

In February that demo race also was easily won by “Meet the Press,” which averaged a 1.7 rating in the 25 to 54 demo, a 55 percent lead over “Face the Nation’s” 1.1 rating, a 113 percent lead over “This Week’s” 0.8 rating, and a 240 percent advantage over “Fox News Sunday’s” 0.5 rating in the demo.

The bulldoggish Mr. Russert said the secrets to his success are preparation, preparation, preparation and “wonderful advice” from his oft-mentioned father. The elder Mr. Russert urged his son to be comfortable, because his TV tenure would be longer than any president’s (Mr. Russert’s 12-year contract means he will be “Press” moderator and Washington bureau chief until 2012), but to be respectful because the office of the presidency would endure forever.

Mr. Russert said he was “extremely comfortable” when he went to the White House to meet with President Bush. His one-hour Feb. 8 interview was seen by a total of 14.1 million on the NBC broadcast and cable networks and was excerpted on “Dateline NBC” and “Today.”

He certainly had done his homework and then some. “I had prepared for a four-hour interview,” he said.

Mr. Schieffer, whose good ol’ boy demeanor seldom slips, said he and CBS News are “really pleased” to be a “solid second. We are just doing very well.”

Keeping It Different

At ABC, the format varies according to the topic and the demands on “This Week,” which was extensively revamped last fall by Tom Bettag, executive producer of “Week” and “Nightline.” On Feb. 22, for example, Mr. Stephanopoulos conducted separate interviews with Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, and the show then constructed an issue-by-issue “debate.”

“The show is really trying to differentiate itself,” said an ABC spokeswoman. “Tom Bettag is so committed to this and believes this is the right path to go.”

An average of 2.8 million saw the Feb. 22 edition of “This Week.”

On the same Sunday, Mr. Russert listened to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talk about his state’s budget crisis and Ralph Nader spurn all advice to the contrary and announce he would run for president once again as an independent.

“Meet’s” Feb. 22 audience was an average 5.2 million, its third-highest of the season.