Louis is back, baby
Both Central Virginia PBS stations have decided to ignore the advice of the PBS boss and will broadcast the new television show hosted by ousted icon Louis Rukeyser.
WVPT began running Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street about a week after its April 19 premiere, and WHTJ followed suit by revealing in late April that it, too, would carry the new program.
The dapper 69-year-old Rukeyser had become something of a market seer among affluent stock portfolio-watchers in his 32 years on public television. Nonetheless, in March, Maryland Public Television, producer of Wall Street Week, announced it wanted to revamp the show with a younger lineup– and a smaller role for its longtime host.
When Rukeyser found out, he announced– on what turned out to be his last show– that he’d been “ambushed” and urged viewers to call in to express their displeasure. Maryland Public Television promptly fired him.
That’s when CNBC stepped in. The financial cable network offered a format similar to the old show’s– not to mention the same 8:30 slot on Friday night. And the show’s 22 regular panelists followed Rukeyser to CNBC. In an unusual twist, CNBC began offering the show free to public television stations; they could show it anytime after midnight on Fridays.
All that had to anger PBS.
PBS president Pat Mitchell fired off a four-page letter to all PBS affiliates denouncing Rukeyser’s “campaign of misinformation and misrepresentation.” According to the Miami Herald, Mitchell told PBS affiliates that carrying Rukeyser’s new show “can only be counterproductive.”
That didn't dissuade Harrisonburg-based WVPT.
“We had so many viewers who were regular fans of Louis Rukeyser and Wall Street Week, and they asked us to please carry it,” says WVPT programming director Wanda Zimmerman.
While 10 PBS affiliates– including big market stations in New York, Dallas, and Orlando– signed on to carry the show on day one, Zimmerman opted to check out the first show to make sure it met PBS and WVPT guidelines for quality, and to make sure underwriters don’t control content. And CNBC obligingly removed its logo from the corner of the screen. “The show has met every one of the PBS guidelines,” she says.
What surprised Zimmerman was the number of viewers calling– about 50 percent– who don’t have access to CNBC on cable. “That’s something I hadn’t thought of,” she says. “We’re providing a service.”
The station will also carry “Wall Street Week with Fortune.” Zimmerman sees offering two “outstanding, professional” financial shows as another benefit to viewers.
Charlottesville’s other public television station, WHTJ, decided April 29 to carry the show. “We got many calls,” says general manager Conni Lombardo. Many of those callers, she points out, were contributors.
“We’re disappointed with the whole situation and the way Maryland Public Television handled this,” says Lombardo, although she adds that she was “disappointed and shocked” by Rukeyser’s parting commentary.
So is there any chance of retaliation from PBS? “We don’t work that way,” says WVPT's Zimmerman. “We’re a local public television station,” she notes– and an independent one. Zimmerman thinks the whole contretemps has been “over inflated.”
Public television and commercial TV are in some ways like Venus and Mars, and Zimmerman calls the collaboration between CNBC and PBS stations “highly unusual.” While some shows like “The McLaughlin Group” have migrated from public to commercial television, “This is the first time I can recall something with cable and with CNBC happening that is timely, i.e., the same week.”
“Wall Street Week” was the most successful financial show ever, drawing about 2.2 million viewers each week. While Rukeyser’s debut on CNBC drew only 609,000, it was that network’s largest prime-time audience this season. “Let the gloomsters know tonight that baby, I’m back!” crowed Rukeyser.
Who says Rukeyser is getting old?
WVPT airs the new show at 6:30pm Sundays; WHTJ will begin airing it at 10:30am Sundays.