Tuned In

The Naked Business Channel

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While watching the first morning of Fox Business News today, I looked back at an essay I wrote a few years ago on Fox News, where I wrote that the channel’s success owed as much as anything to its attitude and its aesthetics. “Traditional, detached TV news tells you the news is interesting,” I wrote. “Fox News tells you the news rocks.” Then I noticed the sentence I wrote just before that: “Fox News has done with general news what CNBC did with business news–treated it as ESPN treats sports, with conflict, a little jocularity, NFL-style graphics and rooting interests.”

If the Fox News formula is going to work at FBN, in other words, then FBN will have to be even more like CNBC–more excited, effusive and rah-rah–than CNBC is. Is that possible? Judging at least by the first few hours, it’s going to try its damnedest.

The first morning of FBN had the feeling of a party way too early in the morning. There was boisterousness: the channel leaned on ESPN-style duos of guys barking at each other about the oil market and the Chinese toy scandals. There was a naked guy: after ringing the opening bell at the NASDAQ this morning, FBN’s Alexis Glick went to Times Square to interview The Naked Cowboy, who busks with his guitar wearing nothing but tighty-whiteys and a ten-gallon hat. And there was oversharing: anchor Peter Barnes’ voice cracked as Glick rang the NASDAQ bell: “I didn’t get choked up until just now,” he said. “It’s really real.” Dude–pull it together. (CNBC, of course, airs the likes of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money, but tends to wait until after business hours until it loosens its tie and pops a few blood vessels with Cramer.)

I should note that I’m not a business writer, and thus am not expertly qualified to judge the quality of FBN’s information. (For that, visit my bizmeister colleague Justin Fox.) But I’m also not sure that that’s the main point, either for TV business news in general, or FBN in particular. FBN has said it’s aiming for an audience that’s more mass than elite–small investors and the casual viewer. So there was a lot of talk about “the stocks that affect your life” and, regarding the oil market, “What does this mean for you at the pump and for the oil that comes into your house this winter.”

The major early difference between CNBC and FBN is tone: FBN has imported Fox’s News’ earnest stare and 10%-above-normal volume, all calculated to tell you that, slow news day or big news day, something really important is right around the corner. Fox sells excitement–it doesn’t really matter the kind–and that attitude carried right over to an interview with an official in the Chicago Mercantile pit, in which the reporter spent more time asking about the “excitement” of working at the market rather than, you know, the market itself.

That approach might work in the long run, and who knows?, it may even produce compelling business news. Glick’s interview with The Naked Cowboy (Robert Burck) was a stunt, but it was actually an interesting little piece on how Burck–inspired by the works of Tony Robbins–has parlayed a good bod, a decent voice and the willingness to use them into a thriving merchandising-and-endorsements business.

Glick’s optimistic moral for the home viewer: “What it tells you is that, no matter what you think at home, you can make a small business a reality.” And The Naked Cowboy played off the segment with a song–indirectly about the American virtues of being shameless and putting on a show–that could well be the Fox theme song:

I’m the Naked Cowboy
And I’m keeping it real for you
I’m the Naked Cowboy
You gotta do what you gotta do

Preach it, brother Burck.