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The Five Spot: Jim Ackerman

With more than 30 years in the business, programming veteran Jim Ackerman made his mark with shows like Love & Hip Hop, Scream Queens and Tool Academy during his decade with VH1, and continued that track record after joining CNBC in 2012, developing such shows as The Profit, West Texas Investors Club, The Filthy Rich Guide and others. Earlier this month CNBC debuted its latest reality business offering, Staten Island Hustle, and might have another potential hit on its hands, drawing about 3.9 million viewers across platforms in its first week. Ackerman spoke with B&C senior content producer Mike Farrell about that show and CNBC’s approach to original programming. An edited transcript follows.

What are your goals for CNBC original programming? We’re still relative newcomers to the cable space, but we’ve got what I believe to be a really potent niche, which is small business. I think half of all Americans are somehow engaged in small business and maybe half that aren’t are engaged in side hustles. It’s a big common denominator, the desire to not only to make money, but to make your mark.

[Jamie Foxx, Billy Crystal, Trevor Noah to Visit 'Jay Leno's Garage' on CNBC]

Staten Island Hustle represents a part of the evolution. … We are shifting a little bit towards personality and entertainment. There’s still business at the very heart of it, but we don’t dive into the numbers, dive into the philosophy of the business quite as deeply, and the focus is more turned toward the interaction and the personalities of the characters.

What drew you to Staten Island Hustle? Was I looking to do a show about five guys from Staten Island? Absolutely not. But I saw a reel and I saw the guys and it felt like stuff that is probably happening all over the country, people that are friends who sit around and come up with ideas for businesses. The difference is these guys actually invest and do it. I thought it was an irresistible idea, with a great sense of camaraderie and family and fun.

[CNBC to Debut Primetime Series 'Staten Island Hustle' April 11]

How important is it to maintain the business angle in your programming? It’s everything. I think there are some people that say you just find shows and you hope they become hits, it doesn’t matter what they are. I think for us, we want to stay in our lane, we want to be true to our niche which is small business.

Most of your primetime shows are of the reality genre. Any chance you may delve into scripted fare in the future? No. Could the day come where we might purchase something or think about that? Possibly. But for now I think this is a really rich world that we’re in. It’s embracing what our niche is. I think we have a better chance of winning if we stay true to our mandate.

What is your biggest hurdle? Is it convincing audiences that you’re more than just the stock channel after dark? I would say anyone working in TV is facing hurdles right now. I think it’s about breaking barriers for people who have never tuned into CNBC at night, which is probably quite a few people. Trying to poke them and say, ‘We’re doing something interesting over here, you might like what you see.’

Bonus Five

What’s on your DVR?
Billions
, Homeland, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Atlanta, “and if I feel like having a good cry, I’ll watch This is Us.”
Favorite all-time TV show?
“I will probably have to go with Sopranos over Breaking Bad, but it is a very, very tough choice to make. “
Favorite apps?
Without Waze I would never arrive anywhere.’
Favorite podcast?
Mostly business podcasts, plus This American Life and My Dad Wrote a Porno
Books on your nightstand?
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson; Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell