Will Orman's “Financial Soap Opera” Work?
The personal-finance expert readies a new syndicated talk show for fall
By Jim Finkle -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/16/2005 7:00:00 PM
Suze Orman is a one-woman industry. On CNBC, she doles out weekend advice about financial issues. On QVC, she peddles her self-help books and videos focused on money and relationships. As if that weren't enough, Orman has a radio show and authored four New York Times bestsellers. One of them, The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life, was turned into a PBS special that earned her an Emmy.
Known for her big smile and no-nonsense approach, Orman got a degree in social work but took a job as a waitress in 1973, figuring that was the best she could do. By 1980, she realized she would never get ahead by relying on other people to manage her money. Ever-enterprising, she landed a job as a broker with Merrill Lynch, studied to become a Certified Financial Planner, then began her ascent in the financial world, ending up as a vice president at Prudential Bache Securities. By the late 1980s, she had enough experience to start her own company: the Suze Orman Financial Group. At 54, she is one of the country's best-known personal-finance experts. Orman talked with B&C's Jim Finkle about the daily syndicated talk show she is preparing to launch in the fall for Fox's Twentieth Television.
Will your new show repeat what you do on CNBC?
If it did, I'd vomit. Everything has a time and a place. Saturday night is a great time to be intense, really smash it to viewers and let them know what they need to do with their money. But they don't want to hear about it Monday through Friday. That's when they have to work for their money. You will never hear me say, “Buy this stock. Sell that bond. Put 30% there.” If you want that kind of show, tune into CNBC.
What is the new show about?
Every person will be able to relate to this show because it's real. This is the first financial reality show. It's also a financial drama, a financial soap opera. It's kind of a show like Desperate Housewives, with all of their problems. Except this show is desperate people in all sorts of situations.
What kinds of problems?
It's like, “I'm only happy when I'm shopping. I'm hiding $90,000 in debt from my husband. Please help me, Suze.” That isn't a financial problem. It's a personal and emotional problem that results in a financial problem. Or I'll get: “My ex hasn't paid me child support in nine months. What should I do?” Well, the answer is, “Honey, I can tell you what you need to do to try to get that money. But we need to look at the reasons you allowed your ex to get nine months behind.”
You sound a little like Dr. Phil.
Fear, shame and anger are the three internal obstacles to wealth. Those emotions keep you from doing what you need to do with your money. Problems occur because you're afraid, you're ashamed, you have anger.
There are three other new one-hour daily shows, hosted by Tyra Banks, Robin Quivers and Martha Stewart, that are headed to the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) show Jan. 25 in Las Vegas. How will you compete?
I know very little about what they are going to do. I don't want to compete. I just want to win. But I do know this: How many more talk shows do we need of people interviewing celebrities? Those shows have a valid place. I'm not saying they don't. But we need a show that covers the area that I'm going to cover: finances. It affects everybody's life. And there is only one person who can do this show. That's me. I've never been somebody who really looks at what others are doing. I have never read another financial book by any other author. Never. All that really matters is what I do and how I do it. In my opinion, in my own strange way, I don't think anybody compares to me. I think there is just one Suze. Just like there's only one Oprah and only one Dr. Phil.
You make a great saleswoman.
I believe what I'm saying. I look into the camera as if I am looking directly into your soul. That is not easy to do. It's not something that somebody can teach you. Either you have it, or you don't. I am lucky enough to have it. I am not doing this for the money; I have more than enough money. I am doing this because there is such a need out there for this type of information. I cannot begin to tell you. With all the years I have put in, it seems to me that the ultimate culmination is developing a show that people need to watch.
How did you learn so much about money without any formal training?
My education really started in 1973. I went to Berkeley, Calif., and ended up working as a waitress at the Buttercup Bakery. I made $400 a month—for seven years. I had a college education but didn't really know what I wanted to do. And I didn't think I was good enough to be anything but a waitress. You learn a lot by serving people food. I saw people spending money on food that they couldn't afford. That's when I started to really learn about people and their money, what drives them, what really makes them feel important.
You went from Buttercup Bakery to a job as a Merrill Lynch broker. How did you get it without any experience in finance?
Believe it or not, they hired me on the spot. In my opinion, they did it simply to fill their women's quota. There was affirmative action back then, too. At the time, I was told by the manager of the office that women belong barefoot and pregnant. He said I'd be out of there in six months.
He turned out to be wrong.
Every time a woman walked in the door, they sent that woman to me to deal with their money. That's when I started to learn that women also care about money. People think that's not the case, but they really do care.
What is your plan for NATPE?
I never plan to do anything except to show up—and give it everything I have. I'll go anywhere the Fox executives want me to go. I'll do anything they want me to do to show that this show has what it takes to fill a time slot everywhere in the United States. I'll do what's needed, at the moment it's needed.
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