By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Neil Cavuto has come a long way since high school, where he and his pals swapped stories about the latest jokes and rants they heard from radio shock jock Don Imus. "I can remember as a kid in high school saying to friends, 'Did you hear what he said?'" says Cavuto, senior vice president of Fox Business Network. "I go a long way back as a kid listening to him on the air." As of today, he is Imus's boss, something he's excited and, well, scared about, as FBN turns over the 6-to-9 a.m. slot to the simulcast of radio's Imus in the Morning Show. "I am no more in control of Don Imus than a lab professor is with a broken vial of a deadly mutating virus," Cavuto tells Whispers. "I think that analogy isn't too far off."
A strange cable TV marriage, the arrangement has something for both sides. For Imus, it returns his show to big cable after being dropped by MSNBC in 2007 because of his nasty comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. For Fox, it brings renewed attention and hype. For Imus and Cavuto, it cements a friendship formed over years of on-air interviews.
But how does Imus fit into a business broadcast? Think broadly, says Cavuto. "He really does conduct some remarkable interviews, and he gets a lot out of people in an off-guard moment," says Cavuto. "He is unconventional. But to the folks who say, 'What does he bring to business?' I say he's pretty savvy on the business stuff and he talks to a lot of people on this stuff and he cuts to the chase, which is what our Fox mantra is all about."
To grab new viewers, Fox is adding an on-air news update team and fixing up a fancy TV set for Imus, who's lined up former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Dick Grasso and TV's dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, for first-week chats. That's good enough for Cavuto. "He will remind you," says Cavuto, "that every interview he does is a big deal."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR
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