Did You Know Pat Weaver Saved “Meet The Press” On His First Day At NBC?
On October 5, 1945, “Meet the Press” debuted on The Mutual Radio Network, hosted by it’s creator Martha Roundtree. On November 6, 1947, “‘Meet The Press” debuted on NBC Television as a half hour, Saturday night current affairs show hosted by Roundtree. It was a “sustaining” program, which meant there was not a sponsor. In June of 1949, Rountree was told by NBC that because they could not find a sponsor, the show would be canceled.
Later that month, David Sarnoff agreed to the terms of Pat Weaver’s contract and hired him as NBC’s first real head of the television department. Weaver ‘s job, as Vice President was to oversee television and become the director of the new television network. Weaver had told the NBC executives who hired him, “I won’t come to NBC just to sell time to ad agencies. I’ll come only if we can create our own shows and own them, and if we can sell every kind of advertising to support the program service.”
On his first day, he came across the recent memo that canceled “Meet The Press”. In one of his first official duties, he personally called Roundtree and re-hired the show as an NBC production. To date, “MTP” is America’s longest running television program.
Martha Rountree 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 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”.
From The Archive of American Television, Emmy Legends interview, here much more from Max, on the times his travels for “Meet The Press” put him in the middle of the Chicago riots, in Vietnam where he used a clever trick to escape with the videotape interview and tons more stories like these. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VmcPDaDjNQ
On November 6, 1947, while still on Mutual Radio, the show came to NBC Television. 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 (seen at the top of the page with Sen Kefauver), 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. In this rare shot from NBC’s Colonial Theater on February 14. 1954, we see Deena Clark hosting with Sen. John F. Kennedy as the guest on this rare color presentation of the show.
Rountree was succeeded by Ned Brooks (shown below with guest Sen. Joseph McCarthy), 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.
Below, Lawrence Spivak with West German Chancellor Willie Brandt.
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