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On the Air

The latest news from the TV beat

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— Stock Character It’s been around since 1989 and reaches over 64 million households, but lately business-minded cable net CNBC has been suffering from a hostile takeover, publicity-wise, by its upstart sibling MSNBC, which successfully used overkill coverage of Princess Diana’s death, the Marv Albert trial, and other assorted scandals to up its profile.

But the balance of power shifted again during the week of Oct. 27, courtesy of both the stock market nosedive (and subsequent rebound) and the hype surrounding reporter Maria Bartiromo, who — after building a name and fan base for herself as a reporter on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange — got a chance to shine as coanchor of CNBC’s new show Business Center. Now the 30-year-old Brooklyn native’s face is popping up everywhere — including a recent appearance on CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman.

Dubbed the ”money honey” and the ”biz babe” by the press, Bartiromo has also made an impression on traders, who swear that the market goes up whenever she wears red. But Bartiromo could do without the nicknames and fashion tips. ”It’s a little disheartening, and it has overshadowed my work,” she says. ”It definitely ignores my achievements and ability to break news.”

She’s certainly not being ignored by network suits. The net is spending serious money promoting her and the show (also anchored by Tyler Mathisen) in an attempt to cut into CNN’s Moneyline With Lou Dobbs. Although Moneyline‘s ratings haven’t been affected yet (in fact, the week of the market plunge, the show’s ratings were more than double those of Business Center), CNN is preparing for battle.

Moneyline is trying to get a lot hipper,” acknowledges one CNN staffer of the show’s efforts to ward off its challenger. Even Bartiromo, who spent five years as a producer and editor at CNN before leaving for CNBC, has noticed some changes at her old place of work. ”During the first week of our launch, Dobbs took his show to the floor of the stock exchange — it was a little telling considering that’s where I report from every week,” she says. A CNN staffer counters that Dobbs was there because it was the 10th anniversary of the 1987 crash, not to try to upstage Bartiromo. Fair enough, but don’t let us catch him wearing red.

— And so on … Shannen Doherty‘s looking to make a return to prime time next fall in a role that some would say she’s born to play. The premise, sources say, has Doherty playing a TV star with a bad rep. Ruthanne Secunda, one of Doherty’s agents at United Talent, would confirm only that ”it’s a sitcom that will make use of Shannen’s experience in the entertainment world.”

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