On Sunday, NBC News political director Chuck Todd takes over as moderator of television's longest running franchise, Meet the Press. His arrival — which will feature an interview with President Obama — comes after a year of turmoil on Sunday roundtable program. Meet the Press has never quite recovered from the sudden death in 2008 of Tim Russert, a larger-than-life Beltway figure who turned the show into a destination for leaders and opinion makers over his 17-year run. There was even chatter inside NBC News about changing the name and format, or even canceling it after 65 years. Instead, the network is putting its trust in Todd, who has been NBC's resident political wonk since 2007. He can fluidly explain primary voting rules or tell you the past presidential election results of congressional districts the way sports color commentators can recount plays from big games. But can he make viewers care about Sunday morning news programs when politicians can get their unfiltered views out on Twitter? We asked him.
TV Guide Magazine: You're replacing David Gregory before his contract was up. So clearly your bosses at NBC News want you to do something different. In your mind, what is that?
Chuck Todd: I think it's more of, how will Meet the Press evolve to be more reflective of the 21st century way politics is debated? The reason my bosses like me in this is that we also like the idea that Meet the Press isn't just a one-day-a-week program. [We want] Meet the Press to be the political heartbeat of the network. That's why I'm keeping my title as political director. I think it's about bringing some urgency to Sunday morning, but also bringing urgency from Monday thru Saturday.
TV Guide Magazine: With your MSNBC program, The Daily Rundown, going away, how are you going to do that?
Todd: I already do a lot of things daily. We put out an [online] editorial product every day called First Read. There is demand for more digital presence Monday thru Friday and we want to do more every day. I think Meet the Press is this tremendous political brand. There are some things we want to do to show that Meet the Press is not a one day a week brand. It could be just me doing some of the things I did on my daily show — laying out the day in politics — but bringing it online.
TV Guide Magazine: The fact that you live and breathe politics is a reason you got the job. But there is a sense that the news viewer has soured on watching politics right now — whether it is gridlock or predictable partisan rhetoric. On cable, MSNBC touts itself as "the place for politics" and has not gained nearly as much audience in recent months as CNN and Fox News.
Todd: I think if you let things reflect Washington and only Washington then the public is going to tune it out. I love politics because I love the democracy. It's a little cliché. You can mock me if you want about it. I want to make people care again. I've got this huge platform now. One of the things I'd like to do with the show is reflect the reality that Washington isn't getting it done, but let's at least show some examples of how they should be getting it done. Why don't we have [Republican House Speaker] John Boehner and [Democratic Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid show up together? That used to happen on Meet the Press. The leaders of each party used to show up and debate their disagreements. They showed the public how to practice the art of politics, which [the current Congress] has forgotten how to do. The public has given up on Washington but they haven't given up on politics. If you look at what's happening in cities — mayors have figured out how to get stuff done. I want Meet the Press to also be spend some time to show Washington how America is moving on without them and it wants Washington to respond.
TV Guide Magazine: Having opposing party leaders debate is a fine idea, but why would they agree to it when there is so much other media out there now? Meet the Press is easy to avoid because there are so many other places to go.
Todd: I totally agree. And you know what? It's my job to make Meet the Press big enough where you look silly if you try to avoid it. I've got to think at some point Washington is going to wake up and say, "You know, what we have to have a conversation with America again that's a little more serious, a little more adult and less polarizing and let's have it in a place that isn't a four-minute segment."
TV Guide Magazine: When you were first hired by NBC in 2007, people inside the network said Tim Russert wanted to groom you to be his successor. Did he ever discuss that with you?
Chuck Todd: Never. In the last six months [of his life], when the 2008 primaries were starting up, he started letting me in on the family secrets of how NBC works. I felt in those last six months we built a bond of trust that was the beginning of what I thought would be a long friendship. Right when our relationship was blossoming, he leaves us too soon. I think he was looking to expand the Washington bureau's reach because he couldn't do everything. That's how he viewed it at the time.
TV Guide Magazine: There's a report that his son Luke Russert, who covers Congress for NBC News, is going to be a regular panelist on the show. Is that true?
Todd: We don't have an announcement to make. We're going to broaden the panel. I love Luke. He's been working his tail off on Capitol Hill. The guy loves politics. He has the same passion for politics that his dad had. I suspect that as someone who is political director and moderator of Meet the Press if I'm not working closely with Luke Russert, there's something wrong with me.
TV Guide Magazine: So what happens to your college football fanaticism? You'll have to spend all day Saturday preparing for Sunday's program, right?
Todd: Well the Miami Hurricanes did me a big fat favor by laying an egg on Monday night. So I sort of took it as a sign that, "Look, we're not going to have a good season so you can focus all your time on Saturday on the first year."
TV Guide Magazine: I'll bet you appreciated the cooperation.
Todd: Not at all. I wanted to have more of a dilemma.