Executive Jonathan Klein started his career at CNN by complaining about scummy, pajama-clad bloggers; he ended it by hiring "Client Number 9," Eliot Spitzer, to host a primetime show.
Klein was recently sacked after CNN's owners grew tired of watching him guide the network into last place. He had often talked about the network's "commitment" to serious news programming. Yet this proponent of credentialed, reputable journalists -- Klein famously defended the forgery-using Dan Rather against some "guy sitting in his living room" blogging -- leaves behind as his final project a show hosted by a prostitute-frequenting non-journalist.
That Eliot Spitzer got the show is far more interesting than the show itself, which is a pitiful, supposedly fun yet serious "dinner party" (in the show's gimmicky language) that no one, except possibly the dimmer members of Jonathan Klein's social circle, would want to attend.
The lightweight, "Pulitzer Prize-winning" columnist Kathleen Parker plays the show's doltish hostess, making weak jokes and asking inane questions as guests pass through the foyer, as it were, before the serious talk at dinner commences with Eliot. In its desperate promotional material, CNN insists that "chemistry" exists between Parker and Spitzer, a particularly creepy analogy to use when the show stars a pol bounced from office for after-hour cavorting. Kathleen Parker is given to bragging about her genteel Southern manners and roots. But what kind of "Southern belle" co-hosts a show with Client Number 9?
Some have billed the show as an evening version of "Morning Joe." But this "lively" evening party is neither live nor shot in the evening. The editing is obvious and heavy, making one wonder just how bad the uncut segments appear. Klein had complained about Crossfire as a food fight and pompously canceled it. But Parker Spitzer's dinner party offers up thin gruel compared to it.
Crossfire, even at its stupidest, showed a little life and passion. But Parker and Spitzer are just two establishment bores and climbers without anything of substance to say. Spitzer is using the show to rehabilitate himself (guests so far have dutifully praised him) and Parker seems content to ask cutesy, nothing questions that only a Pulitzer Prize Committee could find incisive.
The show's ratings so far have been anemic, trailing even the axed show of Rick Sanchez, another suave selection by Klein. Sanchez had been given a wide swath during the afternoon with Klein's blessing, but broke down under criticism from the left.
It is curious that in his anti-Jewish lashing out at Jon Stewart as a coward and phony Sanchez didn't bring up Stewart's bogus name. His name is actually Jon "Leibowitz," but the satirist of all things phony dropped it because he thought retaining the name would hurt his career. Stewart hates phoniness in others, but uses a phony name for himself, which in itself is a kind of rebuttal to Sanchez's contention that people "like Stewart" control the media.
Sanchez has a curious identity complex of his own, referring to himself as a "little, Puerto Rican" guy that the "Northeastern liberal elite" automatically marked down as "second-tier." What exactly is he talking about? Sanchez isn't "little" but heavyset and loud, and his ancestry isn't "Puerto Rican" but Cuban. In fact, had he gone the Jon Stewart route and adopted a phony last name, most people wouldn't even think of him as Hispanic.
Playing up his Hispanic background didn't hurt his career; it made his career. That's why he felt the need to out-Hispanic Hispanics, incorporating into his show a "Fotos del Dia" segment that Stewart gleefully mocked.
Perhaps CNN should have kept Sanchez on the air; cross-channel dueling and curiosity alone would have given the network a ratings boost. A Jewish comic with an adopted WASP name sparring night after night with a white-looking lout who casts himself as a "little, Puerto Rican" involves much more interesting chemistry than Parker Spitzer.
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