As part of our newsroom tour series, FishbowlDC recently visited the set of “FOX News Sunday” to chat with host Chris Wallace to find out what goes into putting on a Sunday morning program. This year is Wallace’s 50th in the Washington news business and 11th as host of FNS.
We joined Wallace on Thursday, September 18 at his studio just south of Union Station for his planning and promotion of that Sunday’s program. The host and his staff begin planning the week ahead directly after a Sunday broadcast and reconvene via conference call Tuesday morning before returning to the office on Wednesday.
Asked how he and his colleagues pick topics and guests that are relevant to the week ahead when they start planning the Sunday before broadcast, Wallace said that, “It’s one of the hardest parts. Trying to figure out what’s going to be hot for that Sunday. It obviously gets a little bit easier as the week progresses.”
While FNS’s broadcast on FOX is typically the 4th rated Sunday show nationally among its competition including NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and ABC’s “This Week,” Wallace pointed out that many of its viewers regularly tune in when it airs at 2pm, 6pm, and 2am on FOX News Channel. Those numbers combined for the 3rd quarter of 2014 make it the most watched in total viewers, according to Nielsen data.
Wallace, who’s the only Sunday morning show person to host two different network Sunday shows (he moderated NBC’s “Meet the Press” from 1987-88) not surprisingly admitted that he thinks that FNS is better than its competition.
“I think we do better interviews. I think we got a more interesting panel. I think our power players are really beautifully produced. I don’t look at the other shows and feel the slightest bit – maybe I’m being immodest – but I don’t feel envious of them,” said Wallace. “People have to have a sense that one of the few discretionary hours in their week, that this is time well spent. And I think we put on a more interesting show.”
Wallace, who’s career has led him to interviews with Russian President Vladimir Putin, former U.S. presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama, recounted a week spent with Mother Theresa in Calcutta as the highlight of his career, and up there, the opportunity to play basketball with the legendary Michael Jordan. For his time at FOX News Channel, a 2006 contentious interview with Bill Clinton for FNS.
“It is such a privilege and a responsibility to have the opportunity for an hour every week to question the most powerful people in the world and to get them the opportunity to hold them to account and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that,” said Wallace. “One of the things that I think is really special about Sunday talk shows is that there’s so many venues, so many platforms in the broadcast and the cable landscape now, that Sunday mornings has a very special place.”
While earlier in his career, Wallace looked to coverage of his program in the week to follow as a measure of success, its since transformed to added value for the viewer.
On what defines success: “That we put on a really good show. And at the end of the hour, folks think, ‘I learned something.’ Or, ‘That was a compelling discussion.’ Or, ‘I met somebody that I hadn’t ever heard of known about before.’ So that’s really the way I view success.”