Eliot Spitzer’s new CNN primetime show, “Parker Spitzer,” which the former New York governor co-hosts with conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, got off to an underwhelming start this week.
This was fewer than had been tuning in when recently-fired anchor Rick Sanchez was filling in during the same 8 p.m. time slot, and also far fewer than other recent CNN premieres.
Sanchez, for instance, had 845,000 total viewers during the first-hour of his two-hour show, “Rick’s List,” when it debuted at 3 p.m. on January 18 of this year. A few months later, CNN’s 7 p.m. face, John King, debuted with 693,000 total viewers. And when Joy Behar launched her new show on CNN’s sister network, HLN, on Sept. 29, 2009, 559,000 viewers tuned in.
(Spitzer’s predecessor at 8 p.m., Campbell Brown, started off with around 1.3 million viewers, though that’s a bit of an unfair comparison since her show debuted on Oct. 20, 2008, right smack in the middle of the election season.)
Interestingly, and perhaps encouragingly, “Parker Spitzer” got a bit of a boost on its second night, with 513,000 total viewers. This is still nowhere close to the 3.5 million people who watched Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel or the 1.2 million who watched Keith Olbermann on MSNBC during that same time, but it’s obviously better than a decline.
Bottom line, though: The initial ratings are disappointing for a show that was created with the hopes of saving CNN in primetime.
This raises the question of whether CNN will give “Parker Spitzer” some time to build up its audience and brand, or if the network is already plotting its next move at 8 p.m.
CNN’s official line suggests the former.
“We are pleased with the quality of the show and over time we think viewers will be drawn to the more thoughtful discussion and lively debate that Kathleen and Eliot have to offer,” a spokesperson told us. She noted “Parker Spitzer’s” night-over-night growth both in total viewers and the advertiser-friendly age 25-54 demographic.
Several cable news sources we spoke with were less optimistic.
“If it only started with [454,000] viewers, there’s only one way to go — down,” a cable-network industry executive told us. “Being rejected by the audience out of the gate is tough to recover from. They’re gonna have to move ‘Parker Spitzer’ with those numbers. Watch them put it at 6 or 7 before killing it. It’s not ready for primetime.”
A longtime TV news producer close to CNN agreed: “It is very possible that it could already be on life support,” the source said. “Nobody waits for anything. If it really looks right out of the gate like it’s that dismal, I don’t know if they’ll wait to see if it develops an audience.”
It’s worth noting that recently-fired former CNN U.S. president Jon Klein’s decision to hire Spitzer was met with “stiff internal resistance.” Now that Klein is gone, CNN could kill “Parker Spitzer” fast and stick Klein with the blame for its failure.
Another cable-news executive we spoke to, however, said that CNN would be unlikely to pull the plug so soon, especially considering the visibility the show has received in the media. And Klein’s replacement, Ken Jautz, might not be looking to make any drastic moves right off the bat.
“I’m sure he’s not looking to upset the apple cart immediately,” said a knowledgeable former CNN staffer.
It might also be worth waiting to see how CNN’s other new primetime addition, Piers Morgan, does when his show debuts in January, replacing Larry King at 9 p.m.
Morgan, for one, is aiming high.
“I didn’t join the network to come in second or third or fourth,” he said recently. “I want to be first.”
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