Mindful there’s not much incentive to watch the stock ticker during what the financial community likes to call “after-hours trading” (a.k.a. primetime), CNBC is seeking to keep the lights on by emulating sister net MSNBC with a dose of prepackaged true crime — and here’s the savvy branding part — of the monetary variety. Enter “American Greed,” a six-part series featuring art theft and a con artist in its premiere. It’s the kind of nondescript stuff A&E once aired before the channel demonstrated just how un-hip a cable network can look by trying too hard to be cool.
Then again, the A&E resemblance shouldn’t be a surprise, since “Greed” comes from Kurtis Prods., which produced lots of material for A&E in the pre-“Dog the Bounty Hunter” days. Solemnly narrated by Stacy Keach, the opener focuses on Barry Hunt, a Ponzi scam artist who bilked investors first in New Hampshire and then Nevada, leaving a trail of ticked-off folks in his wake.
For the most part, it’s a pretty conventional recap of those events, though the writing frequently veers toward the melodramatic and stupid, with groan-inducing lines like, “The con man’s girlfriend invested $15,000 … and her heart.”
The complementary segment, somewhat awkwardly tacked on, involves a multimillion-dollar art heist, if nothing else underscoring the latitude that the catch-all “Scams, Scoundrels and Scandals” subtitle provides.
Introducing such fare on a business-news channel, meanwhile, appears to be a tentative first step toward the sort of primetime makeover Court TV undertook, realizing the limits of its daytime lineup of trials — or, in CNBC’s case, hyperventilating analysts. It also dovetails with the evolution (or really, devolution) of MSNBC into “To Catch a Predator”-ville, using sensationally themed taped fare to inexpensively fill out its talking-head roster.
Given the inherent ratings challenge a niche like CNBC faces, playing with alternative fare makes a degree of sense so long as it meshes with the network’s general profile. The only drawback is that in this case, Gordon Gekko got it wrong, because while “Greed” is slick and polished, it just isn’t all that good.