MPT, Fortune appear set to oust Rukeyser

Anchor: The persona behind public television's `Wall Street Week' for 32 years would be replaced by two co-hosts under the new arrangement.

March 21, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Maryland Public Television and Fortune magazine are poised to enter into an arrangement to create the next generation of the weekly financial program Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser, but that appears likely to occur without Louis Rukeyser.

As things now stand, the show would lack the man who has been its trademark anchor for all of its 32 years. Instead, it would feature two co-hosts, one selected by MPT and another plucked from the ranks of senior Fortune editors. Rukeyser's contract with Maryland Public Television lapses in June.

"Well, clearly, it strikes everybody as a silly, bad joke," Rukeyser said last night from his home in Connecticut. He said he wanted to defer specific comment until today, saying he was tied up in intense meetings all night.

Spokeswomen for PBS, which is expected to carry the new version of the show, and Fortune did not respond to telephone messages left last night. MPT's Jeff Hankin, vice president of marketing and brand management, would not comment.

The program has been one of Maryland Public Television's mainstays, generating widespread acclaim, significant viewership on PBS stations across the country, and major revenues for the Owings Mills-based state system. Rukeyser, who was a former political, economics and foreign correspondent for The Sun and The Evening Sun before he entered broadcast journalism with ABC in 1965, is known for his dry wit, avuncular and erudite tone, and his deliberate skepticism about some of the workings of the marketplace.

As Rukeyser's Web site points out, he has been widely acclaimed: The New Yorker ran a profile that says he has "a knack for providing entertainment unrivalled by any other television commentator on economic matters, past or present."

But, like the 69-year-old Rukeyser himself, the program has yielded signs of age over time. A 1997 survey conducted for the Public Television Programmers Association of the people who choose what programs to air on PBS affiliates throughout the country hailed Rukeyser's "strong personality" and "host expertise." But the same survey identified "a concern that facets of Rukeyser's on-air persona may hinder him from attracting a new audience," according to a contemporaneous account in Current magazine.

His measured erudition stands in contrast to the brashness of the cable financial news world, which often involves fast-talking analysts and enthusiastic touters and doubters, such as James Cramer and others on the largely financial channel CNBC. Fox News Channel and CNN also prominently feature shows that highlight the marketplace, with such anchors as Neil Cavuto and Lou Dobbs respectively drawing in hundreds of thousands of viewers.

The great attention lavished on those cable shows while Rukeyser's program, available freely to almost anyone with a television set, attracts a greater audience is known to infuriate him.

In September 2000, a request by ABC News' Nightline to interview him for a show about financial cable news shows sparked a vigorous response from an aide.

He has made his accommodations with the cable world, however, appearing for example on CNBC in 2000 to talk about the implications of that year's elections on the markets. And he also has spun off a series of money-making endeavors trading on Wall Street Week, including newsletters and a cruise for those truly intrigued by the vagaries of investment strategy.

Former MPT President Raymond Ho objected to Rukeyser's activities, then backed away because of the financial anchor's heated defense.

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