CNN Takes Long View On 'Parker/Spitzer'

Execs sanguine about negative reviews, slow ratings start
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Parker/Spitzer - the first chapter
of CNN's primetime makeover - bowed Monday to a barrage of excoriating reviews:

Time: "vapid"
Baltimore Sun:
"a load of obnoxious, self-important noise"

The Guardian: "wretchedly unwatchable"

St. Petersburg Times: "confused," "odd and ill-focused"

New York Times: "hard to watch"

Bart Feder, senior VP of programming at
CNN/US, is taking the long view.

"Critics do what critics do and their
aim is to get page views and sell newspapers," he told B&C on
Friday.

And perhaps all of the negative reviews
on night one drove a little curiosity tune-in on night two. The show pulled in
a lackluster 454,000 viewers on Monday, for a fourth place finish in the 8 p.m.
hour behind Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Nancy Grace
on HLN.

By Tuesday, Parker/Spitzer was
up 13% to 513,000 total viewers. On day three, the show was basically flat
(503,000 viewers), but it grew its John King, USA lead-in by 98% 
(which really doesn't bode well for King). However, it should be noted that
those viewer totals are on par with CNN's 8 p.m. average for the just completed
third quarter. And CNN's stated goal is to do better.

Feder said that at this point he's just
encouraged that the show is adding viewers from its lead-in.

"We honestly believe that as people
sample the show they'll fine it refreshing and interesting and they'll come
back. Cable shows don't premiere with huge audiences," he says. "They grow over
time. And that's been true of our competitors and that will be true for us
too."

He wouldn't pinpoint his ratings goals
for the show.

"All we've done is taken two people
who've never hosted a television show and put them in the most competitive time
period in cable news. That's asking a lot. And all you can ask is that they
come to play every day."

Feder stressed the network's commitment
to Parker/Spitzer and Piers Morgan's upcoming show, which will bow in
January. And he added that the hosts, conservative columnist Kathleen Parker
and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, will be participating in
CNN's mid-term election night coverage next month.

Asked if the constant focus on CNN'
primetime ratings bothered him, Feder laughed, "Does it bother me?"

"We have a great brand. We have an
outstanding network. We do the best job of anyone in television covering
breaking news," he says. "Clearly we want to put on a primetime schedule that
will bring people to the set night after night when there isn't a lot going on
in the world. That's our objective. With Piers Morgan coming onboard and with
Anderson Cooper, we're very excited about a strong consistent primetime lineup
that we think will bring new energy to cable and will impact the ratings
positively. Otherwise we would be doing something different."

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