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Liz Claman tries to raise Fox Business Network's profile -- and her own

The news anchor took a risk moving from CNBC to a new network, but she's confident it will become a force.

April 06, 2010|By Meg James >>>

Liz Claman recently popped up on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" in a spoof about the buzzed-about website Chatroulette, which connects random strangers -- often doing strange things -- via webcam. In the skit, Stewart encounters a parade of top TV journalists trolling the site: household names like Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Keith Olbermann . . . and yes, Claman, a news anchor at Fox Business Network.

The driven television journalist has taken to Twitter and "The Daily Show" to raise her profile and whip up excitement -- and viewers -- for the 2 1/2 -year-old Fox Business Network. Last week, she went on Stewart's show and compared Wall Street banks to greedy casino high rollers.

Ditching a prominent position at an established cable channel to take a flier on an upstart -- even one that is a pet project of media mogul Rupert Murdoch -- might not seem like a smart business move. But nearly three years ago, Claman left CNBC, her home of nine years, and bet her career on Fox Business.

"I am what some might think would be the least likely person to be at Fox -- a Berkeley graduate, tree-hugging, West Coast, free-market, liberal Jew from L.A. who puts bricks in the toilet to save water," said the Beverly Hills native with a husky laugh that would make Mae West proud. "But I like the attitude and personality of this place."

Fox Business is available to about half of all pay TV subscribers in the country, or about 50 million homes. Murdoch's initial strategy for the channel -- hiring respected news anchors, including Claman, and making business news more accessible to average Joes -- has not paid dividends. Industry observers haven't figured out why. Is it because financial news is too narrow a niche to support CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV? Or is the network simply lost in such remote outposts as Channel 466?

"It's a tough slog," said Kevin Magee, executive vice president of Fox Business Network. "We have to find a way for people to seek us out."

During the last seven months, Fox Business has added big personalities to amp up the volume: radio talk show host Don Imus, former ABC News contrarian John Stossel and former CNBC star Charlie Gasparino. The moves, Fox executives say, are helping to increase the audience.

"Inertia is always a huge factor in cable television. CNBC is a powerful brand; if you have been using Crest toothpaste for 25 years you are not going to switch to Colgate," said Derek Baine, an analyst with the consulting firm SNL Kagan. Fox executives, he said, "in the beginning were talking big that they were going to knock CNBC out of the box. Now they are emphasizing growing more slowly."

Slow doesn't appeal to Claman.

An avid skier and runner, she is the fourth of five children of an actress and a prominent Beverly Hills urologist, and a mother of two. Claman has long relished action -- and the spotlight.

"She was always just a natural personality, effervescent and enthusiastic. She loved to pull focus her way," said Claman's older sister, Danielle Gelber, a top programming executive at premium channel Showtime.

In the late 1970s, adolescent Liz would pretend to be Barbara Walters, interviewing family and friends. Not long after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1986, she got an internship at KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles and worked as a production assistant, delivering scripts and being a gofer for Paula Zahn, who was then a local anchor.

Claman sent VHS audition tapes around the country and even flew to Columbus, Ohio, to pitch herself as a reporter. The station manager there gave her a job.

"I remember being in Columbus, and after covering some lightning strike at the Ohio State Fair, looking in the mirror and crying, and saying to myself, when am I going to get to the network?" Claman said. It would take a decade.

CNBC days

In 1998, after stints in Cleveland and Boston, she moved to the New York area, following her boyfriend (now her husband and a CNN senior producer). She joined CNBC, where she would go on to co-host popular shows such as "Morning Call."

She won legions of fans, some of whom seem smitten with Claman and her curves. She's been called the "Red Fox," and a video clip on YouTube teases: "Liz Claman: Leggy & Busty."

Still, she wants to be known as more than a red-headed news vixen.

In an industry of sound bites and often meaningless prattle, Claman's business knowledge and attention to detail stand out. Claman was tenacious in her pursuit of the investing world's biggest name -- Warren Buffett. One day in 2006, he returned her call from his office in Omaha.

"I said, 'C'mon, let me come to Omaha and see how you find true value in a business.' And he said, 'Well, tell me about yourself.' I said, 'I feel like I'm very down to earth.' And he said, "Really, where are you from?" . . . . And I had to say, "Beverly Hills . . . but with an explanation."

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