Watching CNBC – A Bollywood Rasik’s Perspective

Last week, as I watched CNBC during the day, I was struck by similarities between my reactions to watching Bollywood Films and my reactions to watching CNBC. This article was triggered by that realization.

Bollywood films seek to entertain their audience and to make people feel good at the end of the movie. CNBC behaves just like Bollywood. It has to cover fast moving markets and has to impart as much as information as it can to its viewers. But a major goal of CNBC is to entertain its audience as much as it can. It hires attractive and pleasant on-camera talent.  Sometimes, the CNBC cameras even roam over the contours of the bodies of some of its female anchors during their conversations with guests or co-anchors.

Like Bollywood, CNBC makes a visibly conscious effort to make its audience feel good. It actively seeks to portray images like glass half-full on days when the market is down and it cajoles its guests to present optimistic messages to the extent possible. Like Bollywood, CNBC tries to conduct its coverage in a positive, totally anti-cynical manner. For example, CNBC covers up days in the market, not in a Hollywood like cynical or an intellectual yeah-but way but like Bollywood, in a highly celebratory manner. The only difference is that CNBC does not play item songs or show its male-female anchors singing and dancing in the studio, although the on-air talent (!) on CNBC’s “Fast Money” show have burst in to song at times.

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote a story about Katrina Kaif and Mumtaz; two women who, in our opinion, made an art of supporting and “building up” their men in their films. CNBC’s two female stars, Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett, behave in a very similar way on-air. Erin and Maria tend to get the best and the most high-profile (& for the most part male), interviews for CNBC. They are pleasant and charming to their guests, they let their guests expound their views while they look upon sort of adoringly. Their style is to support and build up their male interview guests as much as possible.

However, both Bartiromo and Burnett have the skill and the ability to be mean and nasty when they so choose.  We have seen Maria carve up her money manager guests on air. An expert with the Italian Stiletto knife could not do a better job than Maria Bartiromo. Being nasty was a hallmark of Erin Burnett on her previous network. She was a reporter then and not an anchor. Unlike Maria, her style was more like using an Irish Mace to bludgeon her subjects.

But both Erin and Maria understand that they are better off letting their expert guests speak freely and at length. When guests are comfortable and feel good, they tend to speak more loosely and impart more information than they would otherwise. This is perhaps why they take so much effort to charm their guests. After all, when Erin interviews Bill Gross of Pimco or when Maria interviews Larry Fink of BlackRock, the audience is far more interested in listening to Mr. Gross and Mr. Fink than either of the CNBC anchors.

This is an art that new anchors like Melissa Francis and Trish Regan need to learn. The contrast between Erin Burnett and the Francis-Regan combo is often visible because the Francis-Regan show immediately follows Burnett’s morning show. Melissa was a great reporter for CNBC in the energy pits. She was so knowledgeable that her colleagues like Larry Kudlow gushed about her expertise on air calling her “Queen of Crude” and “Empress of Energy”. As an anchor, her expertise is becoming a liability than an asset. Often, she seems to compete with her expert guests for knowledge points, She needs to realize that her role as an anchor is to coax the most information out of her guests in as pleasant manner as possible.  Trish Regan came to CNBC from CBS News and it is evident that she does not understand investing or markets. So, perhaps in an attempt to exercise or demonstrate control, she often interrupts her guests and that when they are trying to make subtle, key points. This attitude has made their 11:00 am show, the least useful as well as the least entertaining show on CNBC.

Getting back to Bartiromo and Burnett, both of them play up to their male co-anchors as well. Maria has been a past master of this art. Erin does this beautifully with Jim Cramer and Mark Haines. Erin and Mark used to brings their faces close to each other in a crooning action until Dylan Ratigan and Guy Adami made fun of them by mimicking this crooning  on “Fast Money”. We enjoyed the mimicry aspect of it but watching Adami and Ratigan crooning on TV was a bit much to take. Speaking of Ratigan, he is the only CNBC male anchor who practices the art of charming his co-anchors. Perhaps, he is more in touch with his feminine side than other male anchors or, perhaps it is a sign of a towering ego that allows him to play humble.

Gossip columnists have talked up a rivalry between Ms. Burnett and Ms. Bartiromo. It got to a point that even the New York Times Business Section wrote about this rivalry. How like Bollywood. where rivalries between female stars are always the topic du jour, the latest being the feud between Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif. It does seem that Bollywood female stars are more honest about their feelings each other than CNBC female anchors.

Mike Tyson, the Heavyweight Ex-Champion Boxer, flew to Bollywood in 2007 to play a cameo role in a song in the movie Fool’n Final. He was impressed by the camaraderie on the Bollywood film sets and the level of energy. Others  visitors to Bollywood shoots have all remarked about the camaraderie, and the fun spirit they see.

Camaraderie and fun seem to be the hall mark of CNBC’s morning show “Squawk Box”. When a show runs between 6:00 am to 9:00 am, the anchors need to have fun and entertain, something which the show delivers. When the real estate billionaire Richard  LeFrak appeared on “Squawk Box”, he told Joe Kernan that he enjoys watching the show because of the camaraderie between the three anchors of the show, an echo of the sentiment expressed by Mike Tyson about Bollywood shoots.

We think that CNBC will be even better at what they do if they make it a practice to watch Bollywood movies. It might be like looking in a mirror for them.

Going back to our two lead female stars of CNBC, we did not mean to suggest that Erin and Maria are similar or alike. There are many differences between them. But, discussing them would be like getting between the Stiletto and the Mace. Not for us, Thank you!

NOTE: In these days of various types of correctness, we practice the discipline of alphabetical correctness on this blog. Readers will notice that when we used last names, we wrote Bartiromo and Burnett; when we used first names, we wrote Erin and Maria. We also tried hard to use the two constructs an equal number of times.

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