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At FBN, Maria Bartiromo Looks Beyond ‘Toxic’ Nature Inside TV News

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Maria Bartiromo‘s got a new network, an earlier timeslot and greater perspective about the business of business news. As her 20 years at CNBC wound down, she was frustrated about the limited time given to guest segments. “I’d say, let’s give this person 30 mintues, let’s give this person 20 minutes.” “No” was the short answer. Shorter is better. “And I always had this pressure to have five people on at once,” she adds. This morning, the third edition of her new show, “Opening Bell” Bartiromo interviewed former AIG Chairman Hank Greenberg for most of the 10am hour.

After the show, TVNewser sat down with Bartiromo in her 17th floor office in the News Corp. building — just down the hall from Bill O’Reilly, Shepard Smith and other Fox News notables. We began by asking why now, after 20 years at CNBC, this time was the right time for a move across the street:

Maria Bartiromo: I had done four five-year deals at CNBC and every time I did a new deal I re-signed early. So I never spoke to anybody, even though people would speculate. As I was approaching 20 years, I said to myself ‘you know, this time I probably should just see’ … see if there’s an opportunity to do something where I can give more perspective and longer interviews. So I did. And my boss was great, [CNBC president] Mark [Hoffman] came to me in January of ’13 and my contract wasn’t up until November and they made me a great offer and were as elegant as could be. And I still, from my own heart, I had to say if I go another 5 years doing this, all these guests and so little time, what happens to my brand? I talk to CEOs all the time and they say, “Maria, that was ridiculous, I gave you my time and you gave me 5 minutes.” I wanted so much to say, “I know, you’re right” and I couldn’t do that because I’m not going to show the dirty laundry. And in that period [Fox News Chairman] Roger Ailes comes to me and gives me this fantastic offer, not only two hours daily, but a weekend program on the Fox News Channel.

TVNewser: And what are you going to be doing with the Sunday show [debuting late March at 10amET]?

Bartiromo: Here’s the vision: I feel like every Sunday you see all these politicos and they’re talking about all these issues of the day and it’s all talking points. And so you put on ‘Meet the Press’ you put on Bob Schieffer or whatever and it’s all the talking points. When it first became apparent that I could have a Sunday show on the Fox News Channel, I started looking at Sunday, and I realized all these politicos, no one’s ever connecting the dots, it’s about the economy, it’s about business, it’s about creating jobs, it’s about growth. I want to get business people as part of the conversation on a Sunday and I feel like it’s so genius. I really think this is a real void in the marketplace.

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TVNewser: And so you think there’s an audience craving that on a Sunday morning?

Bartiromo: I do because I think they want reality. I think they want the facts. I think that people are so tired of the back and forth. I think they’re tired of politics, and people see though it. You could say business has their own agenda too, yes. But businesses are going to be the ones that are creating jobs. I’ll have the politicos on as well, and they may very well do their talking points, but then after that, I’m going to get the business guy in. I think there’s this void on a Sunday morning. And so I’m thrilled to be able to fill it.

TVNewser: What’s been the biggest difference, culturally, since coming to Fox?

Bartiromo: I haven’t seen any cultural differences, because we’re doing business news, CNBC’s doing buisnss news, and so from that standpoint, I haven’t really seen any cultural differences. I started three weeks ago, and this is my third day on the air and I will say, I can’t believe how nice everybody is. I’m not saying that I didn’t think they were nice, but people have been going out of their way to welcome me. The industry is so toxic and it’s been refreshing.

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TVNewser: FBN still trails CNBC in the ratings most hours, what will be your measure of success?

Bartiromo: I feel like already I’ve had people on the show that have never been in the building. And so, one measure of success is ensuring that I have the leaders in business, informed individuals coming on the show and have an informed discussion. I’m not under any illusion that this is necessarily going to be easy to compete with a company that’s been in place — and that I helped to build — that’s doing great. CNBC does a great job. So I’m not going to focus on ratings right off the bat. I can’t. I think it would be silly for me to do that, because we’re building something. I feel like in Roger Ailes, I have a boss who wants me to win. I feel like he is recognizing these other things, he’s not necessarily just saying ‘well, you know, we have to have the ratings up,’ and so I think the ratings will follow at some point, but that’s not going to be my first measure of success.

TVNewser: Business TV ratings have taken a hit because of the way people get their business and financial news: through digital and social media. What will you do to make sure your show is appointment TV?

Bartiromo: You’re right. You can get this information and the numbers anywhere. I can get it on my iPhone right now… and I do. But you don’t watch the TV to get the numbers anymore. You go to a channel or a show, because you trust that person and you trust the information that you’re going to get. But this is something that has been a frustration of mine at CNBC. I would say to Mark all the time: I feel like we’re programming to an audience that’s left the party. All this yelling. Buy at $10 and sell at $10.05. All these quick shows and quick interviews. That’s for day traders and I don’t think day traders are watching the way they used to. I think people are going to watch because they want to feel they’ve gotten something that’s informative.

TVNewser: You have a deep Rolodex stretching from Wall Street to Washington, do you expect booking battles with your former network?

Bartiromo: Most people don’t realize this, I was competing with my company when I was at CNBC. I have worked really hard, over a 25-year career — first five years at CNN and then 20 years at CNBC — putting together this Rolodex and fostering relationships. I think when he (Mark Hoffman) got there, he had to get other people to work and he wanted to look like it was not just Maria but it was CNBC and unfortunately over that time-frame, it created a lot of jealousy and upset about me. And I’m sorry about that. I really am. But that’s what happened and it became toxic and life is too short. So yeah, of course I expect booking battles but I had worse booking battles there. I really do feel great about my time at CNBC and I wish them the best.

TVNewser: You’ve moved from the closing bell to the opening bell, how are you adjusting to the earlier hours?

Bartiromo: [Laughs] It’s been an adjustment. I used to get up early anyway, because I would wake up and do yoga and try to exercise first. But I try to switch it up now. I started my career in the mornings. I did the overnights three times at CNN Business News. I was in at 2am, I was in at Midnight and then I was in at 3am. And then we launched “Squawk Box” (at CNBC) and I covered the morning for 10 years. But for the last 10 years I’ve been in the afternoon. So it’s definitely an adjustment. I like getting up early. But then I have the rest of day to set up for the next day.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

(Photos: Chris Ariens)

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