CNBC tries reality TV after business hours
NEW YORK (AP) — Buzz-worthy reality shows are often a ticket to riches for cable networks, even when the shows seem to have little to do with the network's reason for being. So why shouldn't CNBC get in on the action?
The business network will try starting on Tuesday, when CNBC premieres "Treasure Detectives" and "The Car Chasers" in prime time. Some 7 to 10 nonfiction series are being developed for the evening hours when the Wall Street ticker goes quiet.
"Treasure Detectives" features British art appraiser Curtis Dowling, who uses careful scientific methods to determine whether a piece of valuable art is real or forged. "The Car Chasers" follows a Texas company that buys cars with intriguing histories, fixes them up and makes money on resales.
The two series represent CNBC's latest attempt to attract an audience after the business day. CNBC looks upon Nickelodeon as a model for building a separate, nostalgia-oriented Nick at Nite lineup for when children to go bed. CNBC primarily seeks the business audience during the day, but its business programming ends at 8 p.m. ET.
The evening hours have often been a puzzle for CNBC executives, who notoriously saw a short-lived talk show hosted by John McEnroe in 2004 get a "0'' rating from the Nielsen company a handful of times, indicating there were fewer than 100,000 viewers.
CNBC hired Jim Ackerman, an executive behind "Love & Hip-Hop" on VH1, to build a stable of reality shows that CNBC will be able to own outright — offering the potential for a handsome profit if some break out and become hits.
And who, other than CNBC, can better understand profit?
Both new shows will have the whiff of familiarity. "Treasure Detectives" isn't far removed from shows like "American Pickers," Antiques Roadshow" or "History Detectives." ''The Car Chasers" introduces viewers to an unusual business with colorful employees, another reality show staple. Both Curtis Dowling, the overly self-assured Brit who digs into art world secrets, and Jeff Allen, the bald, goateed owner of the Flat 12 auto shop in Lubbock, Texas, have the look of ready-made reality stars.
While television is often built on copycats, Ackerman said that isn't the case here.
"What I think we're doing is we're exploring genres that people are familiar with and putting a unique CNBC spin on it," he said.
Each show has a business appeal, too. It may not be Wall Street, but the company that Allen and partner Perry Barndt, a former Hollywood stuntman, run is based on the time-honored principle of buying low and selling high. Through Barndt's connections, many of the vehicles they sell appeared on television series and in movies.
Dowling's London-based business traces the history of valuable art objects to find out if they really are what an owner claims they are. Roughly 40 percent of objects on the art market are fake, he said.
In the debut episode, he studies a painting claimed to be a Roy Lichtenstein original. The owner wants to give it to a plastic surgeon in return for a facelift. After an investigation that included a handwriting expert who examined the artist's signature, Dowling sat the two men down for a bit of reality show drama. The painting "is definitely (long pause for effect) the real thing," he told them.
Dowling wants people to know how widespread scam artists are in a business marked by genteel manners and moneyed buyers. His evaluations can make or break fortunes.
"It's a world full of pomposity and bull," he said. "All we're trying to do is fill the void. Look, it's not a mystical world. There's a process to follow."
Allen said he felt comfortable working with CNBC.
"I felt like I didn't have to be a character, that we could show up and be ourselves and not have to be phony," he said.
CNBC is sticking to Tuesday nights for its new shows for the foreseeable future, although there may be reruns on other nights. Depending on how things go over the next year or so, a second night of shows might be added, Ackerman said.
Besides business fans, CNBC is also interested in reaching viewers who don't usually watch the network. They'll like it even if some of the shows feel familiar, Ackerman said, comparing them to the familiar police procedural dramas.
"My sense is if it's a good story, you're still going to find an audience for it," he said.
EDITOR'S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org or on Twitter (at)dbauder.
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