Chuck Todd is not a polished television performer. And that's precisely why he's a good pick for "Meet the Press."
NBC has finally stopped hanging David Gregory out to dry and is making the change that everyone, at least in the media world, knew by now was coming: Getting rid of Gregory in favor of the NBC political director, chief White House correspondent and MSNBC host.
"I leave NBC as I came -- humbled and grateful," Gregory tweeted this afternoon. "I love journalism and serving as moderator of MTP was the highest honor there is."
Gregory displayed many shortcomings during his six-year tenure, starting with the fact that he was no Russert and was thrust into the role after Tim's untimely death. Gregory was not a compelling figure to watch. He seemed at times to lean left; he rarely brought the passion we saw when he took on the NRA's top official. "Meet the Press" tumbled from first to third in the ratings, and TV is after all a business. And Gregory never seemed to love the political combat that is at the heart of a Sunday show broadcast from the Beltway.
No one can say that about Chuck Todd.
The former head of the Hotline, he has an all-consuming passion for politics, a fingertip feel for the texture of that world. He seemingly knows every congressional district. He also talks like a regular guy and is interesting to watch.
Todd doesn't have a classic anchor voice or anchor bearing or anchor hair and is clearly a late-in-life convert from the print world. That may be in part why he didn't get the job in 2008, though Gregory was thought to be "in line." But in a world of blow-dried hosts, Todd could stand out.
Some critics lump him in with the left-leaning crowd at MSNBC, but I think that's a mistake. He regularly interviews Republicans on the "Daily Rundown" and includes conservative guests on his panels. Todd sometimes talks about the White House line, based on his reporting, but I've also seen him criticize the administration. When a recent poll showed a majority believing that President Obama wasn't competent to run the government, Todd said that "this is a disaster for the president. ... Essentially the public is saying, 'Your presidency is over.'"
The real question about Todd is his interviewing prowess. His conversational style works well on a cable show, and he will run a lively roundtable. But when interviewing a top congressman, Cabinet official or presidential candidate, he needs to bring a disciplined aggressiveness to pin such people down -- without jettisoning his personality.
In a statement, NBC News President Deborah Turness said of Todd, who will continue as political director: “His unique ability to deliver that passion with razor sharp analysis and infectious enthusiasm makes him the perfect next generation moderator of this beloved broadcast.”
It may be hard for anyone to turn around "Meet the Press." Gregory, who alienated a number of people at NBC and in the end was treated shabbily, was not the right fit. But when it comes to politics, no one will accuse Todd of phoning it in.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.