Can Former Adman Donny Deutsch Help CNBC Hold Off Fox?

The show’s catchphrases and themes—“Destination Millions,” “5 Years to Your First Million,” “The Millionaire’s Club”—reflect its particularly modern brand of aspirational zeal. To pump up the energy level, producers now tape some town-hall-style episodes in front of a live studio audience, whose members are asked to chant in unison, “Millions! Millions!”

Meanwhile, Mr. Deutsch takes pains to shoot down anything resembling a more cautious approach. On one recent episode, Jim Koch, the founder of the Samuel Adams beer company, told viewers that they should do something that makes them happy because “maybe you’ll make millions, but probably not, and …” Mr. Deutsch interrupted. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said, turning to the studio audience. “Are you going to let him get away with that? ‘Probably not’?!”

CNBC executives compare Mr. Deutsch’s role on The Big Idea to that of the equally boosterish Jim Cramer, host of one of CNBC’s most popular shows, Mad Money. Viewers tune in, they say, because Mr. Deutsch, like Mr. Cramer, has previously prospered in the field on which he now offers advice. For Mr. Cramer, that’s stocks. For Mr. Deutsch, it’s running a business. In 2000, he reportedly sold his advertising agency, Deutsch Inc., which he inherited from his father and grew into a Madison Avenue behemoth, for between $200 million and $250 million.

Mr. Deutsch’s approach seems to be working. Ratings remain modest, but they’re rising. According to numbers provided by CNBC, The Big Idea is up in total average viewers, from 138,000 in 2006 to 158,000 in 2007—a gain of 14 percent, with a similar increase in the crucial 25-to-54 demographic.

In the back seat of the Mercedes, Mr. Deutsch gestured at NYTV with his reading glasses and explained his belief in the value of applying business acumen to everyday life. “It’s why Mike Bloomberg is a great mayor,” he said. “Because he fucking solves problems.”

No matter how the market is doing, Mr. Deutsch seldom tires of giving advice. In 2005, he co-wrote a self-help book of sorts, called Often Wrong, Never in Doubt and published by HarperCollins, which included chapters titled, “Got Rich, Let’s Go for Famous,” and “Sometimes You Have to Be a Dickhead.” Recently, the twice-divorced Mr. Deutsch appeared on NBC’s The Today Show to teach three single women, as Ann Curry put it, “how to be the CEO’s of their dating lives.”

There’s even some evidence that Mr. Deutsch’s motivational style might be a harbinger of what’s to come for his network. “If you look at the new CNBC corporate campaign, it’s my show,” he said as we pulled into the CNBC lot. “It’s basically entrepreneurs talking about how they started their business, and it says, ‘CNBC: We Are American Business.’ It’s ironic that as CNBC brands themselves externally, my show is the closest articulation of that.”

As for the impending challenge from Fox, Mr. Deutsch appeared unruffled. “They’ll come after me, like they’ll come after everybody,” he said. “Competition is great.”

Can Former Adman Donny Deutsch Help CNBC Hold Off Fox?