Fox Business Network Overhauls Primetime Lineup, Dropping Opinion Shows for Reality and Docu-Series

Courtesy of Fox News Media

John Rich has written music with everyone from Gretchen Wilson to Jon Bon Jovi. For the show he’s about to launch on Fox Business Network, the musician says he’s cribbing notes from Barbara Walters.

Rich has been studying Walters’ interviews with luminaries like Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. “I paid attention to her intros and outros, her pacing,” for his show, “The Pursuit” which originated on thesubscription streaming platform Fox Nation and launches this week on the Fox Corp. cable outlet as part of a revamped primetime block.

“I’m not really focused on people’s success,” says Rich. “I’m focused on what makes the person able to succeed.”

A new spotlight on inspiration and innovation may surprise some viewers of Fox Business Network, which in recent years has been known for daytime business coverage that tried to tie Wall Street movements to Main Street issues and a pair of fiery evening opinion programs led by Lou Dobbs and Trish Regan that generated major controversy. Regan’s dismissal of the coronavirus pandemic in its early stages led to her parting ways with the network, and Dobbs’ pushback to the election of Joe Biden as president took place before the network canceled his show — Fox Business’ most-watched program — in February.

The network has long relied on documentary programs such as “Strange Inheritance,” which examines unusual bequests. Now, executives think Fox Business can bring more viewers to primetime with a similar effort that focuses on getting things done, says Lauren Petterson, who was named president of Fox Business Network in 2019 after more than a decade of supervising the “Fox & Friends” morning show. “Fox News Channel is doing a great job of covering politics and news,” she says in an interview. “We want to complement that, but not try to compete with that.”

The network isn’t leaving opinion behind: Larry Kudlow’s late afternoon program, typically more focused on markets and headlines, remains on air, and the 7 p.m. hour will be anchored by the irreverent Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, who typically goes by her middle name for TV duties.

Fox Business is overhauling primetime in a tricky era for media companies. More one-time TV viewers are moving to streaming outlets for entertainment and information, and the business-news category isn’t immune from the trends. CNBC’s subscriber base is projected to fall 5.1% in 2021 to 76.6 million, according to Kagan, a research firm that is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, compared with 80.8 million last year. Fox Business’ subscribers are seen tumbling nearly 8.6% in 2021 to 70.5 million, compared with 77.1 million in the prior year.

Fox executives have studied where the business-news crowd goes after market hours, says Petterson. “They go to history shows, real estate shows,” she notes. The company has in recent months added similar topics to its streaming Fox Nation outlet, seeking to build a wider array of programs that appeal to what executives believe are lifestyle choices of Fox News viewers. Genres have also included true crime and Clint Eastwood movies. “We looked at the data, and it was steady and consistent,” says Petterson. Placing some series that originate on Fox Nation on Fox Business gives the company another way to amortize costs.

Fox Business’ main rival, CNBC, has found success with a primetime schedule that focuses on reality-style programming, such as “The Profit,” or repeats of “Shark Tank.” Petterson believes her network will speak to people who may not be as comfortable on the stock-market floor. “We are focused on regular people and their stories,” she says. “It’s going to feel very authentic and attainable.”

From Monday to Thursday, Fox Business’ primetime hours will be stocked with programs about house hunting and hard work. Mike Rowe, a longtime TV host who has worked for Discovery, National Geographic, and CNN, brings “How America Works,” a new original series, to the outlet on Mondays, followed by “American Built,” a show led by Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney that examines engineering marvels and originated on Fox Nation. “It’s not a history show,” says Varney. “It’s an engineering show. It’s a problem-solving show.”

Tuesdays are devoted to real estate. “American Dream Home,” at 8 p.m.  follows families as they hunt for a perfect house and is led by Fox Business anchor Cheryl Casone. At 9 p.m. Kacie McDonnell, a Fox Nation host, will lead “Mansion Global,” a half hour show that explores lavish properties across the U.S. and is based on a regular Wall Street Journal feature. In addition to Rich’s 9 p.m. program, Wednesdays include the original series “American Gold: The Legend of Bear Gulch.” The hour-long series follows the Dale brothers, a family that mines 800 acres in Montana where they hope gold remains to be found. The network will on Thursdays curate episodes from the aforementioned programs and keep the Friday-night schedule, led by programs from Maria Bartiromo, Gerard Baker and Barron’s, intact.

Varney hosts a three-hour show each weekday morning on Fox Business, and believes the people who watch him follow the ups and downs of the Dow will find something they like in tales of the construction of the Hoover Dam or Crystal Cathedral. “It’s a story about people taking risks, not knowing if it’s actually going to work,” he says.

As for Rich, the musician, he thinks his show offers a tune more people will want to hear. “Pursuit” will feature interviews with everyone from Richard Petty to Gavin DeGraw to Robert Sherrill, a former drug dealer who has built a new business and has worked to educating inmates about financial matters. Rich says he is committed to having people on the program who may not necessarily hold his political views or opinions.

“It is not limited to who you are or where you are from or what you have done, as long as you are willing to work hard, he says. “That’s an import message to remind people about.”

(Pictured: John Rich, right, interviews Gavin DeGraw for “Pursuit!”)