If CNBC continues along this path, the cable network might dilute its business-news brand even before Fox News launches its much-anticipated competitor. Essentially bringing the old 1960s “College Bowl” concept back to primetime, this “Fast Money” quiz show pits teams of MBA students from major universities against each other in a tournament that will run through August. It’s yet another attempt from a channel reliant on the stock ticker to amend its profile and maximize profits, but from here it resembles a senior citizen tarting herself up by squeezing into hipster clothes.
“Fast Money” anchor Dylan Ratigan appears comfortable enough presiding over this fast-paced game, firing off questions about who owns Dairy Queen and where Wal-Mart is headquartered. Students from the business schools at Columbia, Dartmouth, MIT Sloan, NYU, UCLA, the University of Chicago, Texas and Yale will go toe to toe, vying for $200,000 to the winning quartet.
It’s a respectably staged revival of the college-quiz format, from the enthusiastic audience (who knew there were MBA groupies?) to the fresh-faced contestants, looking spiffy in their neatly pressed junior-trader suits.
The larger issue, however, involves NBC’s troublesome willingness to pursue the low, cheap and easy road with its cable-news operations, from MSNBC’s tabloid documentaries and repurposed installments of NBC News’ “To Catch a Predator” series to CNBC’s current niche-widening initiative, which already includes a series about scandals and corruption titled “Greed.” Seeking to broaden its base, the channel seems to be mirroring the gradual makeover Court TV underwent before bailing on its confining name altogether.
MSNBC and CNBC might improve their bottom lines with these endeavors, but such returns are hardly assured given the challenge of making financial news sexy. Whatever the result, though, in adopting their own version of get-rich-quick programming schemes, the NBC cable networks won’t be accused of overestimating the public’s intelligence and taste.