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CNN's Parker/Spitzer: TV desperation personified



parker-spitzer.jpgFast-paced is not the word to describe how quickly topics and conversation whiz by on CNN's newest addition to its ailing primetime, Parker/Spitzer.

One moment, disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer is schmoozing a guy he once prosecuted as the state's attorney general; the next, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker is asking panelists to say something nice about Sarah Palin, like the host of the world's wonkiest dinner party.

And the hosts interrupted their guests so much, I began to wonder if they had an unofficial rule that no one was allowed to complete a thought before being jerked onto the next subject.

Fortunately, the show wasn't the train wreck the industry was bracing -- okay, some were hoping -- for. But it was odd and ill-focused enough to leave doubts that it will improve fortunes much at a cable channel that desperately needs a hit in primetime.

CNN reminds me a bit too much of MSNBC back in the days when eccentrics like Michael Savage and Jesse Ventura could get hosting gigs; when you're desperate for re-invention, sometimes you'll throw anything on air hoping to make magic happen.

anderson-cooper-1.jpgMore than needing a hit -- as Gabriel Sherman's most-excellent excavation of the cable news wars in New York magazine shows -- CNN needs a winning identity. The pose of passionate truth teller, embodied in silver fox Anderson Cooper, hasn't worked -- allowing competitors to outflank the newschannel in prime time with ideologically driven shows reflecting viewers opinions back at them.

On that score, Parker/Spitzer was a weird mish mash. Though Spitzer is ostensibly the liberal voice, he started the show with a screed demanding the head of treasury secretary Tim Geithner. In this heated election season, it felt a little like responding to a house fire by demanding the city fire marshal get fired.

In her first "opening argument," Parker demanded Palin declare whether she's running for president -- even though we're more than two years from the next presidential election. And the terms she used to describe Palin -- "she flirts, she's a tease" -- would have sounded condescending and sexist coming from a man.

Parker may have been onscreen to help soften and broaden Spitzer, but there was little doubt who was the star. From the business and legal terms dominating the segment names -- opening argument, unfinished business -- to the jazzy score backing the program, this felt like an urbane showcase for witty policy nerds. In this setting, the columnist was a little superfluous, like a devoted spouse throwing a dinner party for her husband's office.

And some choices here were odd. Why have disgraced blogger Andrew Breitbart on, and allow him to spin his role in unfairly maligning former USDA official Shirley Sherrod? Why bring on a guy Spitzer once prosecuted -- Henry Blodget, now writing his own second act as editor of the Business Insider blog -- and spend most of the time excavating incidents from eight years ago?

Why host a show on a cable newschannel and not mention any real news?

And, just to push one more button, it's worth noting that Monday's inaugural broadcast had no people of color among the guests at all that I could see. Bad enough that cable TV news can't diversify its anchor ranks in prime time -- must all the guests lack ethnic diversity as well?

In the end, I think Monday's Parker/Spitzer presented an interesting format that must be filled with better material.  Right now, it's a jack of all trades and master of none -- too breezy for serious talk, too wonky for entertaining diversion.  And too confused to help much with CNN's ratings issues.

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 12:06pm]


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