The news anchor talks childhood stardom, being type A and the truth about those 30 Rock rumors.
Fox Business Network anchor, Melissa Francis, 39, was a child actor who made her first TV appearance when she was six months old. For two seasons, she appeared on Little House on the Prairie as Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, while also filming more than 100 TV commercials. After attending Harvard, she worked as a business journalist at stations in Hartford, Conn., Manchester, N.H., Providence, R.I., and Portland, Maine, as well as on PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. In 2003, she joined CNBC and was coanchor of Power Lunch and The Call. Widely rumored to be the basis for the character of Avery Jessup on 30 Rock, she joined Fox Business earlier this year and is the host of Money With Melissa Francis. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.
So what can we expect to see on your new show that we don’t already see on business TV?
We want to speak to a broader audience, whether that’s someone deciding whether to refinance their home, deciding how to send their kids to college, reminding them what this thing is that Congress is spending tax dollars on—anything that involves money and impacts just about anybody. Of course, we like things that are eye-catching and that expose the hypocrisy of either government or Wall Street.
Are you the only Little House on the Prairie actor who knows what a derivative is?
[Laughs.] Instead of Dancing With the Stars, we could all sit down and do second derivatives together. Jason Bateman was always really smart. He might.
Would you consider yourself type A?
Yes. I’d like to figure out how to be a little less tightly wound, but so far, no luck.
Was your mother a stage mom?
Funny you should ask. I have a book coming out in November called Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. I don’t think of it negatively. She spent a lot of time with her child on the set, and was very dedicated and devoted to her child’s well-being.
Do you miss acting at all?
I don’t. I stopped around the time I was a teenager, when you feel awkward about everything anyway. I didn’t love saying other people’s words or pretending to be someone else. I felt sort of silly about it. That’s kind of the reason I got into news and why I love it so much. I have a teeny-tiny part in Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, and the other day I was looping lines for it, and I realized I’m just not great at acting.
Similarities between acting and journalism?
The first job I ever got was from a news director for a small station in New Hampshire, and I think he was hoping I’d be a natural. Turns out, I was awful, because growing up on TV, you knew the lines by heart, you’ve blocked it, rehearsed it. And the news is almost exactly the opposite. The first time they put me on the air, I was like a deer in the headlights.
Worst story you ever got assigned?
In New England, the weather stories. I did a lot of standing on the side of the road in a snowstorm. Once, I went into a grocery store, and the woman in line next to me said, “I saw you on TV, standing on the side of the highway, and you just looked stupid.”
Could you be a trader or a broker?
I was the first person to report live from the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and it almost feels like you’re surfing, because you can feel the wave of the trade. And you think, I can do this. I can make a lot of money. But if it was that easy, all those people would be filthy rich, and most of them aren’t.
Are you the basis for Avery on 30 Rock?
[Laughs.] I would love to think that. Elizabeth Banks is gorgeous. I did know [producer] Rob Carlock in college, and, of course, everybody wants to do a cameo on that show. But he has a beautiful wife who’s also a business journalist, and she could easily be the basis for that character.
Worst part of doing TV commercials?
I’m a picky eater. There was always the commercial where you had to eat something you really didn’t like and then look thrilled about it. It was always something simple, like Campbell’s Soup. I just don’t like soup. The flip side is that one time I did a Frosted Flakes ad, and I love, love, love Frosted Flakes. I just kept eating them. I was like, “I don’t want to spit it out!” I ate bowl after bowl, and they were sure I was going to throw up.
Thoughts on all this talk of class warfare?
It’s a tough time economically in our country. I don’t think it matters who you talk to or what end of the economic spectrum. People are concerned about their economic future and the economic future of our country. I think a lot of that agitation is coming to the fore. There’s just a lot of discontent right now.
Where are we headed?
The recovery has been disappointingly slow, and I’m surprised we’re not further along. The pile-on effects of things happening in Europe don’t help.
Everyone’s been gabbing about the capitalization of Apple being a trillion dollars. Is that driven by the media or is that realistic?
The media can’t make people go out and buy iPads and iPods, and the company can’t make ’em fast enough, so no. As a journalist, I’m an instant skeptic. I remember we all made fun of the iPad name, and look what happened.
You reported on porn…
Not porn. High-end call girls. You think that’s not a big business?
Some reviews say you badger your guests.
If you’re going to try and offer an answer that evades the question or doesn’t make logical sense or tries to obfuscate or uses bad math, I’m going to call you on it. I hope I don’t embarrass the person, but I won’t let anyone get away with that.
Is Wall Street inherently sexy?
It is to me, because I’ve always been interested in it. When I was in college, someone told me, “You should become a business journalist, because most people think this is boring.” To me, it’s not.
Do you remember much from Little House?
Oh, yeah! It was a blast! I was eight, nine and 10, so I remember it well. By the time I joined the show, I think it was the seventh season and they had had tons of kids on the show. They had it down to a science. There were tons of other kids to play with, a great schoolroom. You know, kids have to be happy in order to perform well, so they had taken the art of bribery to a new level. They knew how to keep us happy all day long. Half of it was shot outside in the Simi Valley, with horses around. The other half was in a studio on the MGM lot in Culver City. We used to sneak into the Olsen’s store when no one was over there. But the joke was on us. The candy we stole was all so old it was stale.
You were the captain of the polo team at Harvard. Do you still play?
I don’t. I have two kids so I don’t have time. Plus, it’s an aggressive, violent sport. But it’s fun and crazy. I grew up doing show jumping. Then, when I got to Harvard, I realized the polo team was co-ed and they drank beer afterward and had a good time. It looked like a lot more fun. So I was a good rider but not the best player.
It is. I’d go to school, and then go riding or go on auditions. I don’t know. It was jam-packed.
It’ll be poetic justice if one of your kids turns out to be a slacker couch potato.
It would be, but they’re begging for activities all the time. I’m the one who’d like to slack at this point.