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CNN Reformats ‘Parker Spitzer’ Without Kathleen Parker

Brian Stelter|The New York Times
Friday, 25 Feb 2011 | 5:04 PM ET

CNN is reformatting “Parker Spitzer” as an ensemble program with Eliot Spitzer — and without Kathleen Parker, who has been his co-host for the last four months.

Kathleen Parker
Getty Images
Kathleen Parker

Effective Monday, the program will be renamed “In The Arena.” Several people will join Mr. Spitzer in the aforementioned arena, including E.D. Hill and Will Cain and “others within and outside the CNN family,” the executive in charge of CNN/U.S., Ken Jautz, said in a memorandum Friday afternoon.

The sudden reformatting of the 8 p.m. hour on CNN reflects the channel’s continued struggle to come up with a coherent identity. Almost since the day it started in October, “Parker Spitzer” was mired by backstage clashes and disagreements. It never generated ratings traction. The New York Post reported as early as Jan. 10 that Ms. Hill and Mr. Cain were being considered as replacements for Ms. Parker.

Ms. Hill, a former Fox News anchor, and Mr. Cain, a former columnist for National Review, are both conservative. Ms. Hill was the subject of attention in mid-2008 when she asked on Fox if a gesture by then-candidate Barack Obama had been a “terrorist fist jab.”

Ms. Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, will continue to appear on CNN occasionally, a CNN spokeswoman said. She did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but in a statement provided by CNN, she said “I have decided to return to a schedule that will allow me to focus more on my syndicated newspaper column and other writings.”

Last fall, she reduced her column schedule to once a week, from twice a week. She continued in the statement, “While I am extremely proud of the show we created, and the subject matter and level of discourse Parker Spitzer promoted every night, it was a difficult decision to scale back my column a few months ago and, with the show going in a new direction, it is a good time to move on.”

The new direction will try to feature many points of view, Mr. Jautz indicated in his memo on Friday. Through a spokeswoman, he declined an interview request.

CNN executives emphasized that they were not turning the 8 p.m. hour into “The Eliot Spitzer Show.” But it is almost certain that the reformatted and renamed program will further elevate Mr. Spitzer, the former New York governor who resigned the governorship in 2008 after being ensnared in a prostitution scandal.

Mr. Spitzer did not respond to a request for comment Friday. But he said in a statement provided by CNN, “I wish Kathleen all the best in continuing on with her spectacular career. It has been a joy working with her as a teammate, and I continue to be a huge fan of the wisdom that jumps from her written work and the wit, charm and insight she brings to all that she does.”

“Parker Spitzer” was conceived by a different CNN executive, Jonathan Klein, who was dismissed by the channel’s parent company, Time Warner, two weeks before it had its premiere. The show was a hot topic in media and political circles in part because it represented Mr. Spitzer’s return to the public spotlight.

Almost immediately, television critics noted that Mr. Spitzer seemed to overpower Ms. Parker on the show. She acknowledged in an interview in December that there had been some “editorial and political tension,” but cast it as a normal part of television production. That tension didn’t attract many viewers; in January, the program averaged only 125,000 viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, the demographic favored by cable news advertisers. It averaged 478,000 viewers of all ages.

The animus between the two co-hosts never faded, according to staff members at CNN; if anything, it intensified as media reports about the show’s problems piled up. The staff members, who insisted on anonymity because they had not been authorized to speak, said the reformatting had been under consideration for several weeks.

CNN’s notion of an ensemble talk show conjured up comparisons to “Crossfire,” the long-running debate show that CNN cancelled in 2005; and “The View,” the popular daytime talk show on ABC. Currently there is nothing like it in prime time on cable news.

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