As I was flipping around the cable news options looking for updates on Libya on Tuesday, I landed on CNN as Parker Spitzer was underway. And I stopped.
It’s been months since I’ve really watched this show — I bailed early on after I found the highly-publicized new 8 p.m. offering overpromising/under-delivering on the whole point-counterpoint idea. This time, though, I saw exactly why Eliot Spitzer continues to garner buzz for being good despite the show’s disappointing ratings and the speculation of its demise. Spitzer is good.
But he could be great.
In two interviews – with Time/CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about Libya and its impact around the world and with Wisconsin GOP state Senator Dale Schultz about the standoff over the budget and collective bargaining in his state – I saw Spitzer asking questions that advanced the conversation. Sure, a bunch of them, even most, were “leading questions,” which are in journalism’s purist form a no-no. But they’re also what cable news ratings are made of. He makes a statement with just about everything he asks.
For example, Spitzer asked Sen. Schultz if he thinks he should just deal with the dollars now and defer the union conversation, and it played more like a suggestion than a question. Sen. Schultz said it was hard to hear over the noise of the demonstrators around him. Without missing a sliver of a beat, Spitzer said: “Isn’t that part of the problem?”
Agree with his politics or not, the guy’s got a point of view, a talent for timing and the kind of confidence that remains rare on TV.
Certainly there’s been loads of talk that this show isn’t working elsewhere in the media, really since the get-go—for good reason. Next to Spitzer who reads effortlessly unscripted, Kathleen Parker still reads like she’s, well, actually reading. Parker and Spitzer together have at this point still drummed up a total of zero chemistry sitting side by side. You could tell me they’re sitting in separate rooms and spliced in with some editing magic, and I would not be at all surprised. There’s no sense that Parker and Spitzer have any real difference in perspective. Except maybe that he looks like he’s engaged and enjoying the dialogue, and she is not. It’s unnecessarily uncomfortable television.
I’m not saying Parker’s got to go, but then again, all the big shows in prime on cable news are single-personality. It’s what’s working. At the very least, there’s no reason to have two hosts in a format like this. Not unless there’s some real point-counterpoint going on. And not at this point in the game if it’s clearly not coming together.
In TV, you often only have one chance to rope a viewer. When big news – particularly of global importance – is unfolding CNN still has the stage. There is so much that is so important going on right now. People are going to check out what CNN has to say about it. And if they tune in and find out that what CNN has to say is that they’re leaving a couple of high-profile, talented people in a format and situation that clearly doesn’t work for nearly five months? Obviously, that is not good.
Spitzer’s unique combo of talents – being smart and sorta funny and super confident — are reminiscent of Bill Maher’s and would be best put to use on a format much more akin to Maher’s HBO show.
It is painful to watch the talent on this show sink in a format that doesn’t work – especially at the same exact time that they discuss how quickly gigantic, historic things can change around the world, like rulers who have been in place for decades being overthrown in a relative instant.
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