Fund PR and marketing executives intent on getting portfolio managers and analysts placed on key financial TV shows reacted with relief last week to the news that Louis Rukeyser, who was fired from his public television show, would return to CNBC with a new program.
Hedda Nadler, a principal at the public relations firm Mount and Nadler of New York, said she saw great opportunity in Rukeyser's return because she thinks she'll have a better chance of getting more of her clients, particularly mutual fund executives, on TV.
"It's probably going to be a very positive development for some fund executives," she said.
Rukeyser, who for 32 years hosted the PBS show "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," was fired by his partner, Maryland Public Television (MPT), last month after a contract dispute turned ugly.
The station announced last month that it had partnered with Fortune magazine to create a new version of the program called "Wall Street Week with Fortune." In revamping the program, the PBS affiliate said it would relegate Rukeyser to the post of "senior commentator" and hand the host spot over to Fortune editorial director Geoffrey Colvin and a yet-to-be named co-host.
Rukeyser resigned in protest. He was, however, bound by his contract to continue hosting the program through June 28, which until last month was expected to be his last show. But MPT fired the 69-year-old journalist after he made references to the imbroglio -- and a new program that he would host elsewhere -- during the taping of what would be his last show.
Within weeks Rukeyser struck a deal with CNBC to host a new program called "Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street." It will air each Friday at 8:30 p.m., the same time slot as his old show, and again at 11:30 p.m. The program will also be rebroadcast on public television stations starting at midnight, according to a CNBC spokeswoman. The show was expected to debut last Friday.
MPT, meanwhile, has continued to air "Wall Street Week" with an alternate host and has bumped the debut date for its revamped program, "Wall Street Week with Fortune" to June 28 instead of the fall.
Now, executives are anticipating new opportunities to get out and communicate with investors by appearing on both Rukeyser's show and the revamped "Wall Street Week with Fortune."
Spots on Rukeyser's original program were coveted among mutual fund executives, partly because the program's executive producer, Rich Dubroff, was known as a stickler who was particularly choosy about which executives would make guest appearances. In addition, the program featured a brand of pithy commentary that has become Rukeyser's trademark.
"It would be a great thing for us to appear again," said Eugene Profit, the CEO of Profit Investment Management of Silver Spring, Md., who appeared on Rukeyser's PBS show just more than a year ago and considered it a great accomplishment for his firm.
Profit said he was disappointed when he heard MPT had fired Rukeyser because "it stopped, for a moment, the Rukeyser hall of fame." The new CNBC show "gives me an opportunity to go after that again," Profit said.
But executives are also wary and eagerly waiting to see how each program takes shape. Rukeyser's CNBC show will be produced by Joel Franklin. Dubroff, meanwhile, is not staying with the revamped "Wall Street Week." He could not be reached for comment, and spokesmen for CNBC and MPT said they did not know where he would work in the future.
With Dubroff out of the picture, executives wonder how much the two programs will focus on mutual funds and how their prospects of getting executives on the show will change.
"I want to learn more about the show," said Dan Sondhelm, a principal at the public relations firm Sunstar in Alexandria, Va., which has placed executives on Rukeyser's PBS show in the past. "I want to find out who the producer is."
A CNBC spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter. And MPT spokesman Jeff Hankin said that issue would be decided by the new producer of "Wall Street Week with Fortune," who has not yet been chosen.
But Hankin added: "One of the goals of the new show is to provide not only more information, but more viewpoints. So we would expect that there would be a wider diversity of opinions and perspectives, including mutual funds."
Another question is whether Rukeyser's loyal audience of up to three million viewers will follow him to CNBC or continue watching "Wall Street Week with Fortune" on PBS.
Many executives said the answer is anyone's guess. But MPT's Hankin conceded that "the creation of a new show on CNBC will draw a lot of curious viewers initially."
"We will naturally have to wait and see," he said.