On Day One, Moderator Meets the Press That Will Cover Him

By Chris Ariens Comment

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Gregory_12.7.jpgFor a guy who has busted moves with Karl Rove and Mary J. Blige, David Gregory kept both feet on the ground today in his first interviews as moderator of NBC’s venerable “Meet the Press.”

In fact, Gregory’s stay-on-message answers were so vanilla, so predictable, they would have sparked a blaze of pointed follow-up questions from the White House press corps’ “firebrand in the front row.”

Then again, what else would you expect from Gregory when he’s talking via speakerphone, flanked by NBC News president Steve Capus and “MTP” chief Betsy Fischer?

“I’m so excited and humbled,” he says. “MTP” is “the most treasured platform in the country,” whose core mission “is holding our leaders accountable by asking tough, fair and respectful questions.”

Gregory was handed the baton today on “MTP” by Tom Brokaw, who had filled in since Tim Russert’s sudden death in June. (FYI: Russert took over the show exactly 17 years ago tomorrow.)

Gregory, 38, a 13-year NBC veteran, will continue on “Today” as a regular contributor and backup anchor as well as a contributor/analyst on MSNBC. No early line on the successor for his 6pmET MSNBC show.

Gregory’s ascension to the throne of the No. 1 Sunday political roundtable was the worst-kept secret in Washington. By mid-week, the buzz went viral.

“There was nothing you could do to control that,” Gregory says. “This is a town of leaks. It happened. I’m not concerned.”

As for the pressure of following the larger-than-life Russert, “I feel appropriately nervous and humbled. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t feel that way. I’m incredibly inspired and motivated.”

The speculation now is over “MTP’s” format. Will there be a panel of regulars or will experts be brought in an as-needed basis?

Door No. 2, says Capus.

“The reality is, we wanted David and Betsy to have a lot of room to book the program they think is necessary to reflect what’s going on that week.

“If you’re talking economy, there ought to be a home for someone like Erin Burnett [of CNBC.] If it’s the State Department, Andrea Mitchell [NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent] ought to have a seat at table. For political insight, [NBC political director] Chuck Todd ought to have a seat.”

Todd, Mitchell and PBS’s Gwen Ifill — a former NBC correspondent personally recruited and groomed by Russert – were all in the running for moderator. Capus last week offered Ifill several other options, including the White House beat, but she declined, according to NBC sources.

One more thing. Does Gregory have any regrets about being Rove’s back-up dancer at the White House Correspondents dinner last year?

“That was a situation that was unexpected. It was all in good fun. I wasn’t really given a choice. It was put on in the moment. People should view it in the spirit in which it was arranged. It was a silly part of that evening.”

Would he do it again?

“I answered the question,” Gregory says, putting on his dancing shoes.