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CNN taps Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker for new roundtable debate show

June 23, 2010 |  7:59 am

Spitzer CNN announced Wednesday that it had hired former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker to helm a new point-counterpoint show in the key 8 p.m. ET hour, recruiting two headstrong political figures in a bid to revive its flagging viewership.

The network described the new program as a "spirited, nightly roundtable discussion program" that will be focused on the biggest stories of the day.

"Other cable news channels force-feed viewers one narrow, predictable point of view; in contrast, CNN will be offering a lively roundup of all the best ideas -- presented by two of the most intelligent and outspoken figures in the country," CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein said in a statement. "Eliot and Kathleen are beholden to no vested interest -- in fact, quite the opposite: They are renowned for taking on the most powerful targets and most important causes."

The move represents a return to CNN’s old playbook: The new program shares the same DNA as "Crossfire," the long-running political debate program that Klein canceled in 2005, saying the network wanted to move away from "head-butting debate shows." At the time, Klein said he agreed with comedian Jon Stewart's criticism that the show "was hurting America," adding that viewers were hungry for information, not opinion.

But faced with a dwindling audience for the newscast that Campbell Brown hosts at 8 p.m., network executives concluded that they needed to inject more forceful opinions into the network's coverage to compete with the strong personalities on rivals Fox News and MSNBC. A point-counterpoint format gives the network an avenue to do so while still maintaining that it is committed to nonpartisan journalism.

It’s a remarkable turn of events for Spitzer, who resigned from office in 2008 after revelations that he frequented a high-priced call-girl ring, behavior that scandalized even the jaded denizens of New York. But after laying low for less than a year, Spitzer reemerged onto the public stage through numerous media appearances. He recently served as a substitute anchor on MSNBC, which was also talking to the former governor about an on-air role.

"Kathleen is an extraordinary intellect whose sharp observations and wit are certain to resonate with viewers," Spitzer said in a statement. "I look forward to working alongside her in a discussion that will inform, challenge and entertain. I am grateful to CNN for the opportunity to cohost a show that will advance the discussion of the defining issues of our time."

Parker, a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, is less well-known but gained substantial attention of her own during the 2008 election, when she called on GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to leave the ticket. In a searing critique, she wrote that Palin was "clearly out of her league." Her column unleashed a fierce debate about the qualifications of the Alaska governor. This year, Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for "her perceptive, often witty columns on an array of political and moral issues," according to the Pulitzer board’s citation.

"As a veteran print journalist, I am appropriately respectful of the challenges posed by the medium," Parker said in a statement. "But I'm thrilled by the opportunity to discuss the issues that matter to me -- and that aren't heard often enough on television -- in a conversation with one of the nation's most brilliant, fearless and original thinkers. With Eliot Spitzer as my cohost, Wall Street and Main Street will finally meet. It can't possibly be boring."

CNN's decision about what show to put in the 8 p.m. time slot has been closely followed both inside and outside the network since Brown announced in May that she would be leaving. In a statement that was striking for its candor, the anchor said at the time that she stepping down because "the simple fact is that not enough people want to watch my program."

The new show, which does not yet have a name, is scheduled to debut this fall.  

-- Matea Gold
twitter.com/mateagold

Photo: CNN

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