O'Donnell-Coons debate: An important night for CNN

Forget about "Parker Spitzer." It's dead, and the only question left is when the guys with the body bags come and take away.

But if you want to do some useful ratings watching at CNN, check out the Nielsen numbers Thursday for Wednesday night's telecast of the Delaware Senate debate between Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons co-moderated by Wolf Blitzer.


CNN has several of these election-related nights with Blitzer, John King and Candy Crowley scheduled between now and Nov. 2, and they will offer a strong sense of whether or not the cable news network has lost even its audience for politics. With the prime-time schedule in meltdown, holding onto the politics franchise, the home court of CNN in 2008, is crucial right now. It would be something to build from -- and the Washington-based journalists who host the political shows are the cream of the network's domestic journalists.

Here is what the political-night lineup from CNN looks like starting with the Delaware debate Wednesday night at the University of Delaware in Newark:

I'm not saying CNN has to beat ratings juggernaut Fox News any more -- although in 2008, it sometimes did. But on such nights this month, CNN has to beat MSNBC and put a little bit of dent in Fox News to show it can still compete in at least this one important area. And Christine O'Donnell has nothing if not tune-in potential given her reluctance to talk to journalists since becoming the nominee for Joe Biden's former senate seat.

Now, as the question posed at the start of when "Parker Spitzer" leaves this world, the show averaged only 465,000 viewers a night in its premiere week. That's down 24 percent from what Campbell Brown was doing last year, and we are in the middle of a red-hot midterm election with news and controversies bursting out all over this year. Given that fact, CNN would probably like to make "Parker Spitzer" disappear as fast as possible.

But giving the reality of trying to save a little face and not beg analysts to use the word "debacle" to describe "Parker Spitzer," CNN management will probably wait until shortly before Piers Morgan debuts in early 2011 as Larry King's replacement to end its misery. The 8 p.m. timeslot is the gateway to the prime-time lineup, and you wouldn't try to show and sell a new house with a corpse lying in the front doorway.

I wonder if any readers of this blog will be watching. I will, because I certainly want to see O'Donnell questioned by someone like Blitzer. It will also be interesting to see how CNN handles it if the Chilean miners story is still going strong Wednesday night.

But thios is a tough call for me, because C-SPAN, which has been terrific in its midterm coverage, will also be carring the O'Donnell debate tonight at 7:30. After that, C-SPAN will follow with the last Califronia governors debate. Terrific effort being made by C-SPAN to serve democracy.