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From Barney Frank to "Little House on the Prairie": Questions for Melissa Francis

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  June 18, 2012 08:33 AM

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francis.frank.resized.jpgFox stars are used to run-ins with Barney Frank.

In 2008, as financial institutions were in meltdown, we witnessed perhaps the most epic of these battles, as Frank joined Bill O’Reilly to talk about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on “The O’Reilly Factor.” O’Reilly called Frank an unmanly “coward,” and Frank called O’Reilly “boorish” and stupid.

By contrast, Frank’s run in with Fox Business Network’s Melissa Francis earlier this month may have seemed relatively tame, though Frank complained during the interview that Francis was interrupting him and offering viewers a “Fox perspective” on employment (i.e. downplaying the good news and emphasizing the high unemployment rate).

I caught up with Francis to ask about the Frank interview, whether it shook her, and what the shift from CNBC to FBN has been like. Plus, Francis talks about being a child star on “Little House on the Prairie” - and landing a minimum wage job after graduating from Harvard.

Do you feel like your conversation with Barney Frank got out of hand?

No. I’ve interviewed Barney Frank many times in the past. In fact, a former colleague said unless he pulls the earpiece out of his ear, you haven’t reached the pinnacle of your career.

But you can’t argue with numbers. They are what they are. I had the data and was quoting from it. It was from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I don’t think that anyone in this country would say they are satisfied with where things are now - so far past the financial crisis. I think every side and every human being is dissatisfied. I think he’s frustrated with what’s going on in the economy and eventually admitted that.

You recently left CNBC for Fox Business Network, and you’re now hosting a new show. How do the two workplaces differ?

Roger Ailes [Chairman and CEO of Fox News] just told me about his vision for the network, and it was so exciting that I just jumped at the chance to move. I think that Fox is a lot broader. CNBC caters to day traders who are trading stocks from home, and Fox has more politics and more Main Street implications.

But I loved CNBC. I was there for nine years and still have a lot of friends there. I also love Fox and am having a fantastic time.

You first got into economics while at Harvard. Did you always know that you wanted to cover the financial world?

I majored in econ at Harvard. Harvard doesn’t have practical majors! After freshman year, I went to career counseling to see what I wanted to do. My dad said maybe you want to be a lawyer, or I could have potentially gone back into acting. But I got an internship at the Fox affiliate in L.A., went there for a summer, and I was hooked. It was such a rush of adrenaline, working up to the deadline of the show.

And did you get a job in journalism right after Harvard?

I was literally the only person from my graduating class to go to Maine. And I was probably the only person to take a job for $6.10 an hour. I didn’t tell my parents. They had sent me to Harvard, and here I was working minimum wage.

My job in Maine was to literally rip the scripts for the news anchors. Electronic prompters existed, but we were too low on funds to buy them. So, I’d rip the scripts and lay them on a conveyor belt. It was like “Broadcast News.” I was running around, and people were yelling at me. Dan Harris [now an anchor and correspondent at ABC] was there too.

How did you work your way up?

I went from Maine to Manchester to Providence. As soon as I got a job, I was making a tape for the next station. The trick I used to use was: I would tell a station that I was coming into town to meet with the competition. Then I’d say, “Can I stop by and drop off a tape?” And it wasn’t always true that I had a meeting already lined up. But then I saw it worked, and it would be true the next time! I always told them later, though.

Finally, I have to go back to your childhood and ask about your star turn in “Little House on the Prairie.” That was one of my mom’s favorite shows, and if we complained about not having the exact dinner we wanted - or a myriad of other things - she’d say, “On ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ they’d be happy just to be having dinner.” When you were on the show, you were very young. Did you understand you were acting, or did it feel like visiting Plimouth Plantation?

It’s funny. I write about this in my new book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. But it was a lot of fun. By the time I got there, they had it down to a science and knew how to train kids. They expected you to be incredibly professional. Michael Landon was a real professional and liked to do everything in one take. That means a strict work ethic.

But they also valued a job well done, and the show taught me the importance of hard work. A lot of kids on that show turned out really well - you don’t hear about people going into rehab.

Melissa Francis hosts “MONEY with Melissa Francis” weekdays at 5 p.m. on Fox Business Network.

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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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