The Post-Scandal Politico: Why Did CNN Hire Spitzer?

by | June 24, 2010 at 4:00 PM | Cable News, TV News

Eliot Spitzer (center) follows a path similarly walked by Jerry Springer and (almost) President Bill Clinton (Photo: Frazer Harrison/cott Wintrow/Francois Durand/Getty Images)

Eliot Spitzer (center) follows a path similarly walked by Jerry Springer and (almost) President Bill Clinton (Photo: Frazer Harrison/cott Wintrow/Francois Durand/Getty Images)

With his move to CNN, Eliot Spitzer now becomes the Jerry Springer of cable news.

While it’s doubtful you’ll see any brawls break out between talking heads on Spitzer’s upcoming show (though you never know), the former New York “Love Guv” had his political career derailed by hookers, on whom he apparently spent thousands of dollars.

Many years ago, Springer’s career in politics unraveled when he admitted he had patronized a prostitute. His confession was forced by irrefutable evidence: The emergence of the check he used to pay for the prostitute’s services. He then resigned as a Cincinnati city councilman. That was 1971, and in a turn of events that Eliot Spitzer should find encouraging, Springer wound up getting reelected to that same council seat in 1975. In 1977, Springer served for a year as Cincinnati’s mayor.

Springer, of course, went on to host one of the longest-running “talk” shows in TV history (though actual “talking” had little to do with the show’s success) – 19 seasons and counting.

Bill Clinton, who had his own sex scandal to deal with when he was president, almost wound up on TV too – as the host of a daytime talk show that was widely discussed among some of TV’s biggest companies. The idea went nowhere, possibly because daytime talk – except for ‘Oprah’ – had degenerated into a circus sideshow.

Why did CNN hire Eliot Spitzer? If you watched him in the past year in any of his many TV appearances – ‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’ ‘The Colbert Report,’ even ‘Campbell Brown,’ the show his new show is replacing on CNN – you might have concluded that his talent for broadcasting is on par with about a hundred other people. So, why’d Spitzer get the job? It’s likely because he has something none of the others had – and that is the whiff (or perhaps the stench) of scandal, which CNN hopes will spur lots of curious people to tune in and ogle him, at least at first.

It’s a huge gamble for CNN. Sure, people might tune in at first, but if few of them actually come to like him, then the show might be doomed. Spitzer’s not an easy guy to like when you stop and ponder what he did to his family when he got caught up in an embarrassing hooker scandal.

In addition, as the governor of New York, he came across in his public appearances as charmless. For CNN, his hiring makes it look as if the news channel couldn’t care less about journalism credentials when it comes to hiring high-profile hosts.

It reminds me of what Jerry Seinfeld said last week about Lady Gaga, who flipped the bird at the entire Citi Field audience at a Mets game and was then “upgraded” to a better seat by Mets management – to a luxury box usually reserved for Seinfeld (who wasn’t there at the time). “I can’t believe they put her in my box,” Seinfeld said in a radio interview. “You give people the finger and you get upgraded? Is that the world we’re living in now? It’s pathetic!”

You might say the same thing about Spitzer: He consorts with hookers, resigns from office in disgrace, and then gets rewarded with a TV show (for a reported salary of $400,000 a year). You’re right, Jerry – that is the world we’re living in now!