Friday, May 11, 2001

Rivals ready for Dobbs

By David Bauder
The Associated Press

        NEW YORK — The arrival of Lou Dobbs back on the set of CNN's Moneyline next Monday is being treated like the return of an emperor. But not everyone is so welcoming.

        CNBC is responding by expanding its rival Business Center to two hours, instituting format changes and scheduling an exclusive interview with one of the world's richest men on the same day Mr. Dobbs starts.

        The veteran anchor should take that as a compliment, and as evidence of the outsized importance given these two nightly business wrap-up programs by their cable networks, despite their relatively small audiences.

        Mr. Dobbs certainly isn't worrying about high expectations.

        “I suppose I've never been accused of a lack of confidence,” he said. “I've been brought back to do a job that I was very comfortable doing for 19 years. I'm very comfortable with my audience and very comfortable with the material.”

        Mr. Dobbs left the program he started nearly two years ago after feuding with since-departed management. His return was negotiated by a network anxious for some good news.

        Moneyline lost roughly 25 percent of its audience since Mr. Dobbs left and lost its ratings lead to Business Center, which averages 323,000 viewers a night to CNN's 258,000.

        PBS' commercial-free Nightly Business Report has a bigger audience than both cable networks combined. But advertisers are eager to reach the affluent audiences of the cable business shows. At the time Mr. Dobbs left, Moneyline was CNN's most profitable show.

        Starting Monday, Business Center will move its starting time up 30 minutes and air from 6 to 8 p.m. on weeknights. Moneyline is on from 6:30 m. to 7:30 p.m.

        Business Center also plans, at 7:30 p.m. nightly, to give a special “executive summary” of the day's top business stories.

        Also Monday, CNBC is touting an exclusive interview with Prince Al-Waleed of the Saudi royal family, one of the world's wealthiest men.

        CNN plans some high-profile guests of its own Monday, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

        It will also be the first day of work for Tim O'Brien, formerly of ABC News, who will be a Washington-based Moneyline correspondent. Mr. Dobbs is planning other production and personnel changes and a viewpoint that meshes politics and world events with the economy.

        He's not expecting to overtake CNBC immediately but predicts it will happen.

        “My guess is it will take somewhere in the neighborhood of a year to be competitive,” he said.


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