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Conversations for the next 20 years

Andrew Ross Sorkin, Becky Quick and Joe Kernen on the new set of Squawk Box in New York City.
Stefanie Smith | CNBC
Andrew Ross Sorkin, Becky Quick and Joe Kernen on the new set of Squawk Box in New York City.

This fall, CNBC's "Squawk Box" turns 20.

Twenty years of shows—the history, the hosts, the guest hosts, the guests, the mergers, the breaking news, the banter, the fun and the road trips.

Twenty years of my life. (Yes, co-host Joe Kernen and I have been working together on this show for two decades!)

Doing some quick math—at three hours every weekday (the show actually started as 90 minutes and grew over time, but if you add in specials, extended coverage and weekend programming it all probably averages out) 52 weeks a year for 20 years—the rough stats add up to more than 15,000 hours of live programming.

When first faced with the thought of what we should do for our 20 year anniversary, I honestly didn't know where to start. But luckily, before we could worry about how to celebrate, we had a more pressing issue in front of us we knew would dramatically improve the program. So we began our 20th year by moving, literally.

After 19-plus years in our New Jersey studios at CNBC World Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, (and before that Fort Lee, New Jersey), we took advantage of a great opportunity and made the next logical step in our never-ending evolution by moving across the river to the heart of Midtown Manhattan.

At the time, it felt like a leap of faith to leave a home we all knew so well. Now, nine months later, it looks like such a no-brainer that it made me wonder what the heck was I worried about and why did it take me so long to get on board? Our access to guests, the excitement and pulse of the Big Apple, and a new street-level live studio have raised our game.

This brings me back to our original mission: "Squawk Box" was the first real stock market "pregame" show. We designed the whole thing to "look forward" to the trading day ahead while also leveling the playing field by giving small investors real "access" to the experts, opinions and analyses that were once reserved for only the privileged few on Wall Street.

With that in mind, I go back to my original problem: What do we do for our 20-year celebration?

I started the process by saying let's resist the urge to spend most of our energy looking back. (Don't worry, we didn't totally resist. In the weeks and months ahead, we'll still show you Joe's hair style in 1995, all the classic bloopers and some of our finest moments.) Looking back is fun, and "Squawk Box" has had plenty of fun over the years. However, looking FORWARD has always been the real 20-year DNA of this program and the access to the best experts in their fields are literally the ingredients our anchors—Kernen, Becky Quick, and Andrew Ross Sorkin—use each morning to give investors an edge.

We decided to throw out the typical TV anniversary celebration playbook and forge our own path, in the true nature of "Squawk Box." Let's do what most "TV people" would instinctively say is exactly what you should NOT do. Everything in TV these days is about pacing (faster!) and attention span (shorter!) and volume (louder!).

With that in mind, for our anniversary we decided to do the opposite, and take it slower. We're not going to cram it all into one show or even one week packed with a live band, confetti and a huge cake. (OK, maybe one small cake). We thought maybe a window of over, say, two months sounded more comfortable than two days. And in a world of catchy 15 second soundbites, we decided one-hour panel discussions sounded more our speed.

Wow, pretty boring huh? Well, maybe. But what we wanted to do is raise the television bar, and when you see who we put together on these panels, we hope you agree that maybe we're just onto something special.

For instance, we're kicking off a series of topical roundtables "Conversations for the next 20 years" on Tuesday with two billionaires, hedge fund legend Leon Cooperman and buy-and-hold specialist Mario Gabelli.

Over a period of the next two months (or so), we've booked some of the smartest people in the world in their fields, with the goal of getting them to talk—and I mean really talk.

Here are some of the planned segments: Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, and David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Communications, on the future of media; former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on the current state of monetary policy; value stock investor Bill Miller on asset allocation; and management guru Jack Welch and Under Armour founder and chief Kevin Plank on corporate leadership 2.0.

We shot for the magical number of "20" of them for our 20 years (forgive me that TV convention), but ended up with many more. Guests started talking, and more and more wanted to get involved.

The goal is simple. Celebrate our anniversary by making original, smarter TV, and giving our viewers an exclusive look into the future, call it a pregame run of shows for the next 20 years. We hope it's a perspective you might not get otherwise, something you can't find anywhere else on television.

If we pull it off, I think we'll have honored what this show has always been about and hopefully will continue to be about when we do this again 20 years from now for our 40th anniversary. I think it's a cool idea. I hope it works. And I hope we all learn something from it. If we do, then we can say we moved the ball forward, and that's what this show is really all about.


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—Follow Matt Quayle on Twitter @matthew_quayle