TV: Foxy Business News

"Happy Hour" isn't your usual cable business-news show. Host Cody Willard is a 35-year-old former hedge-fund manager who's hipster handsome, with shoulder-length hair parted down the middle. Anchoring the 5 p.m. show from a stool at the Bull and Bear bar inside Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Willard is casually imprecise as he discusses the numbers. But you kind of get the general idea anyway. His costar, Rebecca Gomez, perches perkily next to him, as flirty camera angles and naughty hemlines threaten to spill her Victoria's Secrets. On one recent episode, the conversation turns to a hot new business, a kind of endowment fund for women that gets its money from men. The name:

Seriously, this is serious business. "Happy Hour" may look like a razor-sharp parody of cable business news. In fact, it is from media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his revolutionary lieutenant, Roger Ailes. These are the same folks who brought you the Fox News Channel, which dethroned CNN as the No. 1 news outlet. Now, their Fox Business Network, launched last week, is challenging cable business-news leader CNBC to a barroom brawl.

"Happy Hour," which runs opposite CNBC's "Fast Money" show, is the most naked example of Murdoch's strategy. It's aimed at expanding viewership for business news to people whom you might sit next to in a Main Street pub, a world away from CNBC's audience of Wall Street pros, CEOs and wealth junkies. "It's something that the average viewer who's not a big-time trader would be able to enjoy," says Andrew Donchin, director of national broadcast for ad agency Carat.

Yes, CNBC has the hyperventilating Jim Cramer, star of "Mad Money." But "Happy Hour's" Willard is so hopped up on adrenaline that he ends one episode with a leap over his bar stool. While CNBC's "Money Honey," Maria Bartiromo, drips Manhattan sophistication, Gomez is the steamiest anchor this side of Mirthala Salinas, the now ex-Telemundo star who's made headlines for having an affair with her primary news subject, the married mayor of Los Angeles. Just three days into "Happy Hour," Gomez was mulling a name change for it: "Super GoGo (Gomez) and Doofus Boy," she tells NEWSWEEK.

FBN is hardly ashamed of the network's emphasis on eye candy as a competitive tool. "Television is a visual media and you want to watch people pleasing to the eye," says Terry Baker, executive producer of the network's prime-time lineup.

He and the rest of Murdoch's troops are betting "Happy Hour" will help FBN with viewers and the cable operators who can expand FBN's reach, which at 30 million homes is roughly a third of CNBC's 95 million. "We recognize that business doesn't only exist on Wall Street," says Baker. CNBC acknowledges the competing world views. "We're in different businesses," says Mark Hoffman, its president. "We're not obsessed with trying to recruit everybody."

Gomez and Willard make an unlikely pair. "I genuinely like the guy, but he irks me as well. That makes for nice energy," says Gomez, a veteran of Fox News. Willard seems smitten. "I've won the lottery," says Willard, who recently divested a hedge fund and taught a course at Seton Hall University dubbed "Revolutionomics." The pair is largely unscripted. "It's like going out with friends and discussing the business of life," says Gomez. They acknowledge the show's ogling quotient. "Women have curves; nothing wrong with that," she says, as Willard interjects, "Sitting next to Rebecca, how can it not be sexy?" FBN's No. 2 exec, Kevin McGee, sees them as happy-go-lucky. "They are just people who look like they're having fun on TV while passing along some information," he says.

Still, beneath FBN's MAC blush and Revlon lip gloss is a base of solid competence—not surprising, considering Ailes's hand in it. FBN already scored a major exclusive, landing an interview with billionaire investor Warren Buffett (who is a director of The Washington Post Company, which owns NEWSWEEK). At the same time, there are plenty of populist pieces, such as the story of a $400,000 lawsuit filed against a florist by an angry "bridezilla."

Even before FBN launched, CNBC started producing its own saloon segments, also called "Happy Hour," which run on its "Fast Money" show. Then last Friday, the No. 1 network threw in the bar towel. "Though the 5 o'clock hour is a good time to occasionally tap into the collective knowledge of traders in pubs across America, we have decided to change the segment name to "Fast Money's Coast to Coast," CNBC spokesman Brian Steele tells NEWSWEEK. He says CNBC wants to ensure "there's never any confusion" with FBN. But only someone who spends too much time at happy hour would confuse the two.