On March 5, CNBC will flip the switch on its primetime rebrand with the premiere of its first two reality series, Treasure Detectives and The Car Chasers. Dubbed CNBC Prime, the programming is a departure for a network that is a staple on trading floors and in C-suites, and it’s designed to improve ratings and attract new advertising categories after market hours.
Leading the charge is former VH1 executive Jim Ackerman, who as senior VP for primetime alternative programming has applied CNBC’s daytime themes of power and money with Detectives, Chasers and upcoming series The Big Fix, about a business turnaround expert. Also coming is an untitled project akin to Shark Tank for small businesses.
Ackerman spoke with B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito about CNBC Prime’s expansion plans and how the network will balance its news and reality identities. An edited transcript follows.
When you first started soliciting reality shows for CNBC, what was the reaction in the production community?
If you’re offering shows to producers, they don’t really care where you’re producing them, to be honest. The fact is once you sort of tell them essentially what your mandate is, which is you want to do business-based, transactional- based television, it’s already an area a lot of people are working in so it just comes off as yet one more buyer. We’re trying to fine-tune it a bit to separate ourselves from the rest of the networks that are doing transactional TV. We’ve been welcomed with open arms, but that’s what happens when you’re waving cash at people.
When will the next two series premiere?
The idea is the week after [the first two series] run, you’ll see a lot of promos for the next series and so on. The hope is that slowly but surely we build some traction; people know that they can come to CNBC on Tuesday nights for new premieres, and take it from there. I think it’s April 30. We’ll have Treasure Detectives and Car Chasers, then this untitled small business show, then following that run we would go to The Big Fix and another series that’s a house-flipping show out of Vegas that is also untitled.
You’ve said you’re looking for a broader audience with prime than CNBC daytime. Is it a Cartoon Network/Adult Swim model?
Exactly. I think that’s a great model, as was Nick at Nite. Clearly we attract financial professionals, a lot of regular people who are interested in the markets, but it’s a very focused audience. We’re hoping at night that anyone interested in business, ambition and the drama of business and those ambitions will come to the channel. It’s a lot of the same sort of ideas and stories and drama that bring people to the table for shows on History and A&E and Discovery.
What happens if there’s breaking financial news or something like the State of the Union, which CNBC covered? Will the reality programming be pre-empted?
I would assume we’re in a slightly different set of circumstances than a CNN or an MSNBC. I can’t imagine there are going to be that many circumstances and events which impact us at night on a Tuesday. Certainly during election season if we know things are going to come up, we’ll sort of steer clear of that. But by and large, I think we’ll be somewhat protected space on Tuesday night. [A CNBC representative said: “We would pre-empt for appropriately big business-news stories.”]
You’ve said you hope to expand beyond Tuesdays at some point. How fast could you or should you expand to other nights?
We’re going into this with a great sense of optimism and a lot of confidence with what we’re putting on the air. But I think everyone also understands that building a network or a different kind of network takes a lot of time and effort. If our numbers are promising, if we show growth in that first year we’ll start talking about a second night and we’ll start building toward that. Sometimes you can’t jump-start things as quickly as you like because of the nature of production, and it takes a number of months to get something from an idea to a finished episode.
Your bio says your wife [Nina Rosenstein] is a development exec at HBO who constantly steals your ideas. What would you like to steal from HBO for CNBC?
Game of Thrones? [laughs] I guess I was being a bit glib there. I’d like to do a show with Chris Rock. She did a show with Chris Rock. I don’t know if he’s sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring from CNBC. If he is, I think we’d be willing partners.
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito
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