Skip to comments.Maryland Public Television to Fire Rukeyser After His on- Air Criticism
Posted on 03/24/2002 7:07:30 PM PST by aculeus
BALTIMORE (AP) - Maryland Public Television is firing Louis Rukeyser from its popular finance and investment program, saying the longtime host used the show to discuss a contract dispute and promote his new program.
Robert J. Shuman, MPT's president and CEO, said Sunday night that "Wall $treet With Louis Rukeyser" aired for the last time Friday. Rukeyser, the show's host for all of its 32 years, said last week that he was leaving the program as it was being revamped by MPT.
Alternate shows will be used until the station launches its new "Wall $treet Week with Fortune" next fall, he said.
"We were surprised and saddened that he chose to use the show as a medium to air contract disputes and promote his new show," Shuman said. "The purpose of the show is anything but that. The qualities of this show aren't attached to one single person."
Shuman said he has not spoken to Rukeyser since last week but that he was being informed of the station's decision to fire him. Rukeyser's contract with MPT ends June 30.
Shuman declined to discuss details of the contract.
Rukeyser, who gives a commentary at the opening of each show, started Friday's program by criticizing MPT for the new show's format. He also thanked viewers for their "amazing outpouring of support" after the station announced last week that he would no longer be the show's host.
"Another weekly program with me as host and commentator will be on television," he said. "I want to assure all our loyal viewers ... that Louis Rukeyser will still be very much around."
Rukeyser told the audience that the "woods are full of smart television executives who are wonderfully excited at the prospect of producing the new Louis Rukeyser program." He also asked viewers to write to their local public television stations and demand that they air his new show.
Rukeyser said Sunday that he was still considering offers from several public and commercial television outlets and would decide which one to go with in a week or two.
MPT, which normally retransmits the latest "Wall $treet With Louis Rukeyser" on Sundays, didn't do so this weekend because of Rukeyser's comments, Shuman said. The station also didn't post its usual transcript of Rukeyser's latest opening statement on its Web site.
"All I can tell you is that many, many viewers are telling me how angry they are not to be able to find this commentary," Rukeyser said.
The station entered a partnership with Fortune magazine to produce a new version of the show.
Rukeyser, 69, was offered a senior commentator role on the new program but declined, saying he didn't want to have anything further to do with MPT.
MPT officials said the shake-up was necessary because the show's audience and expectations had changed, and they felt Fortune was a powerful partner. One of the new program's co-hosts will be a Fortune editor.
His show, which has received widespread acclaim and boosted viewership of public television around the country, claims to plug into every businessman in America. Though he did not have any ownership rights over the show, he said he did have co-production rights.
I hope Rukeyser gets his own show on commercial television and then we can use him as the poster boy for public television defunding.
Lou is going to have a hit show somewhere...
Also, one didn't watch it for the financial info, but for the wit. It won't be Friday night without him. That was the only PBS show I watched. Maryland Public Television completely misread its market. No surprise; that state and PBS aren't about markets.
I'm sure he'll find a better gig, though part of the show's chemistry was its low-budget public-access channel look and that would need to be preserved.
More from Baltimore Sun:
MPT replacing Rukeyser on financial show after 32 years
'Wall St. Week' host rejects reduced role
By David Folkenflik
Sun Television Writer
Originally published March 22, 2002
The 3-decade-long Louis Rukeyser era at Maryland Public Television is coming to an acrimonious close, as the pioneering financial journalist is being forced out of the anchor's chair of the program that bears his name. Starting this fall, MPT's signature program, Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser, will have a new format, a new name and two new anchors. Rukeyser will be replaced by Fortune magazine editorial director Geoffrey Colvin, whose publication will co-produce the show, and another anchor yet to be named. The arrangement is intended to shore up what public television executives describe as an aging asset. Speaking yesterday from his home in Connecticut, Rukeyser, 69, termed the new show without him "somebody's idea of a bad April Fools' joke." When MPT President and CEO Robert J. Shuman surprised him with the news this week, offering him a diminished role as a senior commentator, Rukeyser said, "I decided I didn't want to have anything further to do with them."
The new show, titled Wall Street Week with Fortune, represents the biweekly financial publication's most visible broadcasting effort since its short-lived television magazine with corporate sibling CNN.
"It's the highest-rated business show on television," John Needham, president of Fortune Multimedia, said of Wall Street Week. "We also think it fits so nicely with our editorial approach and resources. It provides the same kind of synthesis on a weekly basis."
MPT's Shuman said he regretted the messiness of the transition to a new concept for the show. But he depicted the partnership with Fortune as an exciting way to keep Wall Street Week viable as financial coverage proliferates on cable channels and the Internet.
And so, with a three-page news release that made one fleeting reference to Rukeyser, MPT is poised to enter a season without the erudite economics correspondent for the first time in 32 years. Rukeyser's contract ends in late June.
As they learned of the move, first reported in yesterday's editions of The Sun, some financial and news professionals denounced the idea of involuntarily upending the man most responsible for shaping today's television coverage of the economy and financial markets.
"The whole show was Lou, in my opinion," said former PBS President Lawrence K. Grossman. "It's going to be very difficult to launch a new series without Lou as the chief honcho on it."
Others compared Maryland Public Television unfavorably to the ABC and Disney officials who were secretly working this winter to replace Ted Koppel and ABC News' Nightline with late night talk show host David Letterman.
"The executives of MPT make ABC look like the State Department," said CNN financial news anchor Lou Dobbs, whose cable network, like Fortune, is owned by AOL Time Warner Inc. "It's an extremely ungrateful act and graceless act." But Shuman contended that other PBS affiliates have displayed waning enthusiasm for Rukeyser's program. Surveys of PBS members reflected that it had dropped off the list of their 10 favorite programs on the network, he said. The demographics of Rukeyser's audience also skewed older, primarily to viewers older than 60, he said.
"It's a business decision that we have to make if we were going to be able to continue the franchise for public television," Shuman said. "Without it, I just don't think that there would be a show next fall."
before there was CNBC's Squawk Box - before there even was a CNBC - there was Wall Street Week. The 30-minute program reflects Rukeyser's dry wit and his abiding faith in the long-term health of the financial markets. His opening essays frequently advise viewers to find good stocks and hold on to them. He attracts guests from the highest echelons of corporate and investment elite, and subjects them to polite but firm questioning, with an occasional puckish aside.
It's not clear exactly how much ratings and finances - the chief forces behind the decisions on commercial networks and cable channels - affected the status of Rukeyser's show. According to PBS, it had dipped to 13th-most watched on the network, with an estimated average of 1.37 million viewers each week this season.
Those levels are still far above the audiences for cable shows, and it remains one of the most widely carried programs by PBS stations, which make independent decisions about what to broadcast. Wall Street Week is available to 98 percent of the viewing public in the continental United States, a PBS spokesman said.
The program cost Maryland Public Television approximately $5 million annually to produce, with a significant seven-figure chunk of that going to Rukeyser's production company for his fee and other expenses. But the show generated a low seven-figure profit for MPT from corporate underwriters. Brent Gunts, a former MPT official who secured underwriting for the show from 1975 to 1992, said the program was always the largest source of such income for the state system.
For its part, PBS stands squarely behind the change sought by Owings Mills-based MPT, executives at the national public network said yesterday.
"I'm not convinced that the Wall Street Week that was born 32 years ago, and has essentially continued in that vein ever since, can successfully connect with today's audience," said John Wilson, senior vice president for programming at PBS. Since becoming PBS president two years ago, Pat Mitchell has sought to revamp much of the system's standard programming.
Constance R. Caplan, chairwoman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission, which oversees the state system, said her board supported the new partnership with Fortune. "There was a concern that we needed to update the show," Caplan said yesterday. "There was every hope Lou would consider staying with us in some role; he's been a tremendous presence."
Rukeyser dismissed such a notion yesterday, saying he was already wading through unsolicited offers from other television outlets.
"The reality is this: MPT, as my partner, and I decided we had to make changes and we were going to work together on what these changes would be," Rukeyser said. "They decided unilaterally not to proceed with me as the host of the show I created, wrote and maintained for 32 years."
Even Grossman, who worked with Rukeyser while head of PBS, acknowledged that Wall Street Week had lost its uniqueness. But he said that Rukeyser's approach retains its relevance because it is far more responsible than the speculation that abounds on other financial television shows.
Rukeyser, a former economics, political and foreign correspondent for The Sun and Evening Sun, became a Paris-based reporter for ABC News in 1965. A few years later, he took a new assignment covering economics for ABC, joining NBC's Irving R. Levine as one of the first television reporters to do so.
"They did things that no one else was willing to do," said Ron Insana, an anchor for the all-financial news cable station CNBC. "The passion that Lou brought to the job was remarkable."
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun
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