‘Wall Street Week’ Sees Downturn, Gets Berth Bump

Jan 5, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In the battle of the competing Wall Street programs, it looks like veteran Louis Rukeyser is getting the last laugh.
Mr. Rukeyser, the host for 32 years of PBS’s “Wall Street Week,” was dumped by producer Maryland Public Television last year, with the implication that he was, at 69, too old and out of touch for today’s younger investors.
MPT revamped the show, renamed it “Wall Street Week With Fortune,” and brought in Fortune magazine’s Editorial Director Geoffrey Colvin as co-host. The idea was to attract a younger audience.
Mr. Rukeyser bitterly protested his ouster and then quickly found a berth on CNBC, where he now hosts the highest-rated show on the cable network, “Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street.”
Now, a year and a half after the media firestorm set off by Rukeyser’s removal, indications are that “Wall Street Week With Fortune” is not attracting as big an audience as hoped. In recent days, several PBS stations have downgraded its time period from its traditional berth at 8:30 p.m. Friday nights. WNET-TV, New York, a flagship PBS outlet, has just bumped the show to 9:30 Friday nights, replaced in its normal 8:30 p.m. slot by “Now With Bill Moyers.”
Selena Lauterer, director of communications for Oregon Public Broadcasting, said her network of stations had moved “Wall Street Week With Fortune” to 10 p.m. Fridays, replacing it with a local public affairs program. In the Oregon Public Broadcasting market, Ms. Lauterer said, “Wall Street Week With Fortune” was averaging less than a 1.0, while more popular fare, such as “Now With Bill Moyers,” rates a 3.5.
Separately, Maryland Public Television finds itself in a growing financial scandal that could result in indictments. As first reported by David Folkenflik in the Baltimore Sun, Maryland state regulators are looking into serious irregularities and misuse of public funds at the network. The Maryland legislative auditor has uncovered a pattern of numerous contracts and bonuses awarded without appropriate oversight, and one obvious conflict of interest, in which an MPT administrator awarded a $54,000 contract, paid for with funds from the governmental Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to her live-in boyfriend, without any competitive bidding. According to the Sun, that example of alleged financial malfeasance has been “referred to law enforcement officials for further investigation.”
Maryland Public Television did not immediately offer audience numbers for “Wall Street Week With Fortune,” but the recent time-period erosion is expected to hurt viewership. By most estimates, the show attracts less than half the 1.9 million who tuned in regularly for Louis Rukeyser during his long reign.
At present, “Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street” attracts 411,000 CNBC viewers per week, airing in his old time slot, Fridays at 8:30 p.m. An 11:30 p.m. repeat garners a further 176,000 viewers, said CNBC spokesperson Alison Rudnick, totaling 587,000 viewers a week. The Rukeyser program is also aired on a delayed basis on 176 PBS channels (including digital) reaching about 65 percent of the total, said Susan Soberman, a spokesperson for WLIW-TV, the Long Island, N.Y., PBS outlet that distributes the Rukeyser show. That airing attracts another 350,000 viewers, bringing Mr. Rukeyser’s total to more than 1 million viewers a week.
Corporate sponsors for “Wall Street Week With Fortune” include Nuveen Investments, Wausau Insurance and the state of Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development, said Laurel Goodrick, a spokesperson for Maryland Public Television.
By contrast, the Rukeyser show, during its heyday, had major Wall Street sponsors: A.G. Edwards, Oppenheimer and Occidental Petroleum.
Apparently aware of a viewership problem, Maryland Public Television announced last month it is refocusing “Wall Street Week With Fortune” away from Wall Street coverage, a neat trick, given the title of the show. Now it will concentrate on consumer investing and economics.
Mr. Colvin and co-host Karen Gibbs are to be shown interacting with ordinary people, not just Wall Street graybeards, and the types of stories covered will change.
`Most Respected’
“Wall Street Week With Fortune” producer Larry Moscow was not immediately available for comment, but he told Current magazine, which covers public broadcasting, that investors are angry about corporate wrongdoing, and that, “We want to put PBS at the vanguard of reporting on that rebellion by providing independent information about what’s going on.”
In an apparent dig at Mr. Rukeyser’s sedentary ways, he added, “These are different times, and we have to do things beyond sitting in the studio and talking about it.”
David Friend, senior VP for business news at CNBC, emphasized the commitment the cable network has to Wall Street-oriented programming. “We are thrilled that Louis Rukeyser is part of CNBC,” he said. “We focus on Wall Street. The name of our show is `Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street.’ He is the most respected business journalist on television.”