If I told you that the scripted parts of the show were the result of a day-long process of e-mailing back and forth with my 22-year-old nephew, who has yet to graduate from college (I am convinced he is still in school only to spite me) and may be crazier than I am (too soon to tell), would you credit that? It’s true, and it explains why the show is so quirky and unpredictable, not to mention schizophrenic, editorially unprofessional, and juvenile. I am convinced that some of the show’s best moments come out of the two of us competing to produce more and more surreal, ridiculous one-liners. If there’s one person who’s responsible for Mad Money’s success, or at least its resonance with young people, it’s my nephew, co-writer, and secret weapon, Cliff Mason. We’ve got a system worked out. I come up with the ideas and the serious content, then I write a preliminary story with as much smart and funny stuff as I have time and brains enough to dream up, and I e-mail it to Cliff. Then he e-mails me back with a revised story that ranges from having a handful of changes to being barely recognizable, then I make changes and tell Cliff to fix any problems or make clarifications, and we keep batting it back and forth like that until it’s done—usually four or five different cuts between 1:30 and 3:30 (the show starts taping at about 4:30 and airs at six), unless he has finals or a paper due. Our only crisis came when he overslept after three all-nighters and I had to do a subpar show devoid of King Henry IV, The Brothers Karamazov, or Fergie and Sir MixaLot references.
Even when I’m scripted, it’s totally unlike the polished, professional stuff you see everywhere else on TV, and that, along with the fact that I’m a proven moneymaker, if not one you can shake, is the appeal.
This style is also, I think, the main source of the hatred, disgust, scorn, and general antagonism that’s been heaped on me in the press since I started the show. It’s definitely the reason why so many people demanded I get the ax after a video I made back in December started getting a lot of play on YouTube in March. Live by the YouTube, die by the YouTube.
I was speaking on a Web-based episode of TheStreet.com’s Wall Street Confidential segment and trying to talk about a subtle, complex subject in a cartoonish and oversimplified way. Several months after I made the video, the big papers picked it up and claimed that popular but controversial TV talk-show host Jim Cramer had made remarks suggesting that he may have broken the law when he was a hedge-fund manager, and might be investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Naturally, I assumed that everyone in the media was out to get me, in true Richard Nixon style, even though that was obviously not the case. All kinds of people were demanding the head of Jim Cramer, but it was because I invited them to come after me.
Never mind that I was talking about other people on this video, not myself. Never mind that I would never even consider doing anything illegal or unethical because I’m basically an uptight goody two-shoes. Never mind that I’m a Harvard-trained lawyer with a Harvard-trained lawyer as counsel, and that I—we—know the rules perfectly well. If you simplify a complex issue, talking about it in black and white with a dose of sarcasm and misplaced humor thrown in, people aren’t going to understand and you’re going to get in trouble. Lesson learned, and I won’t be repeating that mistake here or anywhere else.
That said, I do rub a lot of people, myself included, the wrong way. I’m loud and obnoxious. I cough, I choke, I sneeze. I sweat like a pig on-air. (But if you prick me, do I not bleed?) This kind of thing does not go over well in some circles. For every person who’s watching the show to see if I’ll have a stroke, a heart attack, an aneurysm, or the much more common mental breakdown, there are a dozen people who tune out.
Even I have trouble watching Mad Money sometimes. It’s made for an audience that’s younger than yours truly. The lightning round, in which I respond to viewers’ questions about random stocks in rapid succession, can be particularly hard to watch. To be honest, it’s also the most lightweight part of the show. Because I buy into this new-media stuff and want to be interactive, my viewers get to pick the stocks, which means on any given night there might not be anything worth hearing about in the whole lightning round. And since I want to get to as many people as reasonably possible, my analysis obviously isn’t going to be as in-depth in 30 seconds as it is in a minutes-long segment focusing on a single stock. I know that when I take a long time to prepare a story about a stock, I give much better advice than when I take phone calls off-the-cuff. That’s why I gave up on the chair-throwing, the old introduction to the lightning round, in order to make time for more phone calls (and to stop straining my back).