Now that Mad Money's been around for four years, it's worth taking stock of how different the show is today from the one we were doing back then.
It's no secret that a lot of people who don't watch write us off as touts. They seem to think that Mad Money is about Jim Cramer telling the audience automatons what to buy and sell, with the implicit promise that if they listen they'll get rich quick. That's the caricature that pops up every time someone says we should be taken off the air.
As anybody who watches knows, that couldn't be further from the truth. From the very beginning we have counseled investors to do their own homework – one hour per stock per week – with a focus on educating investors, not just picking stocks.
But the show has changed over the years, no doubt about it. And I think the change has been for the better. I don't believe the caricature of us as peddlers of stock tips for credulous investors has ever been true. But if you only ever saw the show three-and-a-half years ago and simply wrote us off, I would encourage you to give Mad Money another chance. It's a different show, and it has been for a long time.
In the beginning, we were very focused on stock recommendations. There was always the emphasis on teaching people how to analyze stocks and understand why they move, but on any given day, the three scripted segments we do would each be about a stock. That isn't the case anymore. These days we'll often do shows where not a single segment is devoted to recommending a stock. We spend far more time helping people understand the dynamics of the market, why things are happening, what could happen to make things better or make things worse, and how you can empower yourself to do this kind of analysis on your own.
So now we talk about potential dividend cuts from Masco or Alcoa or BB&T and explain the difference between a safe company payout and a dangerous one. We dedicate multiple segments to explaining why the bank stocks, everything from Citigroup to Bank of America to US Bancorp, are recovering and what policies will allow them to go higher, and which ones will send them lower. This is not a show about what stocks to buy. If you watched four years ago, maybe you came away with that impression. Give us another shot.
The Lightning Round, ever jeered by critics, has become a much shorter segment and been pushed into the back end of the show. I think the Lightning Round is terrific, but it's about giving viewers, who want to know Cramer's opinion of their stocks, a chance to ask. It's about being interactive. It is not and was never meant to be the definitive place for people to know what to buy and what to sell. Interactivity is important – people want to know what to do with their favorites, the Apples, and the Research in Motions – but we decided a while ago to err on the side of more substance because the situation now is just too dire.
Cliff Mason is the Senior Writer of CNBC's Mad Money w/Jim Cramer, and has been that program's primary writer, in cooperation with and under the supervision of Jim Cramer, since he began at CNBC as an intern during the summer of 2005. Mason was the author of a column at TheStreet.com during 2007, which he describes as "hilarious, if short-lived." He graduated from Harvard College in 2007. It was at Harvard that Mason learned to multi-task, mastering the art of seeming to pay attention to professors while writing scripts for Mad Money. Mason has co-written two books with Jim Cramer: Jim Cramer's Mad Money: Watch TV, Get Richand Stay Mad For Life: Get Rich, Stay Rich (Make Your Kids Even Richer). He is 100% responsible for any parts of either book that you did not like.
Mason has also had a fruitful relationship with Jim Cramer as his nephew for the last 23 years and will hopefully continue to hold that position for many more as long as he doesn't do anything to get himself kicked out of the family.
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