'Parker/Spitzer' - Less Happy Talk, More Teeth


Parker/Spitzer, the first of two new hours designed to rescue CNN primetime from the ratings basement, bowed tonight.

The program had all the trappings of a made-for-cable-news hour - controversial guests (Andrew Breitbart) and controversial soundbites (Kathleen Parker: Sarah Palin “get out of the way” you “can’t win” in 2012. And Aaron Sorkin: Palin “is an idiot. A remarkably, stunningly, jaw-droppingly incompetent, mean woman.”).

But what started out as a mildly interesting political discussion with Eliot Spitzer calling for Treasury secretary Tim Geithner’s head on a platter and Parker calling on the most popular Republican in the country to refrain from running for president in 2012, quickly devolved into frenzied labeling. Breitbart played the “socialist” card, his counterweight guest Thomas Frank condescended to the “angry middle class.”

A segment with Henry Blodget, erstwhile Merrill Lynch employee whom Spitzer prosecuted in 2003, was a lame bit of self-congratulation with Blodget bowing at the foot of the one-time Eliot Ness of Wall Street, even complimenting Spitzer on the size of his “balls.”

Success will ultimately rest on the strength of the hosts. But booking matters - a lot. And the list of guests for the inaugural edition of Parker/Spitzer was underwhelming. Sorkin was clearly there to flog his new movie, The Social Network. A clip was played. And too much time was spent trying to justify Sorkin’s appearance by talking about The West Wing, a show that hasn’t been on television since 2006.

The entire program was rather genial - almost too chummy and happy. Spitzer, who was so ruthless when he was in the attorney general’s office, seemed defanged. Angry does not play well on TV. But unleashing Spitzer to cross-examine newsmakers of note, Tim Russert-style, would give Parker/Spitzer a lot more bite.