For more than three decades, Maryland Public Television produced "Wall $treet Week" with Louis Rukeyser. It was a resounding success, pioneering a format that paved the way for the cable financial news shows of today.
Then several years ago, MPT fired Rukeyser as part of an effort to revamp the show to compete against cable competitors. Rukeyser, who has since died, went to CNBC. "Wall $treet Week" eventually went off the air. And the station has never been able to replace its content and the millions in revenue it brought in.
Now MPT news host Jeff Salkin is trying to bring back the venerable "Wall $treet Week" brand — at least to the Web. Salkin has licensed the "Wall $treet Week" name from MPT, which has owned a kind of trademark on the show since 1982. WallStreetWeek.com launched last month and is offering video interviews and subscriber newsletters for an annual fee starting at $149.
"Give us about a half-hour of your time a week, and we'll give you a high-level wrap-up of what's happening in the financial world, with no shouting," said Salkin, a 19-year veteran of MPT.
It's a big step away from "Wall $treet Week's" original broadcast model, which yielded handsome rewards for MPT. In its heyday, "Wall $treet Week" was viewed in more than 4 million households nationwide through other public television stations and attracted about $5 million a year in annual underwriting support from corporate sponsors. At one time, the prime-time program was second only to CBS' venerable "60 Minutes" in overall TV tenure.
Salkin and MPT officials are hopeful that the website and newsletter operation will eventually bring in some revenue for the state-owned television operation. MPT hasn't put any money into the project but will collect 7.5 percent of gross profits from the site, according to Joseph L. Krushinsky, vice president of MPT's institutional advancement division.
And some industry observers have raised the idea of bringing back the TV format.
"The best possibility for the state is that they not only get a percentage, but they could potentially resurrect the show" if the website is successful, said Douglas Gomery, a professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism who has closely tracked public television for years.
Any additional revenue would be welcomed. The Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission, which runs MPT, has seen its budget slashed in recent years. The fiscal 2011 budget for the state agency was $26.6 million — a $2.5 million decrease from the previous year. The broadcasting commission, which has its headquarters in Owings Mills, holds the federal license to broadcast public television content in the state.
About one-third of the station's budget comes from fundraising, donations from the viewing public and underwriting from sponsors through a related nonprofit, the MPT Foundation.
Squeezing some value out of "Wall $treet Week," which went off the air five years ago, made sense particularly as the service mark, a kind of trademark, could be lost because of disuse, MPT officials said.
"If we didn't use it, it could be considered abandoned, and we'd lose it," said Krushinsky. "Now we might realize some money from it" by licensing it to Salkin's project, he said.
Salkin's venture — Wall Street Week Development Corp. — has raised $80,000 from investors, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. He has assembled a team for the site that includes a host, a moderator and editors who will produce content for the Web and for a weekly newsletter. The site chose a subscription model as opposed to selling advertising to be true to its public television roots, according to Salkin.
He calls the website an ensemble cast, whereas Rukeyser was the star of the television show.
Alfred Berkeley, former president of the Nasdaq stock market, will be a moderator for many of the video interviews. The site has a New York studio where Berkeley will quiz guests, but Salkin expects at least some of the content to be created via the free video chat program Skype. Berkeley will be joined by Maribel Abel, a host and correspondent who is a former vice president at Nasdaq.
"Part of the idea was to not try to be too much like the old show," Salkin said. "I don't want to be seen as a poor imitation of that. It's a fresh start, it's new technology, it's a new format."
Rukeyser's "Wall $treet Week" show faced competition on cable, but Salkin's venture potentially faces even more competition from a plethora of financial news sites on the Web. He hopes the website can lure the big thinkers of the financial industry, the top money managers, analysts and financial advisers whose expertise and insights would keep the site's readers coming back, just as they did for Rukeyser's show.