Why Do the Sunday Shows Suck So Much?

In the American media landscape, there is no single forum more prestigious than the Sunday shows—particularly the three network programs, and to a slightly lesser extent "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "State of the Union." The Sunday shows are where "newsmakers" face the music, where Washington's most important people are validated for their importance, where issues are probed in depth. So, why do they suck so much?

I live and breathe politics, yet I find these programs absolutely unwatchable, and I can't be the only one. On a typical episode, there is nothing to learn, no insight to be gained, no interesting perspective on offer, nothing but an endless spew of talking points and squabbling. Let's take, for instance, yesterday's installment of "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." We start off with dueling interviews with Obama adviser Robert Gibbs and Romney adviser Ed Gillespie. Were you expecting some candid talk from these two political veterans? Of course you weren't. "If you're willing to say anything to get elected president," Gibbs says about Mitt Romney, "if you are willing to make up your positions and walk away from them, I think the American people have to understand, how can they trust you if you are elected president." Which just happens to be precisely the message of a new Obama ad. What a fascinating coincidence! And you'll be shocked to learn that Gillespie thought Romney did a great job in the debate: "Governor Romney laid out a plan for turning this economy around, getting things moving again. He had a fact-based critique of President Obama's failed policies that the president was unable to respond to." You don't say!

Then we move to the roundtable, featuring, naturally, the stylings of James Carville and Mary Matalin. I just have to know what these two are thinking, because whatever it is, it certainly won't be just "Your guy sucks! No, your guy sucks!" Of course, that's exactly what it will be. Add in Peggy Noonan and her empathic super-powers to determine what the country is feeling and feel it right back at us, Jonathan Karl to repeat some poll numbers and conventional wisdom, and Paul Krugman to grow increasingly exasperated as he attempts without much success to yank the discussion back to reality, and you've got yourself a barn-burner of a debate.

Switch channels, and you'll find some politicians angling for a 2016 presidential nomination come on one of the other Sunday shows to get asked questions about the polls and repeat the same things their co-partisans are saying. If you're lucky (actually, it won't take luck, because you can find it every Sunday), you can watch one of the two party chairs deliver those same messages. Has there ever been a single human being in America who has said, "Wow, that interview with Reince Priebus was really interesting"? Or said the same thing about an interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz? It's not because they're terrible people, it's because as party leaders their job is to come on the air and spout talking points with maniacal discipline, no matter what they get asked. And they're good at that job. But if you listen to them for a while, it begins to feel like a virus of cynicism is eating its way through your brain.

I wonder what the producers of these shows say to each other as they're putting together their programs. "Hey boss, we locked down Reince Priebus for Sunday!" "Awesome—the show is going to be great!" "I hope Carville and Matalin aren't busy—they'll bring the heat!" "Ooo, you know who we should try for? John McCain! He's only been on our show 12 times this year, and I know people are dying to hear what he has to say."

There could be another way. For instance, "Up With Chris Hayes" on MSNBC shows what the Sunday shows could be. Hayes doesn't bother interviewing politicians or party hacks; instead, he brings on people who know a lot about whatever issue they'll be discussing, aren't constrained by the need to score partisan points, and might have something interesting to say. With a little creativity, you could come up with any number of models for how to make programs that are interesting and informative.

But the Sunday shows don't seem to have any desire to change the 60 festering minutes of crap they splurt through the airwaves every weekend. The three network programs combine for around eight and a half million viewers every week, and I'm sure everyone involved thinks they're a great success.

Comments

I really enjoyed watching Mary Matalin keep telling Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman that this was the worst recovery ever. Particularly after he told her that this was typical. Talking heads, who often know very little about these subjects, correcting people who have spent large portions of their lives studying them that they're wrong is what the problem is.

I'm amazed because you're the first person I've heard articulate that belief. How is that even possible. The disservice these shows commit almost feels criminal. Is it any wonder people detest government. Is it a surprise people have no interest in elections or issues or even change for that matter The dumbing-down of the American electorate is heartbreaking, not to mention dangerous, and all these shows do is throw logs on that flame. I have a simple litmus test; if I know what every person on the panel is going to say before they say it (i.e. that regurgitation of talking points), then why would I waste my time listening --

Please continue to provide more critical insight. You're one of the only people I know who's even trying.

A free and independent press....one of the pillars of our country....has been subverted and corrupted...it is long past time to revisit the ownership laws....and maybe it is time to breakup the "to big to tell the truth" corporate strangle hold on our information. No one has mentioned this that I can tell. Why will no one stand up to these corporations? Money? Threats of violence? What? It seems we as a country will be told to suffer more because there are those who don't care, won't care, and have abandoned any and all compassion for the lesser of us. I spit on these people...I hold more than contempt for their souls...and so will others.

Dear Paul,
Nice article, except you didn't tell Ugg, "Why Do the Sunday Shows Suck So Much?" Hint: Could it be because corporate media dare not ask tough questions, or guests won't come back?
Kind regards,
Ugg

I used to DVR “This Week,” “Meet the Press,” and “The Chris Matthews Show” every Sunday and would be exasperated by the total lack of follow-up when the BS, er “talking points” started to fly. I now DVR both Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry for both Sat. and Sun. (Ok, so I’ve become something of a political junkie – it’s Reagan’s fault). While I don’t usually manage to watch all 8 hours of both shows, it’s totally refreshing to see an intelligent exchange, frequently reaching into Wonkdom (or Nerdland as it’s called on MHP). While both shows have predominantly liberal guests on, there’s usually a “thoughtful” conservative and/or libertarian or two on (which is to say intelligent and not a fringe crazy) to express alternative views. While I don’t necessarily agree w/ their views, they’re expressed in a reasonable (no screaming) format that keeps the debate interesting. There is also the occasional liberal politician on contrary to what was written in the article.
This is not a plug for these shows (although I guess it is) so much as a contrast w/ the mainstream Sunday shows. When all you see are the same guests (John McCain anyone?) expressing the same talking points so lacking in depth and follow-up or, heaven forbid, a challenge, why bother?

Back in the day, well before Tim Russert came along, I used to love to watch shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation. There was always a newsmaker on, taking serious questions from a panel of three journalists who were well-versed in their subjects and not taking any bs. If a pol tried to get away with something vague or false, they'd be called on it. It made for great and high level tv watching on a bleary Sunday morning.

Anymore, they're all just a waste of time - an exercise in letting professional spinners do their work. And it's exasperating to watch outright falsehoods fly by with nary a followup. It makes for depressing tv watching on a gloomy Sunday.

So why do you still watch week after week after week?

I'm always a bit amused by the way Russert has, posthumously, become the mythical 'gold standard', as if his 'gotcha' questions were remotely relative. Today is simply vapid, the Sunday hosts and their producers seem to draw up their guest list from their Christmas card list. All just talking to each other. And many of the hosts themselves are quite ill-informed. I'd call that lazy.

Now, thanks to my DVR, I can watch the few relevant portions - on a good Sunday, that might be ten-fifteen minutes overall.

Zacharia on CNN is good too. But yes, Chris Hayes is a delightful breath of fresh air and informs the viewers. More of this please!!

There once was a show that featured four reporters grilling a politician for a whole program. It was called 'Meet The Press'. Imagine that David Gregory moderated that interaction. Imagine Mitt Romney facing that.

Whatever they're paying Krugman, it's not enough. He carries the torch for all of us.

Totally agree about Up! with Chris Hayes. If I only had four hours a week to watch current events, that would be the show I'de watch (even the commercials). Best ROI in television.

These shows are so irrelevant I wonder about the viewers. Are they tuning in because of habit --they can't be hoping to learn something. I gave up years ago. Glad someone of repute finally noticed the emperor's clothes.

Knowing how empty they are ... week after week after week ... I am amazed that anyone still watches them. I stopped 20 years ago.

What does NOT suck? NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. 3,000,000 listeners.

By the way --
CBS “Face the Nation” 3.08M 961K adults 25-54
NBC “Meet the Press” 2.92M 789K
ABC “This Week” 2.59M 748K
FOX “Fox News Sunday” 1.47M 599K

I suspect Waldman doesn't get up early enough to watch Chris Hayes UP show. Very intellectual and valuable. Sometimes Melissa Perry-Harris's program that follows is good as well but not as consistently as Chris Hayes.
I agree with him on most of the "talking head" pundits and the big5 MSM channels.
He didn't mention MSNBC.

Here are some of Mary Matalin's heroes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTIphPnDM8

Heavens' sake--you can't expect the corporations have have "egg in their faces" because the answer given is questioned and the "guest" has no comeback. (tic) Look at the playback a few weeks ago when a woman on one station told Romney he couldn't be right in his answer since both the TV and press media had shown it all to be the opposite. And a woman on top of that!! Men can't take that--esp not those owning Broadcast stations. They won't allow the men to do it so why should a woman--even when she's RIGHT??? I'm glad she did but it's not too likely to happen again. The only commentators I have seen give comeback questions have be Katy and a couple others on BBC and most of those were to representatives of other countries, not our political "leaders." That's partly why I seldom watch Sunday shows. It's all to pat and very dry. One can anticipate the answer--even the wrong ones, knowing who the politician is at the moment. Others like David Brooks in 3-5 person groups are just as bad in their repetitive talking points.

They suck because the moderators don't have the balls to ask questions that mean something and they let these frauds disguised as guests dance around questions. We need people like Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes or even Joy Behar to take over these dead ass shows.

I enjoy my weekend with my family and friends not a TV show. Underarm sweat

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