Parker/Spitzer: Countdown to Divorce

Confession: I probably should have been glued to CNN last night for the debut of the channel’s new rom-com talking-heads program, Parker/Spitzer. Alas, I had other, more pressing things to do: a game of Battleship with myself, cleaning lint off my socks, spirographing.

Fortunately, others were more devoted. Their assessments this morning suggest that watching Parker/Spitzer was something akin to sitting at a dinner party hosted by a separated couple pretending they’re still very much in love: a little awkward, a little forced, and moved along by a desperate need to start too many new conversations just to avoid the elephant in the room.

The dinner guests were a (mostly) distinguished bunch: Elizabeth Warren, Aaron Sorkin, Henry Blodget, Andrew Breitbart. But none, it seemed, could stop the show from living down to the remarkably low expectations most had for it. Here is a highlights reel of responses from those who were braver/more dedicated than I.

Dan Kennedy at the Guardian forced himself to take Parker/Spitzer seriously, at times.

Parker Spitzer did nothing to reverse the notion that CNN is utterly lost…

Strangely, CNN allowed dead-man-walking president Jonathan Klein to put together Parker Spitzer and a new show to be anchored by Piers Morgan, replacing the retiring Larry King – then let Klein go last week. By Friday, the network had descended into utter chaos, as the clownish anchor Rick Sanchez was fired after calling the comedian Jon Stewart a “bigot” and making borderline antisemitic remarks.

Needless to say, Parker Spitzer made its debut with more than a whiff of carnage in the air.

…If I could take Parker Spitzer seriously enough to offer a substantive critique, I might point out that the show failed to gain momentum because the two hosts were moving along parallel tracks that never quite intersected. Spitzer began the hour by calling on Barack Obama to fire his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and Parker called on Sarah Palin to stop teasing and announce she’s not running for president. They each pursued those lines for the rest of the show, making it feel like two separate programmes, neither very good.

But, frankly, I’d rather point out that having Spitzer and Parker sit so close together and trade sly banter is just plain creepy.

The New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley was a little softer on the new couple, winning the “best line” contest with her contention that the show was “‘Crossfire’ meets ‘Moonlighting.’”

But while the co-hosts worked hard to give off a loosey-goosey feel, the levity seemed a little forced. There wasn’t strong disagreement between the two anchors, perhaps because they didn’t address the same topics in the segment called “Opening Argument.” Looking into the camera, Mr. Spitzer addressed himself to Mr. Obama and urged him to fire Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. When her turn came, Ms. Parker chided Sarah Palin for being a “tease” about her presidential intentions. “I never thought Sarah would grow the legs she has,” Ms. Parker said coyly. “No guys, not those legs, the legs to keep growing momentum.”

As for Spitzer, after an epic fall from grace, he’d found his land Down Under.

Mr. Spitzer was in elected office when he broke the law, which is perhaps a bigger breach of the public trust. But that just goes to show that cable news has become our version of 18th-century Australia—people who go there willingly do so to reinvent themselves in a rougher, less socially exacting landscape.

Naturally, Gawker wins the award for “hardest hit of the piñata”, capping off a double-entendre-filled review in which Max Read slams the final segment—“‘Political Party,’ a sad little Morning Joe ripoff where the hosts cram four more people around their tiny little table…”—with this choice, topical line.

Oh, well. It’s not like we were expecting anything! At least no one accused the Jews of controlling the media.

For better or for worse, through sickness and in health, there’s always show two.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.