- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

"This situation is fluid, it's liquid, it's happening," chimed Maria Bartiromo from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Never mind what stock she was referring to. When it comes to the big picture the TV picture the CNBC reporter had made the right call. Especially the happening part.

All over the schedule, it's a bull market for financial fare. Someone once said, "There's no business like show business." But these days, there's no show business like business show business.

From CNBC and Bloomberg Television to CNNfn and the Fox News Channel, business news fare abounds. On PBS, its "Nightly Business Report" and that silver-haired sage Louis Rukeyser convening "Wall $treet Week." CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield is host of monthly PBS specials called "CEO Exchange," which reflects the baron-as-rock-star phenomenon in conversations with corporate leaders.

Who needs Regis Philbin? Business television is a real-world game of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" in which the questions aren't multiple choice and the market picks the winners. And it's always on the air.

Watch the stock ticker glide across the bottom of the screen like a moving sidewalk to prosperity.

Meanwhile, keep your ears open. Someone's always got a tip: I just heard on "Squawk Box," CNBC's morning show, that the pickle business has gone a bit sour. Now I know not to buy into pickles4u.com.

"Squawk Box" is how the business day begins for Maria Bartiromo. But starting Friday, she will also anchor a new program called "Market Week With Maria Bartiromo." From the trading floor in after-hours repose, it will air each Friday from 7 to 7:30 p.m. EST.

The aim, Miss Bartiromo explains, is to get a jump on the week ahead.

"We felt there was a need to help investors get better prepared," she said. "We want to lay out everything likely to come up, and talk to major players who can give us a sense of what we can expect."

The assumption, as with all business television: Information assists action, while action generates demand for information. Indeed, Miss Bartiromo attributes the business television boom to growing numbers of people who handle their own financial affairs, "and feel better equipped than ever before to do it."

Sure, but this exploding market and the dot-com mania fueling it is also a spectacle just to sit back, watch and savor. It's awe-inspiring and sometimes downright absurd. It's Siegfried and Roy with bulls instead of tigers.

"There's a lot of curiosity," Mr. Greenfield said. "We understand that the whole world is changing under our feet. What's going on?"

Part of the answer lies in business personalities.

"Americans have always had a great fascination with people who accumulate great private wealth," he said. "What's different today is, we live in a much more public society. A CEO is a much more public figure than before."

Moreover, as the robust economy attracts new investors, "tens of millions of Americans are now bound up with business leaders in a way that they might not be otherwise."

On this "CEO Exchange," Mr. Greenfield interviews William Stavropoulos, chairman of Dow Chemical, and Chemdex co-founder David Perry.

"But we don't do 'Where are your quarterly profits headed?' " he said. "We ask, What sort of qualities does a CEO need in this new era? What sort of personal values do they try to balance with the profit motive? It's much broader stuff than we used to think of as business."

And business is where fantasies reside, as Americans envision themselves wealthy.

It makes sense, then, that business would be covered like sports. Check out the analysts' athletic oratory: "Coming back with a vengeance," "So dynamic, so rotational," plus all those scores and stats.

As a window on players, managers and championships, CNBC's "Market Center" seems scarcely different from ESPN's "SportsCenter." Business television gives us a wilder ride than Roller Derby, with more at stake than a Super Bowl. Viewers see the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and the occasional market correction.

Then, if armchair moguls care to lift a finger, it's a game they can play, too, right at home on line. Point and click. Go for the gold with a discount trade. Coach Bartiromo will be right by their side.

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