On the debut of their new CNN talk show Monday night, Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker seemed to bend over backwards in their efforts to generate heat.
Spitzer, the former Democratic governor of New York who resigned following a hooker scandal, opened the show by bluntly demanding that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner quit immediately. Parker, a syndicated columnist who was cast as Spitzer’s co-host because of her rightist views, was a tad less fiery in her opening diatribe (the show – unimaginatively titled ‘Parker Spitzer’ – has slapped these speeches with the label “Opening Argument”). In her bit, Parker simultaneously praised Sarah Palin but then criticized her for not being honest to the American people about her presidential ambitions.
More blunt speaking came later in the show from guest Aaron Sorkin, executive producer of ‘The West Wing’ and more recently the screenwriter on the Facebook movie, ‘The Social Network.’ Sorkin came right out and called Palin “an idiot,” blasting the former Alaska governor and vice president candidate as a “stunningly, jaw-droppingly incompetent and mean woman.” It kind of made you wonder: What had Sarah Palin done on Monday to deserve all this vitriol? Probably nothing, but the producers of ‘Parker Spitzer’ evidently felt they’d generate some controversy and attention for their new show simply by uttering the words “Sarah Palin,” especially if uttered in a critical context.
Welcome to the new, louder CNN, which evidently has decided that heated arguments – contrived or otherwise – represent the best way for the news channel to work its way out of the ratings cellar and begin competing again with Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
Meanwhile, the New York media, interested more in Spitzer than Parker, reacted to the new show with skepticism. In one of the cleverest assessments, New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley described the chemistry between Spitzer and Parker as “ ‘Crossfire’ meets ‘Moonlighting’. . . . At times, [Spitzer] looked so eager and hepped up that his head almost crashed through the screen,” Stanley wrote. “Ms. Parker, more restrained and ladylike, sometimes looked like his caregiver.”
The New York Daily News questioned whether many viewers would really form a ‘Parker Spitzer’ habit at 8 p.m. weekdays. “You could almost hear America muttering, ‘We skipped ‘House’ for this?” wrote TV critic David Hinckley.
New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser was repulsed by the entire spectacle. “As the first episode of ‘Parker Spitzer’ blazed on, the shamed ex-governor, infamous for his sad sex romps with hookers, lobbed inappropriate grins and giggles at his grim-faced co-host, Kathleen Parker, with whom he had less than zero chemistry,” wrote Peyser.
Oh well. Opening nights are always difficult, especially with relative newbies to television who you can usually count on to overdo it when they’re just starting out. Hey, Laurel and Hardy probably had a few bad nights too at the beginning of their career together. Should we give the new team of Parker and Spitzer a chance to find their rhythm? Did you watch their debut Monday night? If so, what did you think of them? Can they lead CNN back into competition with the other guys?