Star Anchors Network Like Nobody's Business
Hard work, dogged persistence and a friendly persona have paid off for FBN's Liz Claman
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/19/2008 8:00:00 PM
Liz Claman is running on adrenaline—and Ensure.
The Fox Business Network anchor is spending a lot of time at the office these days. The nation's imperiled financial systems and the Treasury's controversial $750 billion rescue package have mainstreamed business news and upended the lives of the reporters who cover it. Claman drinks a protein-spiked beverage meant for osteoporosis-prone seniors because she doesn't have time to eat.
But if the days have become longer and leaner, Claman is in her element. She spent nine years at market leader CNBC before leaving for the start-up atmosphere of Fox Business, which last week marked one year—and counting—on the air.
On a recent afternoon at FBN's New York studios, news breaks that GE has arranged to sell $3 billion in preferred stock to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Tracey Byrnes, an FBN analyst, muses: “Someone should call [former GE CEO] Jack Welch.”
Claman picks up the phone next to the flat screen TV tuned to FBN's coverage of the chaos on the trading floor and GE's free-falling stock. In seconds, she has Welch's assistant. Claman's doggedness and enthusiasm combined with a market acumen honed over a decade on the business beat means CEOs take her calls.
“I don't have the M.B.A.,” she says, “yet CEOs still want to talk to me, it seems.” Claman probably talks to Buffett more than most business reporters. She had the first major interview with the then somewhat mercurial CEO in 2006 while at CNBC. When she jumped to FBN, Buffett offered to be her first interview on her first day on the air.
“She jumped in with both feet and brought an enormous Rolodex,” says Kevin Magee, executive VP of FBN. “I've got a picture in my office of her interviewing Warren Buffett and Bill Gates at the same time. That's $120 billion worth of people in those chairs. And I don't think we could have gotten them without her.”
Claman's television career began in the newsroom at KCBS Los Angeles, where she was an unpaid intern while in college (she majored in French at the University of California at Berkeley). With no job available for her there after graduation, she bided her time, answering phones at Samuel Goldwyn Productions—and regularly calling KCBS news director Jose Rios until Rios finally had a production assistant opening.
“Liz always had an incredible work ethic,” says Rios. “She always had her nose to the grindstone. You don't have to manage the process with her. You just give her the goal.” In 1987, Claman became the youngest person to win a spot news Emmy at the station when a report she did about a woman who encouraged her pit bull to attack her neighbors yielded dramatic footage of the pit bull going after both animal control personnel and Claman's crew.
After KCBS, Claman debuted as an on-air reporter and weekend anchor at WSYX Columbus, Ohio. In late 1991, she left for WEWS, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland, where she hosted a daily talk show. In 1994, she moved to Boston and WHDH, the NBC affiliate, where she met her husband, Jeff Kepnes, who is now a senior producer of special events at CNN.
Claman joined CNBC in 1998, trading a secure job in a top market for a 13-week freelance cable news gig. “One of my [WHDH] managing editors asked, why would you go to CNBC? And I said I want to stretch my mind. I wasn't changing course mid-stream; I was changing streams mid-course. It was an opportunity I didn't want to shy away from.”
Claman read voraciously, boning up on economics and the arcana of Wall Street. “I don't think I slept for the first seven weeks,” she says. It paid off: After 13 weeks, she was rewarded with a long-term contract. When she left CNBC nine years later for Fox, she was one of CNBC's most-watched personalities, anchoring Morning Call and the daytime program Cover to Cover.
But Claman had begun to feel complacent. And her unremittingly positive disposition made the sharp elbows of some of her colleagues hard to bear.
“I'll never forget overhearing [a fellow on-air reporter] saying, I've forgotten more about business news than Liz Claman will ever know. I [said to] him, you're right. But tell me why all these people call me and wanna come on my show.”
Claman grew up in Southern California, the fourth of five children of a urological surgeon and a theater actress, both from Jewish immigrant families of Eastern Europe. Claman's paternal grandfather was a farrier in the Russian army. Her heritage opened doors when she went to Russia for CNBC.
“They didn't want to let us shoot some old missile operations,” she recalls, “And I said my grandfather put horseshoes on the Russian army's horses, and they got all excited. They said, shoot whatever you want.”
Claman's grandmother embraced the American dream, indulging an obsession with the opulence of Hollywood and Beverly Hills by giving Claman's mother the middle name Beverly. Claman's mother eventually did move West, though she plied her craft in the more rarefied world of theater, studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
“So we all got yelled at in Shakespeare,” laughs Claman.
Claman's mother still offers unsolicited critiques. “I could be outside Osama Bin Laden's cave, ready to enter, and my mom would say 'stop talking with your hands.'”
But it was Claman's father who had the most profound effect on her. Morris Claman moved his family from chilly Vancouver to sunny Los Angeles. A liberal Democrat, he also occasionally found himself agreeing with Bill O'Reilly, Fox News' right-wing firebrand. He was also a humanitarian, leaving the house at 3 a.m. to travel to Inglewood to stitch up gunshot victims.
He did not live to see her leave CNBC for a fresh start at FBN, but, says Claman, tearing up, “he would have loved this. He would have said to do it.
“I'm my father's daughter. That immigrant spirit of 'Let's try it. Never done it, but let's try it.' Listen, 99% of the world wants that sure thing. I'm in the 1% that doesn't.”
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