Financial advice TV show pioneer

Ex-newspaperman explained Wall St. to Main St. on PBS

Louis Rukeyser 1933-2006

May 03, 2006|By DAVID ZURAWIK | DAVID ZURAWIK,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Louis Rukeyser, who for 32 years presided over PBS' Wall Street Week, a landmark financial advice show developed in Owings Mills and distinguished by his keen insights, wry puns and idiosyncratic musings on the market, died yesterday at his home in Greenwich, Conn.

Mr. Rukeyser, who was 73, died of multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the bone marrow, said his brother, Bud Rukeyser.

An imposing but likable on-air presence with deep voice, silver-white hair and mischievous smile, Louis Rukeyser left the airwaves in October 2003 when he started undergoing treatment for cancer.

The former Baltimore Sun London bureau chief and ABC News correspondent spent his last 18 months in television presenting his show on cable channel CNBC after a nasty public battle in 2002 with Maryland Public Television, which had produced his groundbreaking show for more than three decades.

At its peak in the 1980s, Wall Street Week was carried on more than 300 public television stations and boasted a weekly audience of 4.1 million viewers. The 30-minute program that aired Friday nights at 8 - four hours after the market closed for the week - was public television's longest-running weekly prime-time series, second only to CBS' venerable 60 Minutes in overall TV tenure. The series was canceled by MPT in June 2005 after three years of audience erosion that followed Mr. Rukeyser's departure.

"Before Louis Rukeyser, there was no such thing as a financial advice show on television," said Douglas Gomery, professor and media economist at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Along with Sesame Street, Wall Street Week was one of the first shows on PBS, a landmark series by anybody's definition. The reason for its success was Louis Rukeyser. He was the franchise - proof that the star system worked even for PBS."

Mr. Rukeyser's ability to translate economics into compelling television talk helped make investors out of millions of Americans: "In essence, what he did was bring Wall Street to Main Street - he made Wall Street understandable in terms of Main Street," said Frank Cappiello, a money manager who appeared as a panelist on Mr. Rukeyser's first PBS telecast in 1970 and his last in 2002, as well as his first and last on CNBC.

"You have to remember when the program started in 1970, we had just been through the Vietnam War and rising inflation, and so much changed financially during that 10-year span from 1970 to 1980. And every week, Lou would be there on TV explaining the changes - from commodities to money market funds - in very simple terms to millions of viewers, many of whom became investors as a result of what they learned from him and the experts he brought in."

A wide-ranging economic expertise only begins to describe the formula that made Mr. Rukeyser one of public television's first major stars - along with Alistair Cooke, host of Masterpiece Theatre, and Sesame Street's Big Bird.

The New York City native, who was dubbed "the dismal science's only sex symbol" by People magazine, was known within the ranks of PBS as "The Big Bird of Prime Time" because of the underwriting support, ratings and viewer pledges that he brought to the fledgling public broadcasting lineup in the 1970s.

In an interview shortly before his own death in August, Baltimore financial analyst Julius Westheimer, who was a recurring panelist on Wall Street Week for 29 years, said Mr. Rukeyser never forgot the audience: "Lou always said that the best educators throughout history were in part entertainers, and he stressed that to those of us who were regulars on the show. He also told us to talk about money, not economics. `Economics puts people to sleep; money wakes them up,' he used to say."

Mr. Cappiello, who logged more hours than any other panelist in Mr. Rukeyser's Friday-night TV boardroom, attributed his longtime friend's on-screen ability to talk so engagingly about money to the relationship Mr. Rukeyser enjoyed as a boy with his father, Merryle Stanley Rukeyser.

The senior Rukeyser became financial editor of the New York Tribune at the age of 23 and wrote a business column for the International Tribune News Service for more than three decades.

"His father was one of the first real financial journalists in the country," Mr. Cappiello said. "And out of the constant contact with his father - with Lou as a young boy asking his father to explain things - he got the technique, which is very unusual, of explaining how finance works in very simple terms."

Louis Richard Rukeyser was born Jan. 30, 1933, in New York City, the second of four sons of Merryle and Berenice Simon Rukeyser. He was raised in the suburban community of New Rochelle, where he attended public schools and found his vocation at a remarkably early age.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.