CNN's "Parker Spitzer" finally debuted Monday night, and what a load of obnoxious, self important noise it is.
I thought it would be years before I saw a new talk show that was as misguided as "Need to Know," the PBS production with Jon Meacham and Alison Stewart that debuted dead on arrival in May. But it's been only a few months, and it isn't even close: "Parker Spitzer" is far worse.
I don't make that comparison out of thin air either. The hosts from both shows keep telling you how "smart" their productions are and how they give you substance that no one else on television does. Right. Here's an axiom for talk TV: If a show host keeps telling you how smart his or her show is, it probably isn't. And it's annoying in a narcissistic kind of way for them to keep making the claim -- because they are saying by extension how smart they are.
In a promotional interview with CNN anchor Tony Harris Monday, Spitzer said his show was going to "bring back seriousness," force guests to "answer harder questions" and "drill down" to depths other shows presumably never go.
Parker, meanwhile, told us on-air during the show how they had gathered all these really "smart" people for an end of the hour segment called "Political Party." And what did she ask these four really smart people who sat around a table filling time at the end of the show?
What their "secret guilty pleasure was" and to "say something nice about Sarah Palin." Yeah, that's drilling down all right and bringing back seriousness. No thanks, I think I'll watch Palin herself on Fox News.
The best thing about the segment: From a production aspect, it was accordion-like, in that it could be easily extended with more questions to fill the hour if the show was running short. But then you would have to listen to more of the self-important noise Parker, Spitzer and their four guests were making as they all but winked at the camera and their own cleverness.
Oh wait, Parker actually did wink at the camera Monday night -- at the end of a commentary she delivered calling Sarah Palin a "tease." Isn't Parker clever? Isn't she something special with that smug, self-satisfied smile of hers? How did we ever live without her for all these years in our prime-time lives?
Obviously, the show is trying to target the middle class. I lost track of how many times Spitzer used the term while announcing his concern for the middle class -- as only a one-time politician could.
Here's another tip. If you want the middle class to identify with you, have your co-host lose the pearls. Check out how simple and understated Greta Van Susteren, of Fox News, is in her wardrobe. The stuff Parker had around her neck did not exactly say "I feel your pain" to the viewers who will go to bed tonight worried about losing jobs and homes. And I am not being gendered here. I would tone my suits way down if I was Spitzer, who looked far too Wall Street to me last night.
But Spitzer has a much bigger problem that cuff links or an overly expensive-looking suit when it comes to credibility with a mass audience? One of the key reasons Bill O'Reilly is the most popular host in prime-time cable TV news is his unwillingness to tolerate hypocrisy in any guest -- right or left. That refusal to accept hypocrisy speaks directly to millions in the audience who feel many TV hosts, like politicians, are hypocrites and liars.
So while I guess you could call it counterprogramming, who does CNN get to go head to head with Fox's O'Reilly at 8 but a former politician and poster boy for hypocrisy -- a one-time prosecutor who prosecuted prostitutes even as he was paying excessive amounts of money to them for sex. And then he lied about it and tried to cover it up. Eliot Spitzer: Someone we can all believe in.
And there he is on the air Monday night in his premiere show interviewing a former Wall Street insider, a crook he helped convict for lying to and exploiting clients. And what are he and Spitzer doing -- congratulating each other on their comebacks. I swear. If you have not yet checked out the attached video of Spitzer interviewing Henry Blodget, please do so. You can get the particulars there-- if you can stomach the mutual admiration vibe these two are all amped up on.
And this looks like it is going to be a featured segment -- cases that Spitzer once prosecuted, like they are part of some great mythology we all know and cherish as narratives of Eliot Spitzer: The Hero Quest.
Can I find something nice to say?
Yes. The production values are terrific. In its desperation to get some prime-time traction, CNN has gone all out in set design, graphics and production values. The show looks great. The set seemed to hum with energy. And it's not because of the hosts.
The set literally moves. As Spitzer was wonking away on commentary in which he had the hubris to address President Obama directly (as to how he should fire Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner), panels of the set were moving behind him to give a sense of energy to the pretentious blah-blah,-blah that was coming out of Spitzer's mouth.
I enjoyed watching the panels move far more than I did listening to Spitzer telling me how much smarter he was than Geithner and the president of the United States.