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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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October 1996


Review: New Business Show Better Than Most
Lifetime's Traders

This is the battleground of the modern world, where war is waged daily. Fortunes are made or lost in seconds. These are the men and women of Gardner/Ross. They're brilliant, ruthless, only as good as their next deal...They work hard and play harder and agree on just one thing winning is everything."

From this promo for Traders, a Canadian program now being shown on cable's Lifetime network, one would think that it would be another typical TV caricature of business: A world dominated by rogue greedheads who have no redeeming qualities and whose work does nothing beneficial for society.

While this tendency is present in the show, it doesn't always dominate. Traders instead treats investment banking the way television usually treats some other vocations, which is a step above the way business is normally portrayed. Traders focuses on the Torontobased investment firm Gardner/Ross. The plots center on the firm's senior executives:

Sally Ross -- An idealistic economics professor, Ross steps into her father's role as senior partner when he is arrested for illegally skimming $5 million off of a $47 million deal. She is immediately at odds with the firm's other senior executives, who want to make money at all costs. She wants to make money, but also wants to preserve her family firm's good name. When she doesn't allow the firm's head trader to trade on inside information, he yells: "You know, you've got a really unhealthy sense of morality."

Adam Cunningham -- Ross's alter ego, Cunningham is willing to blackmail government officials to land a deal. He has no conscience, but a great knack for cliches: Investment banking is a "zerosum game. Nobody wins unless somebody loses" and "We all know the game. You buy on rumor, you sell on fact. Look, if enough people believe that fertilizer is worth more than gold, the next thing you know crap is selling at $600 an ounce." When the Russian mob threatens the family of the editor of the firm's newsletter, Cunningham worries that the editor will care more about her family than the firm.

Jack Larkin -- A very hungry young trader, he makes his way to Gardner/Ross by landing a seatofthepants mining deal. He's willing to risk everything for a big deal, but he's no Cunningham. He cares deeply about mending his poor relationship with his father, and his father's illness occupies as much of his time as does the firm's business. It also gives him some perspective. When a young trader almost ruins her career by not placing an order out of concern for a client who is a compulsive gambler, Larkin tells her: "I'll deny I ever said this, but it's just a job; it's just money." By steering the firm into investing in an emerging medical drug, Larkin shows viewers that investment banking can help society.

Marty Stephens -- The firm's head trader, Stephens is a younger Cunningham. When the firm's building catches fire, he threatens to fire any trader who leaves the floor. Is extensive flooding in South Africa bad news? Not for Stephens, because the firm will make money from the flood's effect on the markets. His family life is a mess: He doesn't know the name of his son's girlfriend, even though she eats dinner with the family every week. When Stephens is suspended for 30 days because of unethical trades, his life seems to change. He finds a support group and learns that he is obsessed with money to compensate for his own insecurities. He resolves to change his ways, but once he's back on the floor the old Marty returns.

Suzanna Marks -- Marks runs the firm's investment newsletter. She becomes the target of the Russian mob, which wants her to recommend a stock she doesn't want to recommend. She stands on principle, refusing to compromise her integrity. The Russians then threaten her family, including her young daughter. Though terribly tempted, she still doesn't cave. The situation is resolved when Larkin, whom viewers learn has some mysterious tie to the Russian mob, finds out about the threats and intervenes. The stress, though, ruins her family life. Her husband, believing she places too great a priority on work, files for divorce and custody of their daughter.

Traders has often been compared to ER, but it is more like L.A. Law. On ER, there is no question that the doctors are engaged in noble work. On L.A. Law, sometimes the lawyers helped people and society; sometimes they harmed people and society. Some of L.A. Law's lawyers were extremely unethical, some morally upright. Traders' traders are a similar mix. For business, as portrayed on television, this is a step up in the world.


Rich Noyes


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