November 6, 1947…’Meet The Press’ Debuts, NBC
This is America’s longest running television program. Almost everyone thinks of it as a Sunday morning show, but when it started, it was a Saturday night show, and hosted by a woman.
Her name was Martha Rountree and she started as a reporter at The Tampa Tribune, but she wasn’t reporting on social occasions or homemaking. As a kind of rebel from the start, her duties included writing a sports column under the name “M. J. Rountree,” with Tribune readers none the wiser as to the sex of the journalist who was, after all, writing in a field dominated by men.
A local CBS station was impressed enough by her work that they gave her a chance to write for radio, at which she excelled. From there, she headed north to New York, where she wrote ad copy, but Rountree was not comfortable playing so minor a part of an industry she felt held greater opportunities for her.
“I got the ideas, worked them out; other people got the credit,” she lamented. “I wanted to produce myself. To prove that she meant business, she and her sister Ann, opened a production firm called Radio House, which prepared transcribed programs and singing commercials.
1945 was Rountree’s banner year. She made her mark on radio in a big way, selling the idea for two different panel shows to the Mutual Radio Network, premiering them a day apart in October. One was ‘Leave It to the Girls’, the other was ‘Meet The Press’ which debuted first on October 5, 1945.
Although frequently credited as a co-creation of Rountree and Lawrence E. Spivak, publisher and editor of American Mercury magazine, authoritative sources adamantly state that it was Rountree who developed the premise on her own, with Spivak joining up as co producer and business partner in the enterprise after the show had already debuted.
Our friend Max Schindler, who directed the show for over 20 years, had this to say about the creator credit, “Whoever conceived it, it was Spivak who made it a success…he dedicated his life to it”.
Here is more from Max, on directing the show. http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/shows/meet-the-press#
On November 6, 1947, while still on Mutual Radio, the show came to NBC Television. ‘Meet the Press’ was originally presented on Saturday night at 7:30 as a half hour show with a single guest and a panel of questioners. The first guest was James Farley, who served as Postmaster General, Democratic National Committee chairman and campaign manager to Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the first two terms of the New Deal Administration.
The first host was its creator, Martha Rountree, the program’s only full time female moderator to date. She stepped down on November 1, 1953 and until Ned Brooks could take over, her friend Deena Clark filled in.
Rountree was succeeded by Ned Brooks, who remained as moderator until his retirement on December 26, 1965. Although Spivak became the moderator on January 1, 1966, he did not really want the job. Max Schindler said, “Spivak didn’t want to moderate…he wanted Edwin Neuman, but NBC could not spare him, so he reluctantly took over”. He retired on November 9, 1975, on a special one-hour edition that featured, for the first time, a sitting president, Gerald Ford, as the guest.
The next week, Bill Monroe, previously a weekly panelist like Spivak took over as moderator and stayed until June 2, 1984. For the next seven and a half years, the program then went through a series of hosts as it struggled in the ratings against ABC’s ‘This Week with David Brinkley’. Roger Mudd and Marvin Kalb (as co-moderators) followed Monroe for a year, followed by Chris Wallace from 1987 to 1988. Garrick Utley hosted ‘Meet the Press’ from 1989 through December 1, 1991 at which time Tim Russert took over, and not long after that, the show went to a one hour format.
Russert’s untimely death gave David Gregory the seat, and now Chuck Todd is host.
Rountree died on August 23, 1999, in Washington, where she had made her name as one of the key figures in political reporting. Tim Russert, summed up her status in the medium by declaring, “She was a news pioneer who helped create a national treasure, Meet the Press.” Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee