Roger and Me: Some CNBC Staffers Are Pining for Ailes

Ted David has worked at CNBC since the business network launched in 1989. He likes his colleagues. Respects his bosses. Enjoys his current gig as a senior anchor of CNBC Business Radio. But when his contract with the network is up this spring, Mr. David will cast his eyes longingly in the direction of a fledging rival.

He would like someday soon to work at the Fox Business Network (FBN).

“I cannot imagine a more tempting possibility,” Mr. David told NYTV when reached by phone. A few days earlier, the industry-news blog TV Newser had reported rumors that Mr. David had been seen recently at the Fox News headquarters. Mr. David denied it, but was far from coy about his interest in FBN.

So why would a seasoned newsman, happy with his current job at the dominant national business network, contemplate jumping to an unproven rival? Mr. David spoke fondly of the long-ago days of CNBC’s infancy, and sounded eager to participate in another start-up. He added that he has “a lot of friends” at FBN, mentioning Alexis Glick, a former CNBC contributor who’s now FBN’s director of business news, and Kevin Magee, FBN’s executive vice president, with whom Mr. David used to work at ABC News. But mostly, Mr. David made clear, his interest in FBN, which is set to launch next month, comes down to one man:

Roger Ailes.

Mr. Ailes served as president of CNBC for several years in the mid-90’s. He is generally credited with pumping up ratings, making the network profitable and instituting a successful strategy of packing prime time with talk shows. In 1996, he left CNBC to help launch Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel. In the public imagination, Mr. Ailes’ success at Fox News has long since eclipsed his role in reviving CNBC. Not so among his former colleagues at CNBC.

“I watched him transform CNBC,” said Mr. David. “The guy is a genius. Before I leave this business I want to work for him again.”

To date, Fox execs have said little in public about their vision for the new network, nor about their strategy for taking on CNBC. Mr. David said he had heard of no specific plans for FBN. His attraction is based on faith. “Anybody who tries to second-guess Roger Ailes is nuts,” he said. “I’m sure whatever it is, it’s carefully thought out and he knows exactly what he’s doing. I know what kind of a great mind he has in terms of running television.”

In preparing for the challenge from FBN, CNBC has recently improved its on-air graphics, beefed up its online presence and cultivated a number of hit personality and talk shows—most notably, Mad Money With Jim Cramer.

Still, doubts persist about CNBC’s programming strategy. Not long ago, in an apparent attempt to break new ground, the network aired a game show of sorts: Fast Money MBA Challenge, in which teams of business-school students square off in Jeopardy-style competitions. But ratings were lackluster and did little to inspire much faith in the network brass’ ability to create hits.

“The general feeling is that Fox will crush CNBC,” one pessimistic CNBC staffer told NYTV. “Politics aside, Ailes is worshiped. The leadership here is in total denial.”

“That’s nonsense,” said a CNBC spokesperson. “Sounds like someone who hasn’t been in the newsroom.”

Roger and Me: Some CNBC Staffers Are Pining for Ailes