On Chuck Todd's first day as NBC News' chief White House correspondent, the unlikely television favorite of campaign 2008 admittedly didn't know much about the particulars of television production. He had never written a script, never produced a television package, and never done a formal stand-up to introduce a story during a news program.
But Todd's fans, the self-described "Chuckolytes" of Facebook, Twitter, and fan sites across the Internet, could not have cared less about his facility with the finer points of the medium.
Instead, his promotion to the most prestigious beat in the industry represented a victory for the people who had grown to refer to the network's political director simply as "Chuck," and describe him in terms usually reserved for a less obsessed person's best friend.
"Chuck is more of a Labradoodle than a Bulldog," said Donavon West, creator of ChuckToddFacts.com
. "Big and lovable, but able to attack if necessary." Like many, West said he had noticed the former Hotline
editor's political analysis early in the campaign cycle, but felt a different and deep connection to him after the death of Todd's mentor, Tim Russert.
Now, 100 days into the new administration, the Chuckolytes are sticking with Todd as he continues his transition from fun-times campaign guru to Serious Network Newsman, even if it feels little like leaving the playground after a long, hot, fun recess.
"Last year, (Todd) was ecstatic providing analysis from his comfort zone," said Paul Chamberlain, 41, who coined the "Chuckolyte" moniker, created the logo at right and launched VivaChuckTodd
, one of several web homages to the goateed reporter. "Now he's been put into this incredibly rigid environment, but I can see him hitting his stride." (For Todd's own thoughts on his first 100 days, see "100 Days of Chuck Todd
Elizabeth Cohen, a doctoral student in media studies at Georgia State University, followed ChuckToddsGoate
on Twitter during the campaign season and shared Chamberlain's initial mixed feelings about Todd's move to the White House. "Maybe I didn't like thinking of Chuck as a reporter, since I thought of him more as a professor."
Cohen has made the switch, too, and now watches Robert Gibbs' press briefings in hopes of a Chuck Todd sighting. "I didn't pay attention to White House correspondents before him, but now I watch the briefings and wait for Chuck to get called on."
Donavon West, the Todd fan who compared him to a Labradoodle, said Todd's move gave him the same anxiety as seeing a favorite actor leave a television show to go on to a new role, "like when Kelsey Grammer left Cheers,"
but he recently updated ChuckToddFacts
to declare, "Chuck Todd rocked his first 100 Days!"
As his followers cheer Todd from their couches and computers, current and former White House correspondents point out the difficulties any rookie, including Todd, faces in the early months of the job.
Bob Deans, Cox News' former White House correspondent, said newcomers need to master policy quickly, create trusting relationships inside the White House without "drinking the Kool Aid," and must be able to pump out the copy, or in Todd's case, the stand-ups, from morning to night. A current correspondent added, "It's like drinking from a fire hose, no matter where you come from."
While that's certainly true, the newly extroverted era of Facebook and Twitter in media adds a new dimension to what it takes for television reporters to achieve breakout success- namely a brand, a name and a personality that attract audiences and advertisers. Even though Todd refuses to join his fellow White House correspondents on Twitter ("I'm not a Twitter guy,"), creating one-on-one relationships with viewers is the area where Todd seems to be killing the competition, even 100 days into the job.
As Chucklyte Chamberlain said, "It's like, finally, one of us is on the inside."