During the first few seconds of CNN’s new “Parker Spitzer”—that is, after the up-tempo jazz introduction which marks this as a show for middle-aged folks ready to pour themselves a glass of Shiraz and get just a tiny little bit randy—Parker said something that immediately set off warning bells for anyone who follows politics. “You know how I am,” she said. “I hate labels: left, right, conservative, liberal. No, we’re going to do something different with this show.
In a very strict sense, this is true: the show is different. There has never previously been a show co-hosted by conservative columnist Kathleen Parker and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer on CNN or any other network. In another, realer sense: Crap, here we go again. How many other shows that have tried to hoist themselves up on a pedestal of high-minded centrism and up-tempo jazz have failed to be worthwhile additions to our charred cable landscape? Too many.
The hosts themselves are all right. Parker is smoother and less excitable than Spitzer, who needs to fine-tune his interviewing style a bit, as he tends to interrupt the rhythm of interviews with editorializing rather than work his opinions into the next question, as a more experienced broadcast journalist might. You also get the sense that the whole enterprise, reliant as it is on neither of the hosts getting too impolite, neuters both Spitzer’s intelligence and his rather appealing sense of populist outrage.
After their “no labels” mission statement, the two hosts offered some opening political opinions (him: fire Tim Geithner; her: Sarah Palin needs to come out and announce whether or not she’s running for president), and were then met by their first guests: Thomas Frank and … Andrew Breitbart. Maybe it’s lazy to immediately question the integrity of a show because of one choice of guest. But Spitzer promised a show about ideas during the intro, and Breitbart is to the legitimate discussion of ideas what Ashley Alexandra Dupre was to Spitzer’s political career. You can have real discussion and debate, or you can have Breitbart. You can’t have both.
And little else in the hour brought much depth. Elizabeth Warren came on to talk about Obama’s consumer protection bureau, but only scratched the bare basics. As Warren spoke about the importance of simplifying credit card agreements, Parker—apparently sensing that her role as the anti-Spitzer requires her to stand up for the credit card companies—responded by arguing, "Aren’t we falling into the trap of taking care of people who refuse to take care of themselves?" Then Aaron Sorkin appeared to pimp The Social Network and get in a somewhat decent jab at Republicans (“Democrats may have moved to the center,” he says, “but Republicans have moved into a mental institution”). After that, Spitzer interviewed Henry Blodget, a former Merrill Lynch analyst he prosecuted as attorney general (Blodget was fined $4 million and banned from the industry, but, God bless America’s safety net, landed as CEO and Editor in Chief of Business Insider). This segment didn’t go into much depth either, but, to be fair, Blodget did tell Spitzer that he had “huge balls” for being the bulldog he was as AG.
Then came the “Political Party,” which I sort of hoped I had hallucinated. Spitzer, Parker, and four panelists sat around a table littered with newspapers (Why? Were they worried there’d be a lull in the conversation and they’d have to search for something to talk about?) and responded to pointless prompts with dumb chunks of nothing. That’s a harsh-sounding description, but then again, for the first round of the party, Parker instructed the panelists, “We’re gonna go around the table and everybody has to say something nice about Sarah [Palin].” So that happened. And then they each said which celebrity they’d like to see run for president in 2012. Someone suggested Jared, the Subway guy, and this led to a tangent in which the panelists talked about Subway for a few seconds. And then each panelist revealed a secret guilty pleasure. (No mention of keeping one’s socks on.) Finally, to wrap things up, they played a round of Truth or Dare which resulted in an awkward, 30-second makeout session between Blodget and The National Reviews Will Cain. Okay, that last part isn’t true.
Anyway, it’s unnecessary for CNN to market “Parker Spitzer” as anything more than it is, which is another dumb, left-versus-right show launched several years after the genre went into decline, mostly replaced by much higher-rated (and, generally, more awful) rabidly opinionated offerings. Even Spitzer seemed to get this, if only implicitly. “This is a show about ideas the ideas that drive American politics,” he said during the intro. But then, as he introduced the “Political Party,” he said, “This show’s about strong opinions.” His confusion is understandable, because “Parker Spitzer” isn’t really about anything.
Jesse Singal works for The Boston Globe's opinion page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.