CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Louis Rukeyser
Aired April 4, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, acclaimed PBS host Louis Rukeyser speaks out about being fired after 32 years on television and why he's so angry. And it's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Great to welcome Louis Rukeyser to our program. He has hosted PBS's "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser" for 32 years. He no longer is the host of that program. What was it like, Louis, for you to be fired? What was that feeling like?
LOUIS RUKEYSER: Well, you know, I wasn't really fired. That's part of the phony story that people have been putting out. There is a story that there was a contract dispute and that the negotiations broke down -- all that's fiction. I didn't know anything about this until two weeks ago yesterday, when we had a conference call scheduled. My lawyer and I both were under the impression that we were going to discuss with our partners at Maryland Public Television how the show should move forward and to exchange ideas about how to deal with a problem they thought they were having with the new management at PBS.
We never got to that. They dropped a bomb on me, ambushed me, said they'd already made a deal to change the name of the show from "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser" to "Wall Street Week With Fortune." I hadn't even heard the word "fortune" until that day -- that they'd already signed the contract and that I was out as host. And then for 24 hours they were putting this out all over the country. Somebody who has been in television for two generations said to me, "Lou, I've never seen anything like this." First, they negotiate with you with the tactics of the Japanese in December 1941, then they put out a press release that goes on for three pages and never mentions Louis Rukeyser.
KING: So -- but during that -- if not fired, during that conversation, you did learn that they had less interest in you than they had previously had?
RUKEYSER: Right, we had a contract through June 30. And I said that I would fill it out -- and, you know, Larry, if they'd come to me last year and said, Lou, we think it's time to wind this up after 32 years -- they're Johnny-come-latelies, I've been writing and presenting the show for 32 years -- I would have said sure. We would have had a graceful exit, we'd have said nice things about each other, we would have gone our separate ways. Instead they totally deceived me, deceived my viewers, and then they apparently were astonished that that Friday night that I did what I always did, and in my opening personal commentary -- and I control the content of the show contractually, plus I have the same First Amendment rights that you and everybody else do -- I told people what really had happened, leveled with the viewers, which I've always done for 32 years, part of the strength of the show, I think -- and the public reaction had been so huge. People were sending me e-mails. The media were calling. We were hearing from underwriters, and they all wanted to know what really went on. So I told them what really happened.
KING: We contacted PBS management, and so I'll give you their responses to certain of these things. They say that this didn't happen overnight, that they were in discussions for several years with you about the need to refresh and reinvigorate the program, which had not seen any significant change in three decades. They wanted and expected you to continue on the program, still expected you to continue in a significant and visible role. Why wasn't that satisfactory?
RUKEYSER: Well, that sounds like creative fiction after the fact when they were so surprised at the public reaction. In fact, we never got a single concrete suggestion from PBS or Maryland Public Television about any change in the show.
All they ever said to me was, the people at Maryland Public Television said PBS is talking about reinventing a lot of shows. So I said, well, reinventing is fine as long as you don't deinvent the format that's created the most popular financial television program in history. What are their ideas? And they said, we don't know. We're trying to find out. So I said, well, find out what they want to do and then let's talk about it. They never got back to me. I haven't yet got an idea as to what they wanted.
KING: Let's show a clip of Louis Rukeyser on that last night that he appeared on that program. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WALL STREET WEEK")
RUKEYSER: Good evening. I'm Louis Rukeyser. This is "Wall Street Week." Welcome back.
Well, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio this week. I got ambushed. By the time I completed the journey of hundreds of miles from my home that I've been making for 32 years to bring you this program, I half expected to find the door bolted, the furniture padlocked and my swiveling armchair up for auction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And they also say, Louis, that in your on the air announcement on March 22 that your were launching a rival show made it clear that it was not possible to go forward together, and they had to drop it. Do you understand their position there? RUKEYSER: Well, they had summarily ousted me two days before, told the nation a lot of nonsense about how the program's audience was dwindling and getting too old and so forth. And fortunately, in the intervening 48 hours, some enterprising reporter, not I, did a little research and they found out that the audience was holding like a rock despite all the new competition from other sources and despite the biggest bear market in most people's memory.
So they were inventing a lot of stuff and they were using it to trash me. And a lot of people got furious. And I heard in just those two days from an awful lot of people who wanted me to go on, television people who said we'd like to do your show even if these people don't want to, and we're going to go ahead. We're going to have a new show.
KING: Where and when?
RUKEYSER: Well, I can't give you the final thing on that, but it's not going to be a long delay. We're talking now to everybody you would think we were talking to, plus some people you might not guess. We're talking to a lot of people who want to develop and/or distribute this show with us. And I'm not talking about some vague future announcement. I'm saying we'll probably be ready next week to make the announcement.
KING: That there will be a new "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser" that will be on weekly on a major broadcast entity?
RUKEYSER: Right. It won't be called "Wall Street Week." It will be called something a little different. That's what lawyers are for. Maybe it will be called "Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street" or something like that. But it will be available to the nation, and it's going to be available every week on Friday nights.
KING: What's the -- you say it's a week away. Is it a salary question? I mean, a few people bidding? Where are we at this juncture?
RUKEYSER: We have a number of people bidding. We're trying to put together the best package. To repeat, despite the false spin that you said you were given on this thing, we didn't know a thing until two weeks ago. Until two weeks ago, I thought I was going ahead with Maryland Public Television and PBS. So we've had two weeks to put this all together, to sift through all the offers and to see what's the best way to get it to the most viewers, and we'll be ready to announce our package next week.
KING: Are you bitter?
RUKEYSER: No, I'm not bitter. Actually, I feel in a strange way, Larry, quite honestly, as I said on the last program, like the luckiest guy in the world. I feel like Ernest Hemingway who famously got to read his own obituaries. You'll remember this because you were born the same year I was, and neither of us were afraid we'd be put out to pasture yet. But Ernest Hemingway crashed in the jungle. People thought he was dead. All over the world there were obituaries praising Ernest Hemingway. Then the guy comes out of the jungle, unexpectedly, carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin and he said, "my luck, she is running good." So the incredible outpouring of public affection and support from the media and from viewers generally has been absolutely overwhelming to me.
KING: They say that 20 years ago when "Wall Street Week" was in its heyday in terms of ratings, the average was a 3.8, that's the rating average. Today, it is a 1.6, it's been a steady decline over the years, with a 60 percent drop, and for 2001 it's the lowest rated PBS prime-time series. That's what they tell us.
RUKEYSER: Their numbers are not the numbers that anyone ever showed to me. And Joe Flint of "The Wall Street Journal" did independent research with Nielsen instead of taking their spin. And he reported in "The Wall Street Journal" that last November, we had 2.7 million viewers, virtually unchanged from 2.8 million four years ago, and that this has been, despite all the new competition from cable shows and other shows -- and I might add despite the worst bear market in most people's memory.
So the audience has remained like a rock, which means we're bringing in a lot of new young people every year.
KING: Do you agree that it needed some reinvigorating, that there was a sameness about it and that things have to change?
RUKEYSER: I'm always open to suggestions. I kept begging them to tell me what they had in mind. And they kept saying, we don't know. They won't tell us what they want. I'd like to hear what the ideas were. I think that what we have is an unusual format. Thirty- two years ago, when we started, the conventional television minds didn't think it would work. A guy comes out and does a stand-up comedy routine at the start of the show about economics. They thought that was doomed to failure. Instead, it turned out to be the most popular feature on the show. If they had some ideas, graphics, jazzing up things a little bit, I would have listened to them, but I wasn't going to change the fundamental credibility of the program.
KING: We'll be right back with Louis Rukeyser. We'll be including your phone calls. Again, we've received some statements from Public Broadcasting management which we'll be offering in response to Mr. Rukeyser's statements. And again, he announces tonight that by next week he'll have an announcement as to where this program will turn up, without the same title, but in essence the same program, and on what network or broadcast facility.
We'll be right back with Louis Rukeyser after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WALL STREET WEEK")
RUKEYSER: I'm Louis Rukeyser, this is "Wall Street Week." Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome back. Well, one thing's for sure, this is not Owings Mills, Maryland. It is, in fact, the floor of the world's newest and most technologically advanced stock market.
Let's clear away the fog and take you behind the scenes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Louis Rukeyser. Public Broadcasting's management tells us their goal is to appeal to the widest audience possible. They made this change to appeal to a growing investor audience providing financial information and analysis in today's changing world. Investors look a lot different than they did 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. Investors have gotten younger.
We wanted a format change that appealed to them. The average investor age today is 48. And they want to show to be as relevant to today's investor community as it was when it started. And they say it has nothing to do with your age, Louis, rather the need for refreshing, reinvigoration of a program that has not seen significant change for 30 years. How do you respond?
RUKEYSER: I respond by cutting through the smokescreen and getting to the real facts, which they are hiding from you. There has never been a week from the time I went on the air in November 1970 until the last show I did last month when "Wall Street Week" with Louis Rukeyser was not the most popular financial program in the world.
Yes, everybody's ratings are down these days because there are more sources of programming. The sit-coms don't have the audiences they used to have. The drama shows don't have the audiences they used to have. But our audiences held up remarkably well. And as those 2.8, 2.7 million figures indicate, we're bringing in young people every year.
I've been hearing from all over the country from two groups of age people, young people saying, how dumb do these people think we are that we don't want the best show because we don't happen to be 55 years old? And then I hear from the older people who say, if PBS doesn't want us because we're over a certain age, we'll keep that in mind the next time they do fundraising. We appeal to people of all ages. We will continue to do so in our new show. It is a lively show. The critics have all said so. I don't know if you saw some of the outpouring of criticism of what PBS has done. I think my favorite line was Marvin Kitman (ph), the TV critic, who said this has to be the stupidest move in the history of stupid TV moves. So they're desperately trying to find an alibi for a very stupid move.
KING: PBS says their average audience's age is 56. So they start with a fairly senior audience. And they measure itself differently from networks. Their goal is to build the broadest audience possible. And they have nothing -- it seems that they're saying they have nothing personal against you and they wanted you to stay just in a different capacity. Now, by the way, this is Maryland Public Television, right?
KING: They produce your show under the auspices of PBS.
RUKEYSER: Let me reiterate what I said before, because I think it cuts through all this nonsense. I have yet to hear a single suggestion from Maryland Public Television or PBS management as to any change they wanted to make in the show. I kept asking and I kept being told, we're trying to find out. They won't tell us. And we were supposed to be talking about how to go forward together to meet these objections, to make such changes that seemed appropriate. And when we had that discussion, they dropped the bomb on me that they'd been negotiating behind my back with somebody else.
KING: So you're saying, Louis, that they're not telling the truth when they say they've been talking to you for a few years about this?
RUKEYSER: I have yet to hear the first concrete suggestion for any change in the program. They never were there. This new management has been there about five years. If I've seen them five times in that time, that's a lot. They never came to the studio. They had nothing to do with the program. I kept asking them what does PBS want. And they said, we're going to find out and get back to you and then we'll talk about it together.
KING: But it doesn't make sense, Louis. Why would they cancel something if it was doing well? I mean, that don't make any sense. You'd only cancel something if it were not doing well.
RUKEYSER: It bewilders me. It bewilders a lot of people including the underwriters who are dropping off. It bewilders the 22 regular panelists on the show, every one of whom was asked to continue with this new program, some of them as guest hosts. Every one of them, loyally snubbed their noses at Maryland Public Television and says, when Lou leaves, we leave.
The guests for last week canceled. The guest for this week have canceled. Nobody wants to go with them. It's a very shabby thing. And for them to hide and put out this nonsense is kind of ridiculous. We're going to go ahead. We're not interested in their flailing about. I would say that they were acting like a three-year-old in a temper tantrum. But I have a three-year-old grandson, Larry, and I don't want to insult him.
KING: You say your regular panel members are all going to be back with you?
RUKEYSER: They unanimously have refused to appear on this so- called program and they all have said they want to go with me. And I've heard from several...
KING: Now "Fortune" magazine is no pig in the poke. And if that's who they're aligned with, you would have to agree that that sounds, at least, fairly impressive. RUKEYSER: I don't know how impressive it sounds. Every financial publication in the country has tried to have a financial TV show in the last several years, and there hasn't been one of them that has pulled any audience. And one of those that has tried repeatedly is "Fortune".
I have nothing against their show. I wish them well. Let them try and compete. But the Louis Rukeyser show will be elsewhere. And that's where the audience is going to go. And I've heard from a number of top people in government, in finance, in business in the past two weeks who said, Lou, we're only going to appear where you go. We only went to Owings Mill, Maryland, because you were there. And you just tell us where you want us to go now.
KING: Can you tell us if this new format will be on a commercial station that sells commercials and takes in dollars?
RUKEYSER: I can't tell you yet because we are talking with both commercial and public television entities.
KING: Oh, then it could be a public television entity, not under the auspices of PBS?
RUKEYSER: That's one possibility.
KING: Explain that.
RUKEYSER: The great joy of public television, which people don't understand, 32 years people said, Lou, you're the big spokesman for free enterprise and independent free market commentator. What are you doing on public television? And what I would always explain and what was true until very recently is that public television operated the closest thing to a free market in American television, that anybody, any entity, any station could produce whatever it wanted to and it became a national program when and if the other stations bought it and used it.
Now, they're now trying to run this like a minor league network, I guess, and they're trying to get away from that. But there are many public television stations that want my program and we're going to try and find a way to get it to them, but I can't give you the final form yet because I think we're talking to both commercial and public television stations at this time.
KING: So there's a chance you could be distributed on public broadcasting stations. Is one of the commercial entities a cable network? Are you talking to cable as well as over-the-air networks?
RUKEYSER: Yes, we are.
KING: I'm trying to pin you down a little closer. The announcement is this close to next week, you must be pretty close.
RUKEYSER: Well, the answer may surprise you. It may be more than one of the above.
KING: Maybe what? I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.
RUKEYSER: Maybe more than one of the above entities, because there are an awful lot of people who want to have it. And it's going to be...
KING: You mean, you could do a cable show and a PBS show and a -- rather a public television show or you could do a network show and a public television show?
RUKEYSER: Let's find out. We'll let you know next week.
KING: Is it going to be one show or might you do two shows?
RUKEYSER: One show.
KING: Just one show.
RUKEYSER: I'm a busy guy, you know. With all this talk about how we're waning and so forth, I have two monthly newsletters, "Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street" is the most popular financial newsletter in the world. I have "Louis Rukeyser's Mutual Funds", which is the most popular mutual fund letter in the world. I have the rukeyser.com Web site, which talks about our financial conference, which is the biggest financial conference in the world each year, and my two annual financial cruises, which are the biggest financial cruises in the world.
So I got a lot going on. And I think one weekly television show a week would be enough, thank you.
KING: We'll be right back with Louis Rukeyser. We will be including your phone calls. He's our guest for the full hour. By the way, Monday night, Michael J. Fox will be our guest. Next Wednesday, Peter Jennings. Next Thursday, Conan O'Brien. We'll be right back.
KING: We're back with Louis Rukeyser. Louis, in your gut level, why do you think they made this decision? Why do you personally think so?
RUKEYSER: Larry, I'm bewildered. I've been a professional journalist since I was 16 years old. I've learned not to talk about things I don't know. Such as other people's motives, other people have speculated in print, some think it is financial, although how they think they're going to have a better financial return when they don't have the same revenues is another question. Some think it's jealousy, some think that it was ideological, that they were uncomfortable with independent, free market commentary. I don't know the answer to that and they've never told me. And for all this stuff they were putting out behind closed doors to you, the simple reality is they stabbed me in the back.
They didn't tell me they were talking to "Fortune" magazine. They never came up with a single suggestion for -- quote -- "improving" my show. They really behaved like a bunch of babies. KING: All we asked for was their side. And PBS said there was no significant outpouring of support for you, and Maryland Public Television said viewer reaction was mixed. PBS viewers were very vocal, Lou asked them -- they're usually vocal. Lou asked them to respond, and express negative feelings. There was not a huge reaction. Also the reaction was not entirely one-sided. There was some support for the decision to let you go.
RUKEYSER: That's absolute hooey, as has been widely reported in the media. Check "USA Today," I had nothing to do with their story. They said there was an unprecedented outpouring of viewer anger at public television stations all over the country. The first day I was there, the only day I have been there since this happened, I said, let's not kid ourselves. This not an ego trip. Let's make two piles and give me the negative stuff, as well as the positive stuff. And several hours later they said, Lou, the current count is 1 negative, 1,048 positive. And that was true, I think, all over the country. The media reaction, the viewer reaction, the underwriters pulling out.
This has been extraordinary. There has been nothing like it in the history of public television. They made a very dumb move. And I think now they'd like to get out of it, but by trashing me and my character is not the way to do it.
KING: You are saying if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn't?
RUKEYSER: I think they might have let me know in advance what they were planning instead of ambushing me, don't you?
KING: Did you -- give you have a little of the understanding of Ted Koppel's situation when ABC was obviously after the Letterman show, and he hadn't been informed?
RUKEYSER: Ted's an old friend of mine. I have a great deal of respect for him. I think it was nuts of ABC. But as one of the writers in the media said, I guess it was -- actually, it was Lou Dobbs of CNN who said this. He said, that Maryland Public Television and PBS' behavior made Disney and ABC look like the State Department.
KING: By the way, what do you think of Lou Dobbs and the current controversy over his giving opinions with regard to the indictments of Arthur Andersen?
RUKEYSER: I am not in on the ins and outs of it. I have a great deal of respect for Lou. He's a fine journalist. And I think the First Amendment applies to all of us, including Lou Dobbs and Lou Rukeyser.
KING: Is the new Louis Rukeyser show going to be very different?
RUKEYSER: Well, I don't think it will be as different as -- it is not going to be an MTV version. I'm open to cosmetic improvements. I'm open to any suggestions that would help us. But it's not going to be terribly different. I'm going to give my opening commentary. I'm going to have guests, I'm going to have panelists, we're going to do a show very similar to the one that was every single week, far and away by a margin of millions the most popular financial show in the history of television.
KING: All right. Let's say the announcement's made next week. When will we see the show?
RUKEYSER: Well, that's one of the other things that we're discussing. That's one reason why we haven't been ready to make the announcement. Some people want us to be on the air next Friday or the Friday after. I'd just as soon wait a little bit longer than that if we can. But we're working that out right now.
KING: But it's not months away?
RUKEYSER: No, no, it will be on the air this spring.
KING: This spring. And will it be Friday night?
RUKEYSER: Absolutely. Absolutely. 8:30 Friday night for those that will take it.
KING: So it will be 8:30 Friday night. That makes it sound like that leaves out an over the air network. It could be a cable network or it could be syndicated? Is that one of the possibilities? I'm just groping here, Lou.
RUKEYSER: I would guide you if I were allowed to. I've got representatives who are talking to a number of people. We've got, they say, unprecedented enthusiasm despite all this smokescreen stuff going out. We've got a lot of people that want to do this. A couple of things that I've insisted on, such as making it available on Friday night and making it available to the widest possible audience, we're going to have that announcement. We'll make it next week. I'm not hiding it from you. Its in the process of being finally negotiated as we speak.
KING: And it will be on Friday nights 8:30 Eastern?
RUCKEYSER: It will be available to many viewers at that time.
KING: And others can carry it at other times?
KING: But it will be available at that time.
KING: Louis Rukeyser is our guest. We're going to include your phone calls. He is our guest for the full hour on this edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Louis Rukeyser on LARRY KING LIVE. Louis, before we take some calls, here's the way PBS tells us the new program will look, and I want your comments. They say that "Wall Street Week With Fortune," they feel privileged to have "Fortune" as a partner. "Fortune's" involvement is as a co-production, they're not an underwriter or a sponsor. Their contributions will be journalistic, while MPT will continue to provide its production and editorial expertise. The partnership with "Fortune" magazine will enhance the breadth and depth of financial information, and they're confident the end product will be useful, entertaining and welcome to viewers.
RUKEYSER: Well, more power to them. I believe in an open, competitive system. Let's see what viewers think of that, and let's see what viewers think of my new offering.
KING: Do we know, by the way, who is going to host their new show?
RUKEYSER: I think they named one of the two co-hosts, but I don't know the fellow.
KING: You don't? OK. Covington, Kentucky for Louis Rukeyser. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. Mr. Rukeyser, will your departure from "Wall Street Week" hurt fund-raising at PBS?
RUKEYSER: Well, I don't know the answer to that. I do know that we're getting a tremendous outpouring of e-mails that they won't let me see the e-mails that came to Maryland. They confiscated my mail there. They have not forwarded it. But at my newsletters and elsewhere, we're getting a terrific outpouring of support from people who are saying that they won't.
I don't want this to be the end of public television. I think it might be the end of a couple of careers there at public television. That wouldn't be a bad thing. But it is hurting fund-raising. There was a story in one of the newspapers that said that there was some fund-raising going on that night, and when they heard what was going to happen to my show that the fund-raising dried up instantly. So I'm afraid it is going to hurt them, unless they start apologizing, retracting and telling the truth.
KING: Louis, on a personal level, this must be painful.
RUKEYSER: Thirty-two years, Larry.
KING: I mean, 32 years. Come on.
RUKEYSER: Thirty-two years, I wrote it, I hosted it, I was the commentator. I created a staple. I created the only number one show on public television. Let me explain that. It is the only show on public television that's number one in its category. There are news and public affairs shows that have higher ratings than anything on public television. There are drama shows that have higher ratings than anything on public television, but they've always had the number one ranked money show. Why they were not proud of that, I do not know.
I do know one thing. I had an inkling that some of this new crowd were not too keen on us. We had our big 30th anniversary show in Carnegie Hall in November 2000. Not only did none of them show up, but none sent me as much as a postcard of good wishes. So I don't know what their mad-on is, but for some reason they were uncomfortable with the success of this program.
KING: And you have no thoughts as to why?
RUKEYSER: I am bewildered. If they had come to me and said, Lou, here are six thoughts we have for improving the program, what do you think? Then I would have a sensible comment to you. As it was, I do not know. Somebody suggested to me that it was like a famous line in a book of dog psychology. And that line is: "Jealousy is one of the strongest canine emotions."
KING: What are your thoughts on 30 years ago and now on how much the media has changed?
RUKEYSER: Economics was the worst covered story in journalism then. It has improved very considerably since then. There's much more coverage now, there are many more financial programs, there are many more financial reporters.
When I came back from being a foreign correspondent in 1968, I became the economic commentator for ABC News. I was the first economic commentator on network television. It was while I was still working for ABC while I moonlighted and launched "Wall Street Week." The coverage is much better than it was. It's still not what it ought to be. There's still not enough coverage, in my judgment, of the interconnect between politics and economics, how government and business interact.
Let me just give you a fast example. Whenever there's a new president, people ask me to analyze his economic advisers. And that's a pretty easy task these days. Most of them have been on my show. I know most of them. But I decided it is almost an irrelevant exercise. The question is not who is giving the man his economic advice, it is who is he going to listen to for his economic advice, and that's usually his political advisers.
KING: So the game has changed?
RUKEYSER: The game has changed. People are much more knowledgeable. I mean, in 1965, 10 percent of American adults owned stocks. Now it's more than half. And decade by decade, it gets larger and larger. So people are more knowledgeable. They feel more connected to the system. They are -- they don't buy the soak the rich psychology so much. They know that in the immortal words of my youngest brother, the day he was deradicalized was when he realized that when people talked about soaking the rich, they meant him. That was because he had worked his way up to where he was making a decent salary.
KING: You do know, Lou, though, that nothing is forever. You don't own the camera, we don't own this, they own it.
RUKEYSER: You know it and I know it. As I said, if they'd only had the sense, the grace to come to me last year and say, Lou, we think it's the end of the run, we would have made -- done it gracefully. We would have gotten together, we would have said nice things about each other, we'd have gone our separate ways. I'm not ready to retire yet. As I said on the program, I'm not going to retire until I'm old enough to be an anchor on "60 Minutes."
KING: Los Angeles. Hello.
CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you. Mr. Rukeyser, I must say I'm just appalled at the very unceremonious ousting of -- I found it to be ironic that I was watching Mr. King's show tonight because I had missed your show the last two Fridays.
However, I turned on your program last Friday night, saw that it wasn't you hosting, saw a different panel of people, and I thought you were on vacation. So having only watched about four minutes of that show, I didn't stay long.
But my question is this, concerning your new home, wherever you land. I am a 40-something female. I have counted on you for valuable information. My investments are very key to me. And yet, I'm also a person who has embraced technology very enthusiastically. I wonder, is there an opportunity that your show will provide an Internet or robust viral adjunct to the show, so that if a viewer misses a program on a Friday night, they might turn to your Internet site on Monday for a critical recap of the information that was exchanged.
RUKEYSER: I think that is a very good suggestion, and I want to pass that on to the people who are doing the negotiating. I might add that Maryland Public Television, while it put up my commentary each week, except for last week when they banned it, would never put up the whole program because they were making money off transcripts. And that was additional money they were keeping, in addition to the seven- figure sums they were making off the show elsewhere. So they never would put it all up there.
But I think that's an excellent suggestion. I'm going to pass it on to our people, and let's see what we can do about that.
KING: Are you concerned about where the media's going, programs like "Survivor" and people flailing at each other, and the 500-channel universe?
RUKEYSER: Yeah, but neither of us is old enough really to be a fogy about this. You go back to the ancient Greeks, and they were always complaining that kids didn't obey their parents the way they used to, and so forth. The world changes. You and I know that.
But a lot of people of all ages don't want just an MTV approach to life. They want a little more thoughtful program. They want the kind of discussion program you do. They want a little commentary that makes sense and doesn't put them to sleep. So I think there's always going to be room for quality programming, and those who say everything's got to be faster, shorter, jazzier have been around forever, and they usually come and go pretty fast.
KING: Back with more of Louis Rukeyser and more phone calls on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. First these words.
KING: Welcome back to more of LARRY KING LIVE. We'll remind you that "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser" was produced by Maryland Public Television. That's one of the affiliate stations of PBS. And that also the new concept, which involves "Fortune" magazine, "Fortune" is under the umbrella of AOL Time Warner. One day, we may only have four corporations in America and everyone will be under somebody's umbrella.
Our guest is Louis Rukeyser. Ellijay, Georgia, hello.
CALLER: Mr. Rukeyser, I loved your program and I will look forward to seeing your new program. My question for you is, you're a great man. How would you like to be remembered?
RUKEYSER: Well, you're awful kind. I would like to be remembered -- first of all, thank you. I would like to be remembered as a guy who always leveled with his audience, who tried to represent the customer and nobody else, and who gave it to people straight, no matter who it offended.
KING: By the way, were you excused from service for jury duty in the Skakel (ph) murder case? What is the story there? I heard that somewhere.
RUKEYSER: I was. I was called up for jury duty this week, as if there weren't enough going on. And the judge asked if there were anything on my schedule that might prevent my being available nine to five Monday through Friday for the next five weeks to two months. And I did say that I had a couple of things going on in my life, and the judge laughed and said, you're excused.
KING: I know you've avoided this, but let's try to get back to it. There must be some pain. We know there was some anger. There has to be some pain. This is 32 years.
RUKEYSER: Of course, there's pain. It's right back to Shakespeare, "how sharper than a serpent's tooth to have an ungrateful child." In this case, an ungrateful producer, although these guys came in very late in the act. But one reason that I'm really not bitter, first of all, because I'm going to go on. And I'm going to be fine. They're not going to be fine, but I'm going to be fine.
But also, the outpouring of support primarily from people but from the media as well. I was just thinking from one end of the country to the other, right in their home town, the "Baltimore Sun" columnist Jay Hancock said that minus Rukeyser, it will be "Wall Street Weak." Don't cry too hard for Lou. And I agree with him.
And then way across the country, the "San Diego Union", the guy said this is the lifetime achievement award in fixing what ain't broke. So with all these other people saying nice things about me, I will modestly hold my tongue.
KING: And so there's no doubt that you refute their statement that these discussions were going on, and that you should have had some inkling that change was in order?
RUKEYSER: I never heard the name "Fortune" magazine until they'd already signed behind my back a contract to do this program. I never had a single concrete suggestion from them as to changes in the program. My lawyer and I both thought we were opening a negotiating discussion and a joint discussion as partners with what we could do to deal with some problems that they perceived at PBS. And then they dropped this ton of bricks on me.
KING: Now let me ask you an economic question before we get more phone calls. How is this recession, non-recession going? What do you see?
RUKEYSER: Well, I think we were coming out of it pretty well, but we're having some problems right now primarily because of the story you've been talking most about in recent nights, the Middle East. There is a great deal of fear that there may, first of all, be war and violence and all the disruption that causes. Second, that there may be a disruption of oil supplies, price of oil going up, scaring a lot of people.
Plus you have got the fact that the technology group, which was the leader of the last bull movement, has not really come back as strongly as many expected it to. I remain extremely optimistic for the long haul. As I've been telling people for 32 years, the stock market will fluctuate, sometimes very scarily. But over the long haul it will fluctuate upward. And if you believe in America, that's the way to bet.
KING: So you say thumbs up?
RUKEYSER: Thumbs up, but not necessarily next week and not that it will go straight up. It will never go straight up. And we've got some scary times right now. I do think we're coming out of recession. I don't think that the Federal Reserve is going to repeat the mistakes it made in 1999 and 2000 of excessive tightening to choke off a recovery. I don't think Alan Greenspan wants to leave office as the Fed chairman who didn't let us recover from a recession. So I don't think he's necessarily going to be as harmful as people believe.
And I think that the economy -- if we can just get the world situation under control, and that's a big if with this terrorism out there and all the rest that's going on in the Middle East, but if we can get the world situation under reasonable control, I think the economy will be not just stronger, but will be much stronger than the average person thinks later this year.
KING: Back to the program, Louis. The contract you had said that you had editorial control through June 30th. Why didn't you just play it through?
RUKEYSER: I was prepared to play it through. KING: Because you knew in making that statement that night they were going to -- I mean, if you say you're forming a new show, they're not going to keep you.
RUKEYSER: They announced that they were going to put on another show without me, without discussing it with me, which was in total violation of the contract. My contract required them to give me meaningful input into any decision about the program. So my lawyers are studying this. I'm not a lawyer and I don't want to pretend to be a lawyer.
KING: Are you saying there's a possibility of a lawsuit here?
RUKEYSER: There's definitely a possibility. They're studying all their options. They think that there was undeniably a breach of contract on the part of Maryland Public Television. They're studying whether and what appropriate legal action will be taken. And they also feel that there may have been a serious violation of my First Amendment rights.
KING: Of course though, if you do get a new program right away, it would be hard to show how this hurt you?
RUKEYSER: I'm not bleeding. I'm doing fine. I'm a grown man. The country is at least as outraged as I am. Those who behaved stupidly and deceptively and gracelessly, I think will be punished. And we're going to go forward. I'm less interested in legal remedies than I am in continuing to present a program to the American people.
KING: But that option is on the table?
RUKEYSER: It's definitely on the table. And they're studying all their options and considering what's the most effective way to proceed at this point.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Louis Rukeyser right after these words. Don't go away.
KING: We're back, and we go to St. Paul, Minnesota, for Louis Rukeyser. Hello.
CALLER: Well, Larry, I would like to compliment Mr. Rukeyser. I learned most of what I -- the success that I enjoyed in investing from watching his program over the years. I would ask the question, is he -- might he consider a more spontaneous format for the conversations between his guests and himself in the future program?
KING: Why, you think it wasn't spontaneous?
CALLER: Well, it seems as if many of the guests' commentaries were orchestrated and had been recited almost, at times. I would like to see real disagreement in the conversation between the guests and Mr. Rukeyser from time to time.
KING: OK. Louis?
RUKEYSER: We never rehearsed any of that. What people would sometimes say to me, oh, you made him say such and such so you could get that funny line in. None of that was true. That's the way these guys actually talk.
You know, Larry, you said that there is pressure now to jazz everything up and that people think that everything old has to go out the window. Fortunately, the reaction we're getting suggests that this isn't true, that viewers don't feel that way, that TV executives don't all feel that way. Sometimes everything old can be new again. And I think that there's room in this business for young fellows like Larry King and Lou Rukeyser to go on for a few more years.
KING: Did your show do better when the business climate was better?
RUKEYSER: No, that's very interesting. That's a very good question. You always ask good questions, why should I say that to you? But when the program first started, it immediately did better than people expected, and they said it's because the market's doing better. This was in 1970-'71. Then we went into the worst bear market since the great crash, and people said, oh, it's group therapy, Lou holds their hands and they have to go to see him each week.
Then we went through several years of a very boring market, not to put too fine a point on it, and the ratings kept climbing. Then we've had this huge bull movement, now we've had this bear market. That doesn't seem to affect people. They seem to want to keep up.
We've always had many viewers -- this will surprise a lot of people -- that's one of the reasons we have such a large audience -- we've had many viewers who didn't own a share of stock, who tuned in for other reasons -- to get a handle on the economy, to have an enjoyable half hour, for whatever their reasons may be, and partly because of the American dream, that they thought maybe some day.
KING: When you were, those nights when you were wrong, is it like the weather forecast? Can you explain the next day why you were wrong in this funny business of yours of guessing what the public's going to do tomorrow?
RUKEYSER: Well, I always avoided that game myself. The other participants on the show participate quite eagerly in it. I tell you a little secret about that, Larry, there are only two kinds of people on Wall Street: Those who have been ridiculously, embarrassingly wrong in their short-term predictions, and the liars.
KING: What do you make of all the business shows?
RUKEYSER: I am delighted to see all these new sources come on. None of them has had a mass audience to match ours. I don't know why. I leave that to the audience to decide. Some of them I like better than others. I like the ones that do a solid reporting job, that have good journalists on them. I think there are more and more of those shows these days than there used to be. I'm not too keen on those who put on the hype artists who tell you they've called the last 43 turns of every market in the world. You know you have got a showoff when you have that guy on.
But I think the coverage is better every year, and I admire many of the people who are doing it.
KING: If your new show has sponsors, any dangers here of some conflicts?
RUKEYSER: What kind of conflicts do you have in mind?
KING: Well, you're sponsored by the Doughboy Dough Company and you are not going to do a bad report on the Doughboy Dough Company because they're income providers for you.
RUKEYSER: Anybody who would even think that doesn't know Lou Rukeyser. If you don't have your credibility, you don't have anything. And I always liked the only aphorism that I know to have been ascribed to the late Sam Rayburn, you'll remember this, speaker of the House for so many years, and somebody asked him about some congressman, he said: "How honorable is Joe?" And Rayburn looked at the guy balefully and said, "there are no degrees of honorable."
KING: Did you come to television by accident? Were you always wanted to be a TV broadcaster?
RUKEYSER: No, I was a newspaperman in my youth, in my even younger youth than I'm in now. I worked for the "Baltimore Sun" papers for 11 years. I was a foreign correspondent for 10 years, first for "The Sun," then for ABC News in London and Paris.
And I -- a quick story on that. When I moved from chief agent correspondent of the "Baltimore Sun" to Paris correspondent with ABC, I was moving from the paper that then had the longest articles in the world -- 2,000 was a side bar -- to ABC, where a minute and a half on the air was a mini-documentary. But I hadn't been in Paris three weeks before people said to me, do you write your own stuff? And at the time I thought the question was so ludicrous then I would say, no, actually, I was chosen for my brain structure -- my bone structure, I'm sorry.
But I stopped doing it when word got back to me that lightness of touch was not the forte at ABC, and people were saying that Lou Rukeyser is a very nice guy, but he's extremely vain about his looks.
KING: All right, Louis, summing up, there's some announcement going to come next week. "Wall Street Week," not with that name, will return in some capacity with panels and Louis Rukeyser as host. You'll be able to see it at 8:30 on Friday nights. The news will be announced next week. The possibility of a lawsuit against PBS or against MPT still exists. Mr. Rukeyser will not go quietly into this good night.
Thank you, Louis.
RUKEYSER: Always a joy to be with you, Larry. KING: Louis Rukeyser, for 32 years the host of PBS' "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser," a new home coming and a new program coming for PBS.
And we'll come back and tell you about tomorrow night and this weekend and what's ahead right after these words.
KING: Tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE, a tribute to Lawrence Welk, you won't want to miss this. And on Saturday night, Dennis Quaid, the star of the terrific movie "The Rookie." An evening with Glen Campbell on "LARRY KING WEEKEND" on Sunday. Monday night, Michael J. Fox. And then in New York, next Wednesday, Peter Jennings joins us, and next Thursday, our man from late night, Mr. O'Brien will be aboard.
We thank you very much for joining us.
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