CNBC is apparently talking with Louis Rukeyser, who hosts a well-known financial talk show on PBS, about the prospect of starting a new program on the cable news channel.

"We have been talking with him about future opportunities," said CNBC spokeswoman Amy Zelvin. "That's all I can confirm for you."

Rukeyser, who for 32 years has hosted "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," was expected to be fired last week by his partner, Maryland Public Television (MPT), after a contract dispute turned ugly, said Jeff Hankin, an MPT spokesman.

Now, Rukeyser is looking to start up a new program on another network. During an episode of "Wall Street Week" that aired Friday, Rukeyser reportedly said he is planning to host a different weekly television show.

It was unclear whether Rukeyser was in talks with other networks. Officials at Fox News could not be reached, and spokeswomen for CNN and CNNfn said the network was not discussing a new show with Rukeyser as the host.

No one, meanwhile, was picking up the phone at Rukeyser's MPT offices.

With a loyal audience of up to 5 million viewers, Rukeyser's program has gained a reputation as one of the best sources of financial analysis on TV. It has also developed a mystique among public relations professionals and mutual fund executives who regarded appearing on the show as a quick way to earn credibility among investors.

The program featured a brand of pithy commentary that has become Rukeyser's trademark. And it included a discussion of the week's financial news with one guest, a member of the business community, who was hand-picked by the show's executive producer of 20 years, Rich Dubroff.

Spots on the program were coveted among mutual fund executives, partly because Dubroff has become known as a stickler who was particularly choosy about which executives would make guest appearances. In an interview with MFMN last summer, Dubroff estimated that, of the show's 52 guests each year, only 15 were mutual fund executives.

"We felt like it was one of the more important things that we'd done as an asset management firm next to getting a letter from Warren Buffet," said Eugene Profit, the CEO of Profit Investment Management, about appearing on "Wall Street Week" last year. "It's tremendous validation. People respect the fact that if you appeared as a guest on Rukeyser's show that you were doing something significant in the financial services arena. It was a coming of age for our complex."

Profit, whose Silver Spring, Md., company runs one value fund with $90 million in assets, said he was "shocked" when he heard Rukeyser would be leaving. "The industry is kind of shocked. I don't think anyone saw this coming."

The trouble between Rukeyser and MPT began last week when the station announced 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 when he heard the news. He was, however, bound by his contract to continue hosting the show through June 28, which until Friday was expected to be his last show.

But Hankin said Friday's episode of "Wall Street Week" will be Rukeyser's last. MPT will fire the 69-year-old journalist after he made references to the imbroglio -- and a new program that he would host elsewhere -- during last week's taping, he said.

"He will not be appearing on the show anymore," Hankin said. "We're disappointed that he used Friday night's show to air his contract dispute and to promote the new venture. And it's disappointing that he chose to use what will obviously be his last appearance on Wall Street Week' to end such a fine 32-year run on such a sour note."

MPT will now air the show without Rukeyser. "We will continue it, just as we have when Mr. Rukeyser was on vacation, until the new show is ready to go," he said. Dubroff's future with MPT was unclear at press time.

Public relations representatives said today that they were disappointed to hear that Rukeyser would be leaving the program. But Hedda Nadler, president of the New York public relations firm Mount & Nadler, said a new financial program, if Rukeyser starts one, would be a boon for companies hoping to market their funds by placing executives on news shows.

"This is perhaps another venue," said Nadler, who has helped a half-dozen clients appear on Rukeyser's program in the past five years. "This is a potential positive to have another resource on television."

Nadler, who in an interview last year called Rukeyser's show "the Holy Grail" for executives, said she wouldn't be surprised if the fund industry rallied en masse around a new Rukeyser program. But she continued, "That isn't to say they may not also rally around the new Wall Street Week' that includes Fortune. I don't think you have to choose sides here."

Should Rukeyser take his show to CNBC, he will be continuing a relationship with the cable network that he forged in 2000. On the night of what would become a hotly contested presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, he guest-hosted a live CNBC special called "Your Money, Your Vote With Louis Rukeyser" which examined the election's impact on the economy. He has also appeared as a guest on several CNBC news reports, Zelvin said.

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