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New York - Spitzer to Host New CNN Prime-Time Show


Eliot Spitzer, until very recently known primarily as the disgraced former governor of New York, will formally re-emerge as a regular television personality as the host of new prime-time news discussion program on CNN next fall.

The news network announced Tuesday that Mr. Spitzer will be joined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist for The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker, in a format that the CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein is describing as a “roundup of all the best ideas” of the day.

CNN has struggled to compete in prime time – the most financially important part of all news networks – with its two ideologically based competitors, Fox News Channel on the right and MSNBC on the left. Mr. Klein has continued to promise that it will not produce programs with a political bias.

Mr. Spitzer, who has filled in as a host on MSNBC and has been a guest on CNN in recent months, had been widely rumored to be in line for a show at both those networks. But CNN made clear that it would not present the former Democratic politician, who had a reputation as a prosecutor for hard-edged rhetoric directed at corporations, without a balancing conservative voice.

The show, which is still untitled, will include nightly guests from each side of the political spectrum, CNN said Tuesday. Ms. Parker, who will continue to write her column, was chosen, CNN executives said, for her reasoned voice on the right, noting her own description of her point of view as a “rational conservative.”

The new program will replace “Campbell Brown,” a news show  that struggled to compete against the opinionated programs on the Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Ms. Brown said in May that she was stepping down from her nightly perch.

Mr. Spitzer was first reported to be having conversations with CNN in mid-May, shortly after Ms. Brown’s departure was announced.

Seemingly wrapping himself in the redemptive spirit of television, Mr. Spitzer has been honing his punditry skills on television for the past year. He substituted for the MSNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan several times in the spring.

“He’s a smart guy, extremely smart, and he communicates well,” a cable news executive said of Mr. Spitzer at the time. “The question about him is, how much stench is on him, and is he likable enough?”

The prospect of Mr. Spitzer joining CNN sparked an internal debate among the employees at the cable news channel, according to several of the employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. Some employees said they felt deeply uneasy about having Mr. Spitzer on the payroll, given his embarrassing exit from the New York governorship in 2008 after it was revealed that he solicited prostitutes.

The rumors about Mr. Spitzer’s cable news comeback even made it into David Letterman’s monologue in May. His punch line: “That would be a switch — somebody paying him for an hour.”

Surely there will be more jokes at Mr. Spitzer’s — and now CNN’s — expense.

Ms. Parker, his new co-host, does not bring the same degree of controversy to CNN. A nationally syndicated columnist, Ms. Parker received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary earlier this year for what the judges called “her perceptive, often witty columns on an array of political and moral issues, gracefully sharing the experiences and values that lead her to unpredictable conclusions.”

Her column appears in more than 400 newspapers, according to her syndicator, the Washington Post Writers Group.

In his search for a replacement for Ms. Brown, Mr. Klein was known to have cast an especially wide net. “There are dozens of names on the list,” said a person familiar with the process.

The roundtable show with Mr. Spitzer and Ms. Parker is a dramatic change of direction for CNN, which has emphasized nonpartisan news in the face of its more opinionated competitors.

In 2005, shortly after Mr. Klein became the president of CNN/U.S., he canceled the left-right debate show “Crossfire.” The decision came to symbolize CNN’s shift away from opinion. In explaining the decision to The New York Times, Mr. Klein cited Jon Stewart’s assertion that ranting partisan political shows on cable television were “hurting America.”

“I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise,” Mr. Klein said at the time, adding that he believed viewers were interested in information, not opinion.

Of course, the cable news landscape has changed markedly since then, particularly in prime time.

The 8 p.m. time slot has been a conundrum for CNN, but it is far from the cable channel’s only problem area. The 9 p.m. time slot, home to “Larry King Live,” has shed nearly half of its audience in the past year and a half. The channel regularly ranks in fourth place in prime time, behind Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN’s more tabloid-friendly sibling, HLN.

NY Times
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