Correction to This Article
This column about "Parker Spitzer," the new CNN program featuring Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer, incorrectly said that as New York governor, Spitzer used the state police to monitor the state Senate's top Republican. A state commission found that four of his top aides carried out the campaign and that one informed Spitzer, but the report concluded that the governor thought the information was being released through proper procedures.

Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer, CNN's duo of civil dispute

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010

NEW YORK -- They are, somewhat self-consciously, an odd couple, the Northern pol and the Southern belle, the prosecutor and the journalist, the man trying to recover from disgrace and the woman graciously forgiving his sins.

"I bring the everyday American perspective to the table," says Kathleen Parker. "I get 'em. I've been living with them."

"I'm not gonna concede that we aren't real Americans up here in the big urban," says Eliot Spitzer.

"I'm not saying New Yorkers aren't. I'm just saying you aren't."

They are sitting with two producers in a small CNN office at Columbus Circle, hours before their 16th rehearsal of the prime-time show that launches Monday night. All the attention has been on the former New York governor, who resigned two years ago, and it is clear that Parker, the right-leaning columnist syndicated by The Washington Post, is, in television terms, his escort back to polite society.

Spitzer faces a huge hurdle: He must somehow persuade those tuning in to put aside the image of a prostitute-patronizing politician who humiliated his family and view him instead as a thoughtful and engaging personality. The images from the scandal that drove him from Albany -- Ashley Dupre, his designation as Client 9, his pain-stricken wife Silda standing beside him -- are draped around him like a ragged old coat.

Why is Parker, whose husband remains in South Carolina while she commutes, willing to lend her Pulitzer Prize-winning credibility to a role as half of a fondly bickering couple? When Spitzer stepped down, "I remember making a conscious decision not to write about it," she says. "We all struggle in our lives. . . . I didn't need to pile on."

"There's a maturity to her," Spitzer observes from across the room.

He is on the couch, in a crisp white shirt, gold cuff links and blue tie. She is at a desk, in a purple blouse and tan skirt, her blind white poodle, Ollie, curled up in a basket near her feet. He is 51, she is 59. He is smart but a bit starchy; she is sardonic but witty, and he considers her "a hoot." As with every other male-female combination on network morning shows or local newscasts, they are trying to create that mixture of warmth and tension known as chemistry.

One problem with the pairing is that they're not natural antagonists, and cable shows thrive on disagreement. "Parker Spitzer" will be up against Bill O'Reilly on Fox News and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and pleasant chat is going to be a tough sell.

Spitzer defends Bill Clinton; Parker didn't think he should have been impeached. Spitzer thinks the Democratic Party has sold out to Wall Street; Parker believes Anita Hill was telling the truth. At one point, she tells executive producer Liza McGuirk: "It's going to be hard to pin me down on a right-wing position."

That, in part, is McGuirk's challenge. "Traditionally," she says, "government officials and journalists have an antagonistic relationship, which should make for good television." But despite the awkwardness of their initial blind date, when Spitzer concluded Parker was a star, they hit it off.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company