CNBC Hopes Business-News Faithful Stick Around for ‘Last Call’
Max Meyers has at least one firm rule about his new CNBC program, and it might surprise some of the business-news outlet’s die-hards. “I told everyone, ‘No earnings,’” says Meyers, a veteran producer at the NBCUniversal-backed cable network. “I don’t want to hear that.”
No net income on CNBC? Such a dictate would be anathema on “Squawk Box,” the morning-news program that Meyers previously ran, but it might just stick on “Last Call,” a new 7 p.m. effort from CNBC executives that aims to keep business-news aficionados hanging out with the network until later in the evening. Over the past week, anchor Brian Sullivan, who is moving from a 5 a.m. roost on “Worldwide Exchange” to anchor the new evening show, has held forth on everything from Tesla to Salesforce during rehearsals, ready to give late-breaking news to CNBC’s market faithful.
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If Costco earnings were to come out late in the day, says Sullivan, “we will hit the Costco numbers, but only as a macro thing: What is Costco telling us about the state of American business and the consumer?”
At 7 p.m., Sullivan and his team may get a break from the barrage of ticker headlines and Business Wire releases that drive so much of stock-market coverage. And they hope to use the space for more thoughtful looks at what’s driving business — though they won’t shy away from a late-day Twitter revelation from Elon Musk or an after-market surprise if it turns up. “We are able to extend our footprint as a news organization and maybe find some audience along the way,” says Meyers. “It’s a unique challenge.”
Indeed, it’s one the network has faced for some time. CNBC spent two years airing a general-interest news program at 7 led by former Fox News anchor Shep Smith, only to axe the show in November. If the ratings or the anchor’s salary were factors, executives haven’t said. The show, called “The News,” “was a a good experiment,” says Dan Colarusso, senior vice president of CNBC Business News, but one that had CNBC “going into places that we were not we not familiar with or where we didn’t have great expertise, whether it be geopolitics or extreme weather or other issues, or even domestic politics. Those don’t come back to investors. It’s tough for us. That’s not a blank ground. There are people who are very good at it. We are very good at finance. That’s what the audience expects, that’s the implicit bargain when they turn on CNBC. Anything that’s not that is a little bit jarring and a little bit off-kilter.”
The evening program marks CNBC’s latest foray into trying to get stock-market aficionados to tune in when there’s less to say about the DJIA. The network is best known for its hours of financial coverage, and on-air personnel ranging from Carl Quintanilla to Kelly Evans are, for investors and traders, sort of like “SportsCenter” anchors on ESPN. But executives have long puzzled over how to carry that interest over to evening hours. CNBC has, for the past several years, relied on unscripted competition programs such as “Shark Tank” or “The Profit” or “Jay Leno’s Garage.” In a different era, the network tried talk shows hosted by John McEnroe, Donny Deutsch and Dennis Miller.
“I feel very committed” to 7 p.m., says Colarusso. “We want to be useful. We are valuable when we are useful If we can extend that usefulness to 7, that’s a big win for us.” Asked if he could envision CNBC’s news-side trying to program later hours, he replied, “I want to crack 7, and I think we are going to crack 7, and then we will see where we go from there.”
The decision to pivot to a 7 p.m. program more of a piece of a daily schedule of “Squawk Box,” “Power Lunch” and “Mad Money” came as one of the first at the business-news outlet under KC Sullivan, who took over as president in September of last year. At the time “The News” was cancelled, Sullivan said the network needed to “prioritize and focus on our core strengths of business news and personal finance.“
“Last Call” may be an outlier when compared to its early-evening competitors. Both Sullivans, the anchor and the executive (they are not related), will vie against the partisan leanings of Joy Reid on MSNBC and Jesse Watters on Fox News Channel and the global news focus of Erin Burnett at CNN. Fox Business Network recently found some traction at 6 p.m. with “Bottom Line,” a program that pairs business anchor Dagen McDowell with former Republican congressman Sean Duffy. The two often focus on government policies that can affect the pocketbook.
While rival shows may delve into polarizing topics or stances, CNBC thinks most people can get behind a program that looks at business. “I think that money is something that most of us have in common,” says Brian Sullivan. “We’d like to have more of it, and we’d like to keep what we’ve got.”
“Last Call” could certainly delve into hot-button stories like Disney’s struggle in Florida against Governor Ron DeSantis, or whether corporations ought to use environmental, social and governance investing factors to corporate governance, says Colarusso, but can do so without devolving into preaching or shouting. “We don’t mind trying to talk about political motivations,” he says. “But we don’t want to be a political channel. We don’t want to go into that debate.”
This isn’t Meyers’ first attempt to launch something new. He was the co-creator and founding producer of “Fast Money,” the late-afternoon CNBC program that offers viewers a rapid-fire session of investment strategies. He expects “Last Call” will have plenty to offer. “There are really no markets that are meaningfully open at that hour, except the futures market,” he says. “Just because the market is closed doesn’t mean the news stops.”
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