Why Didn't Anybody Watch CNN's 'Parker Spitzer'?


I say "anybody," not because the show had literally zero viewers, but because its opening was, unfortunately, an unalloyed disappointment. With 454,000 total viewers on Monday, the heavily advertised 'Parker Spitzer' show opened behind Bill O'Reilly (3.1 million viewers), Keith Olbermann (1.1 million), Campbell Brown's old show (500,000+), John King (471,000), and Rick's List (491,000), the show it replaced, which was hosted by recently fired Rick Sanchez.

Gabriel Sherman reported that MSNBC talking heads Lawrence O'Donnell and Keith Olbermann predicted a rough slog for Parker Spitzer:

"I don't want to make it sound like everything should be an echo chamber, but the idea that you're not an opinion channel because it's not just one opinion is just ludicrous," Olbermann said. "James Carville is an opinion, nothing but an opinion, and he's on all the damn time. The flaw over at CNN is a television flaw. It's not opinion versus non-opinion. They're going to please neither side. I would argue it's much more dishonest intellectually to say the moon is a thing largely made out of rock and is in the sky and makes this circle around the Earth and spins in a certain direction and we can see it in the distance, and to answer that, the man who says the moon is made entirely out of green cheese."

I think I agree with this. But I also think CNN's viewership worries have as much to do with their non-partisan ethos as their lack of a zeitgeist-grabbing voice. Glenn Beck, in all his paranoia and radical plebeian conservatism, was the perfect flavor for Tea Party America before there was a Tea Party. Bill O'Reilly is the classic conservative for all ages who expresses indignation and the media and "elites" and a connection with common American values. Olbermann represents the not-gonna-take-it-anymore liberal backlash to Fox News that crested a few years ago, while his pal Rachel Maddow came to prominence for seeming reasonable and liberal just a certain seemingly reasonable and liberal Illinois senator burst onto the scene and captured the Democratic nomination.

This isn't to say that the moment makes the anchor, only that successful news personalities must, to some extent, reflect the tensions of the times. Do Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker -- a tarnished anti-Wall Street crusader and a moderate conservative columnist -- hold a mirror to the zeitgeist? Are Americans quietly yearning for a low-fi, low-octane conversation between center-left and center-right? I'll let the viewers decide. But I worry that they have, already.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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