Whether to be cheered or downcast? That’s the question. TV wasn’t born a male preserve, it’s just grown up that way.
I was thinking about that this weekend as I watched NBC celebrate Meet the Press. MTP is the longest, continuously-running program on US television. At the end of this Sunday’s show, a list of past hosts sped by. The first was Martha Rountree, the show’s first host, and needless to say, last female anchor.
Curious, I dug around a little. Rountree, it turns out, not only anchored the first broadcasts (starting in 1947) but came up with the format in the very early days of TV. The format — a panel of people asking questions of a guest — was her idea.
Is it the anchor that makes the program, or the format that fuels the show? In our star-system of celebration, TV anchors usually soak up the credit, but over a long-run like MTP’s, anchors come and go: it’s the format that endures. MTP’s came from Rountree. On radio, she hosted a program, "Leave it to the Girls," in which a panel of celebrity women fired questions at a guy. For Meet the Press (which she also hosted on radio before moving to TV,) Rountree and producer Lawrence Spivak, replaced the women with a panel of journalists.
And I do mean replaced…. A few years ago, The White House Project published a report called "Who’s Talking," which highlighted the lack of women guests on the Sunday morning talk shows. At the time, women comprised only 14 percent of guests — 0 percent of anchors. More recently, Media Matters conducted a survey which found that on average, men outnumber women on Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday by a 4-to-1 ratio. Of them all, Meet the Press shows the least diversity of all. The NBC program is, as Media Matters put it, "the most male."
It’s always sobering to realize that women weren’t born excluded. In this case, indeed, MTP was of-woman born. You’d never know it now.