I admit it. I used to watch Louis Rukeyser in "Wall Street Week" all the time when I was younger. When I started, I was far too young (11) to be watching Louis Rukeyser, or anything remotely related to Wall Street. My parents thought I was more than a little "off." I can't even vaguely remember how I got started watching it, but I do remember that the show immediately adjacent to it in the schedule, "Washington Week in Review" had an ubercool opening clip that involved a spinning graphical representation of the Capital Dome, but the content of that show was boring. Real boring. A portent of things to come. Today, about any news about Washington or politics bores me to tears. I can't get enough of the Journal.
I lost heart, a little, when the pinheads at Maryland Public Television decided to "modernize" Wall Street Week and add some "fresh blood." What they failed to understand was that the regular Friday appearance of the grandfatherly (I swear, he reminded me of my grandfather quite a lot) and calming figure of Rukeyser, complete with sophistication, poise, complete calm, wit and charm, was just what the country needed after a turbulent week. I always remember his view as a long one, emphasizing optimism, long-term returns in equities and reminding us to ignore short-term volatility.
Then there was the "Elves Index," I always used to think of the Gnomes of Zurich when I heard that.
Not surprisingly, even though offered a guest spot on the new show, Rukeyser was having none of it, and he wasn't quiet about it either. "Don't worry folks," he quipped, "I've always said that I wouldn't retire until I was old enough to be an anchor on 60 Minutes. And I've got a long way still to go!" He was summarily dismissed immediately after. Occidental Petroleum, long time sponsor, pulled their support of the show, which was pulling in over $6 million in advertising yearly on $2 million in production costs. They wore formal evening wear on his year-end program every year. Playboy named him "Best Dressed." Talk about a class act.
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth to have an ungrateful child- in this case an ungrateful producer," he told Larry King, in reference to Maryland Public Television after his sacking. But we shouldn't at all be surprised that he was the kind who could quote King Lear to Larry King at the drop of a hat, and throw in a double entendre to boot, I think. It is not hard to understand why he was mad, and not surprising the pinheads at MPT didn't expect what came next. As he told King:
We would have had a graceful exit, we'd have said nice things about each other, we would have gone our separate ways. Instead they totally deceived me, deceived my viewers, and then they apparently were astonished that Friday night that I did what I always did, and in my opening personal commentary- and I control the content of the show contractually, plus I have the same First Amendment rights that you and everybody else do- I told people what really had happened, leveled with the viewers, which I've always done for 32 years, part of the strength of the show, I think....
Was it over for him? Never.
...Ernest Hemingway crashed in the jungle. People thought he was dead. All over the world there were obituaries praising Ernest Hemingway. Then the guy comes out of the jungle, unexpectedly, carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin and he said, "my luck, she is running good."
He left and moved to CNBC and topped their ratings. I lost track of him there. I suppose it was hard to watch a serious financial program on the likes of CNBC.
I never got to go on one of his Investment Cruises, they sounded a little corny, but so did his puns sometimes. ("If all your money seems to be hair today and gone tomorrow, we'll try to make it grow by giving you the bald facts on how to get your investments toupee.") I bet the cruise would have been a blast. And I suspect I am not the only one to think so.
There was just something about him.
But a lot of people of all ages don't want just an MTV approach to life. They want a little more thoughtful program. They want the kind of discussion program you do. They want a little commentary that makes sense and doesn't put them to sleep. So I think there's always going to be room for quality programming, and those who say everything's got to be faster, shorter, jazzier have been around forever, and they usually come and go pretty fast.
We aren't going to find this again soon.
I would like to be remembered as a guy who always leveled with his audience, who tried to represent the customer and nobody else, and who gave it to people straight, no matter who it offended.
- Louis Rukeyser