I appear on TV perhaps a half-dozen times a year. Not much ever results. That's why I'm still reeling from the reaction to a short segment I did two weeks ago on what I thought was a negligible business program on a niche cable channel. Not a day has gone by since in which someone hasn't mentioned a sighting.
An entertainment attorney ... An elevator attendant in my office building ...
The program was America Now, a title that could stand for just about anything: a Nightline special report, a David Kelley dramedy, the sequel to Cops. Instead, it identifies a CNBC show that stands out from the standard fare on cable TV business programming. It's not sober, not considered and not, most defiantly not, serious. But it is utterly compelling.
The CEO of a blue-chip PR agency ...
America Now is a shout-fest, the product of two whacked-out renegades who demand attention. Co-host James Cramer gained notoriety as a hedge-fund manager, New York Magazine columnist and founder of financial news Web site TheStreet.com. Co-host Lawrence Ludlow is a Wall Street economist, author and former Reagan administration official.
Mr. Cramer is an aggressive liberal, Mr. Kudlow a demonstrative conservative. Together, they shepherd one of the odder financial news shows on today's tube, screaming at their guests, at each other, shaking insight and opinion from the jacket pockets of experts from across the business spectrum. Imagine Jenny Jones married to Irving R. Levine and you'll get the picture.
A partner in our firm ...
Exciting the couch potatoes
I'm deeply intrigued by America Now. In part, my interest is personal. I am, I believe, the only author who has ever appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show (twice!) whose book (the cover actually flashed on the screen!!) received nary a bounce in the bookstores. So whatever it is that causes America's sofa denizens to lift the phone, send an e-mail and (someday) buy a book -- that's an ingredient I want identified and bottled.
But my interest is also professional. TV news is in the doldrums. ABC has publicly dissed Ted Koppel. CNN has been dismissing its Washington bureau. MSNBC is in a tailspin. Business news, in particular, after a period of Bartiromo and ballyhoo, is trying to find its way in a recession-laden environment (the subtext of the Louis Rukseyser/PBS spat). So when a financial news program manages to draw both cab drivers and copywriters, that's cause for notice.
A secretary in our firm ...
Why it works
I've an idea why America Now works. Certainly, it's "hot" TV -- the antithesis of the cool, disengaged atmosphere that's the standard in TV news. One other guest told me, "It's the most exciting television I've ever done. It's like sitting around an incredible dinner party." That engagement clearly communicates through the glass screen.
But there's something else here. In the post-Enron era, decorum in business coverage probably is over. The sober experts of the '90s failed to warn us about oversold dot-coms, the earnings shortfalls, accounting inadequacies or compromised securities analysts. Messrs. Kudlow and Cramer understand that a little bit of discord might illuminate the path to truth. To them I say: Shout on!
My dad ...
Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is chief marketing officer at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.