A relic of the three-network era. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

Stop Watching the Sunday Talk Shows

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Are you still watching the Sunday television shows? Cut it out. Now.

Paul Waldman notes today that "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," and "This Week" are boring and pointless. He has ideas for improving them by getting rid of rote recitations of party talking points and gotcha reporter questions.

That's fine and good, except: Waldman also notes that "in the Washington media world, there's no more rarefied spot, both for the host and the guests, than that of the network Sunday morning shows...[t]he Sunday shows have the audience and the prestige." This is why the networks aren't going to kick off the air the politicians, party hacks and panelists who either know little beyond current conventional wisdom or are good at pretending they don't. It works for all of them!

In the era of three-network television, the Sunday shows were useful because there were few other venues to hear the parties talk about important issues. And politicians didn't have many ways to send up trial balloons, or to engage in public, high-profile bargaining.

That age ended sometime between the beginning of the Ronald Reagan presidency and the election of Bill Clinton . And yet, more than 20 years later, the Sunday shows still have their prestige and an audience.

Sure, they could be made into informative public-affairs shows, as Waldman proposes. But without the big-name guests and hosts, the prestige would be gone, and so would the audience. Why would the networks want that?

The only solution is to stop paying attention. Don't get involved in critiquing the mix of guests, or the topics, or anything. And if one of the shows actually makes some news, there are plenty of opportunities to catch up later, just as there is with any other program.

You have better things to do on Sundays, don't you?

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012." Follow him onTwitter at @JBPlainblog.)

  1. Backroom bargaining has always been available, but sometimes one side finds it useful to conduct part of the negotiations in public. Sometimes, getting everyone on the record is useful in getting to agreement, or in making clear what's up for grabs and what isn't.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net