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How Newt Gingrich became viewer bait for the Sunday morning talk wars

May 23, 2011 |  6:06 am

Newt_Gingrich_Meet_the_Press_May_15

In the ratings derby among the news roundtable shows on Sunday mornings, putting the proper bait on the hook can make all the difference when it comes to reeling in a few extra viewers.

And while having a big mouth might be bad for a presidential candidate, an explosive quote is the catch of the day for a lucky interviewer.

Last week, David Gregory of NBC's "Meet the Press" landed a big one in the person of new GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.

The Clinton-era speaker of the House made an unforced, perhaps fatal, campaign error in his nascent White House bid by criticizing the Medicare reform portion of fellow Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, referring to it as "radical Paul_Ryan change" and "right-wing social engineering."

Gingrich either didn't realize, didn't care or just didn't think about Ryan being the current fair-haired boy of the Republican wing of the House, with his bold budget proposals (and bolder blue eyes) and snappy videos.

In May 15 ratings released late last week, "Meet the Press" was again on top of the Sunday morning blabfests with 3.17 million viewers, including 1.01 million of those in the core Adults 25-54 demographic.

Keeping the momentum going, on May 22, Gregory brought in Ryan, who delivered a spirited retort to Gingrich and a strong defense of his own budget plans.

Ryan liked his appearance so much, he posted it on YouTube.

Meanwhile, CBS' "Face the Nation," which came in second last week with 2.28 million viewers, and 650,000 in that 25-54 group, aimed to boost its fortunes by booking Gingrich for Round 2.

Host Bob Schieffer jumped right into Gingrich's comments of last week and didn't quite seem to buy his explanations and apologies. So, Gingrich didn't apologize again, but he did explain again.

Schieffer then gave Gingrich a chance to critique President Obama's Middle East strategy speech of  last Thursday, a chance the former speaker enthusiastically grabbed.

Things didn't get really testy until the end, when Schieffer just couldn't let go of Gingrich's hefty Tiffany's bill.

ABC's "This Week" was third last week with 1.99 million viewers, and 638,000 ages 25-54.

And it may be third this week, since Christiane Amanpour, true to her roots as a foreign correspondent, booked neither Gingrich nor Ryan.

Instead, she went for King Abdullah II of Jordan to discuss his role in Middle East politics. Click here for a look.

That's called counter-programming or tone-deaf for American audiences, and we'll see if it worked later in the week, when Sunday's ratings come out.

In fourth place last week was "Fox News Sunday," with Chris Wallace, which attracted 1.36 million viewers and 558,000 ages 25-54.

David_Gregory_Meet_the_Press But, that's only the numbers for the show's airings on the Fox Broadcasting Network affiliates. It picked up a couple million or so more from its three Sunday cable airings on Fox News Channel.

"Meet the Press" also picks up viewers from re-airing on corporate sibling MSNBC.

On May 22, "Fox News Sunday" kept to the GOP-candidate theme, but went for newly announced Herman Cain, a "tea party" favorite who has lots of ideas on taxes and the debt and no firm plan yet on Afghanistan.

When Wallace pressed, Cain said in essence that he just couldn't come up with a plan for the conflict until he is sworn in and actually eyeballs the intelligence and reports from the field that only the president sees.

That issue is at the end of this clip.

It's up to voters to decide whether Cain's assertion is a dodge or common sense.

-- Kate O'Hare

Media critic Kate O’Hare is a regular Ticket contributor. She also blogs about TV at Hot Cuppa TV and is a frequent contributor at entertainment-news site Zap2it. Also follow O'Hare on Twitter @KateOH

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Photos: William B. Plowman / NBC (Gingrich); PaulRyan.House.gov (Ryan); Paul Drinkwater / NBC (Gregory).

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