Dirk Smillie, Special to The Christian Science Monitor — Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once termed "Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser" the only television business show "worth watching."
People magazine described its host, Mr. Rukeyser, as "the dismal science's only sex symbol."
These days, Rukeyser is facing a lot more competition for such accolades. Yet the weekly PBS series, now in its 28th consecutive season, continues as the longest-running financial show on television.
Produced by Maryland Public Television, "Wall $treet Week" is seen in 4.7 million households a week - more viewers than every other television business show combined.
With a perpetual smirk and bone-dry wit, Rukeyser seems at home on a set resembling a modest living room. He conducts his clubby, on-air conversations like an after-dinner chat, methodically picking his guests' brains on the latest Asian currency crisis or the future of technology stocks.
But make no mistake: "We're not a stock-market show," bristles Rukeyser, the former London bureau chief of ABC News. "We have millions of viewers who literally have never owned a share of stock," he says.
So why do people watch "Wall $treet Week"?
"One, to get a painless handle on the economy. Two, they think maybe someday they just might own stock. Three, they find it entertaining," says Rukeyser.
Michael Bloomberg, the former bond trader who now presides over his own fast-growing business-news empire, says, "A lot of what draws people to Rukeyser's program is Rukeyser. He's a star. He's a personality. People get entertained by 'Wall $treet Week'; they don't just go there for information."
Rukeyser, the father of three daughters, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., says he's discovered the secret for making the "dismal science" dynamic: vocabulary.
For example, "If you say the word 'economics' to the average person, their head will hit their chest and their eyelids will grow heavy," says Rukeyser. "If you say the word 'money,' the eyes pop open, the nostrils flare, and you have their full attention."