The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Parker spitting mad at Spitzer? Why not show it on CNN?

December 2, 2010 |  5:00 am

ParkerSpitzer The New York Post reported that freshly minted CNN host Kathleen Parker walked off the set not long ago, fed up with co-host Eliot Spitzer. Rumors of discord might have seemed more real when Parker did not appear on “Parker Spitzer” Monday and Tuesday, with no explanation offered on the air.

So haters of the struggling 8 p.m. program and of CNN likely watched Wednesday’s broadcast with their dissonance antenna set on high. But by all appearances, Parker, the conservative newspaper columnist, and Spitzer, the former New York governor, got along. At least as well as they have gotten along in the bumpy first two months of their program.

"Glad to have you back, Kathleen," Spitzer offered at the top of Wednesday's show. "We missed you."

To which Parker replied: "I'm glad to be back. I missed you all."

"Indeed. Indeed. I know you did," Spitzer rejoined, a little too emphatically.

It's not time to declare "Parker Spitzer" anywhere close to out of the woods. The show’s ratings continue to languish—sometimes not only falling well behind cable leader Bill O’Reilly of Fox, but Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and even sister outlet HLN, featuring anti-crime siren Nancy Grace.

Spitzer still dominates the show—boring in on guests the way that might be expected of a former prosecutor. The one-time New York attorney general conducts extended interviews, as he did Wednesday night with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Republican political operative Mark McKinnon.

Parker, meanwhile, tends mostly to smiling intros and sign-offs. She can appear decidedly passive, almost meek. Parker is supposed to offer the conservative alternative to Spitzer’s biting liberalism. But on Wednesday night, for example, she smiled benignly as her co-host asserted that "the entire agenda of progress in this nation" has been held hostage by Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Too much of television gets judged too quickly, thrown off the air before chemistry can develop. But “Parker Spitzer” needs an infusion of charm, news and verve. And fast. If Parker's really mad enough to walk off the set, she should turn a little of that animus on her co-host. It would make for livlier discussions, and better TV.

If not, CNN should be looking for a feistier counterpoint to the irrepressible Spitzer, whose strengths as an interviewer and host have been underestimated by most critics. But who would be the right foil?

On Monday night, one-time Fox News host E.D. Hill took Parker’s place. Hill is best known for wondering during the 2008 presidential race whether Barack Obama’s post-primary knuckle bump with his wife might be “a terrorist fist jab.” Once said to be admired by CNN execs, I haven't heard anyone mention Hill for a bigger role.

Another New York media figure would guarantee higher ratings, at least for a night or two. But Ashley Dupre, the one-time call girl who last collaborated with Spitzer when he went by "Client 9," has another gig. She's writing a sex advice column for the New York Post. Her most recent piece advised "Stephen, 26" not to expect his lesbian neighbors to suddenly turn their attentions on him.

--Jim Rainey

Photo: Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer host a talk show at 8 p.m. on CNN. Credit: Lorenzo Bevilaqua / CNN

 

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