After a summer of watching all of the various dramas, ups and downs at CNN, we're hyped for the Monday night premiere of "Parker Spitzer." The network's new show features former New York governor Eliot Spitzer alongside conservative columnist Kathleen Parker.
Even though the initial promos for "Parker Spitzer" were cringeworthy, the inaugural episode is must-see TV for media mavens. Not only is it the culmination of Spitzer's long comeback from a prostitution scandal in 2008, it's also a make-or-break moment for CNN.
"Parker Spitzer" was selected to fill the 8 p.m. ET time slot that was vacated after the departure of Campbell Brown due to low ratings. Brown's departure was the first of many at CNN this summer including longtime host Larry King, network president Jon Klein and anchor Rick Sanchez. With all that turnover and primetime ratings in the toilet, the network needs its new shows to turn things around.
Whether "Parker Spitzer" takes off or tanks, we'll be there for every moment of the initial broadcast. Check back here starting at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific for a liveblog chronicling all of "Parker Spitzer's" flubs and high points.
5:10 p.m. – Missed the first few minutes due to traffic on the 10 freeway. What did they pick for theme music? For their sakes, I hope it's better than the smooth jazz muzak they used for the promo.
5:13 p.m. – Has anyone made a winking reference to Spitzer's sex scandal yet?
5:16 p.m. – Spitzer's "opening argument" was a case for firing Tim Geithner. Spitzer's being pretty transparent about wanting to use the show as a path back to power. "Mr. President … please give us a Treasury Secretary who understands Main Street. I've got some names, give me a call," Spitzer said. Their first guest will be President Obama's new consumer protection czar, Elizabeth Warren. They're clearly trying to capitalize on Spitzer's rep as the former "Sheriff of Wall Street."
5:19 p.m. – Parker's "opening argument" is a request for her "favorite politician," Sarah Palin, to stop being "a tease" and either declare her candidacy for 2012 or admit that she's not running.
5:24 p.m. – Warren discussed her main priority as consumer protection czar; simplifying credit products. "There is nothing in the fine print that's ever good for the consumer," she said. Seems like there will be some smart, detailed, evenhanded discussion of the economy on this show. That's a good thing, but can it bring in the kind of ratings CNN so desperately needs for primetime?
5:27 p.m. – Their next guest is "Social Network" writer Aaron Sorkin. He'd be a great get if they want to talk about the movie or the media industry at large, but I hate when cable news brings in celebrities for political punditry.
5:30 p.m. – Yup, they're using "The West Wing" as a tenuous link to talk politics with Sorkin. Parker asked him his opinion on "Palin and the Tea Party." Clearly, she's here to bring up that angle in almost every discussion.
5:35 p.m. – Sorkin doesn't want to hurt his ticket sales by showing his personal politics, but he just can't help it: "The movie 'The Social Network' has absolutely no politics at all. No one has to agree with anything im saying to go see this movie, but Sarah Palin's an idiot … The Democrats may have moved into the center, but the Republicans have moved into a mental institution."
5:39 p.m. – Business Insider's head honcho Henry Blodget is on to talk Wall Street. They're billing this as an exciting faceoff because Spitzer busted Blodget with a $4 million fraud charge when he was New York's attorney general in 2003. It's not tense at all, both these guys are way too happy to be on television.
5:42 p.m. – Looks like they went with the jazz muzak. Oh well.
5:46 p.m. – The panel portion of "Parker Spitzer" is called "Political Party," because this show is just such super fun, laid back partytimes.
5:48 p.m. – Parker's Palin fixation continues. She asked the panelists to each "say something nice about Sarah," because the show has been home to such hardhitting criticism of the conservative politician. You know, in the first forty-five minutes.
5:51 p.m. – For the second panel question, Parker asked everyone to reveal their guilty pleasures. Spitzer might need a little extra time for this one.
5:55 p.m. – Spitzer said his biggest guilty pleasure is NASCAR. Yeah, right. Amazingly, none of the panelists burst out laughing.
6:00 p.m. – Well, it's over, but don't worry Parker assured the world that "the party" will be back this time every week. "Loads of fun," said Spitzer.
6:18 p.m. – CNN's strategy with "Parker Spitzer" is easy to see, because it's so clumsily executed. Based on the show's relentless adherence to certain talking points, it's obvious that they're hoping to cash in on recession worries and anger at the government with a Crossfire"-style discussion that focuses on "Main Street vs. Wall Street" economic analysis and gives substantial airtime to stars of the conservative movement.
Still, CNN is not going for the party line politics of Fox or MSNBC. "Parker Spitzer" painstakingly tries to show bipartisan stripes. Within the first five minutes, Spitzer identified himself as a "big supporter" of the Obama administration. Parker spent almost the whole episode talking about Sarah Palin.
"Parker Spitzer" also includes a whole lot of Hollywood. With the hiring of Piers Morgan and "Parker Spitzer's" celebrity bent, it's starting to become clear that CNN is hoping to bring in ratings with more entertainment-centric coverage.
6:30 p.m. – The most awkward moments on "Parker Spitzer" are the many attempts to brand this show as a fun, relaxed party. It's anything but. The clearly defined script combined with both hosts lack of broadcast experience make for a stilted, awkward environment.
"Parker Spitzer" is going for "Morning Joe," but it felt more like a bad first date.
If they want a loose dynamic, CNN should let the hosts have a freeform, natural discussion instead of sticking to set roles and agendas. Parker and Spitzer should also try to focus on having fun themselves rather than constantly telling the audience what "a party" it all is.
It's normal for a talk show to be a work in progress, but this is primetime not late night and thanks to CNN's slumping ratings, the stakes are high for "Parker Spitzer."