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CNN's 'Parker Spitzer' premieres: Too polite for TV?

October 5, 2010 | 10:12 am

Parker"It's a conversation rather than a food fight."

That's how Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" columnist Kathleen Parker described CNN's "Parker Spitzer" on the network's "CNN Newsroom." And judging by the show's premiere episode Monday night, she wasn't far off. Co-anchored by former New York governor and self-described "recovering" politician Eliot Spitzer, "Parker Spitzer" found its hosts engaging in kitchen-table conversation so polite, you could almost imagine cloth napkins folded neatly in their laps.

Yes, she's a "pragmatic conservative" from the South and he's a "pragmatic liberal" from the North, but there wasn't enough tension between their personal pragmatisms for the screwball fun you find on, say, "Morning Joe." At times, the focus on nonpartisan consensus felt a little too civil. Everyone from conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart to liberal columnist Thomas Frank had a few good things to say about the "tea party." Spitzer made nice with his old arch-nemesis, Henry Blodget, a Wall Street analyst whom Spitzer got banned from the securities industry. A section called "opening arguments" advocated for ideas that Americans generally agree with: Spitzer demanded that Obama fire the already-unpopular Timothy Geithner, while Parker insisted that Sarah Palin declare whether she's running for president or not.

The only real instigator was screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who called Palin "jaw-droppingly incompetent," after which Parker asked a round-table panel of commentators to say something positive about Mama Grizzly. "She's done more for the leather jacket than David Hasselhoff," offered one guest.

Critics who thought Spitzer's scandalous past would make "Parker Spitzer" controversial might have been soothed by the show's closing question: Guests were called on to admit a guilty pleasure, leaving Blodget to confess to the tawdry joys of "sitting on a couch with a bowl of shredded wheat and a laptop."

Perhaps the idea was to let Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann tear each other apart while Parker and Spitzer brought a certain adult sophistication to this time slot. With CNN's prime-time ratings diminishing, it might be risky to bet that cool-headed professionalism will bring viewers back. For now, it may be fine to debate what Palin has done for the leather jacket. But we're missing that wild-card element. Where's the Hoff when you need him?

-- Melissa Maerz

Photo: Kathleen Parker, left, and Eliot Spitzer, hosts of the CNN prime-time show "Parker Spitzer." Credit: Art Streiber / Associated Press / CNN

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