Kathleen Parker leaves CNN's 'Parker Spitzer'

CO-CHAIRS: The former New York governor and the syndicated columnist host the  their CNN show "Parker Spitzer."
CO-CHAIRS: The former New York governor and the syndicated columnist host the their CNN show "Parker Spitzer." (Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 8:20 PM

"Parker Spitzer," CNN's troubled prime-time talking-head program, is losing its Parker.

Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer, will leave the ratings-deficient show after just four months, the network said Friday.

The program, which airs at 8 p.m. weeknights, will be replaced starting Monday by "In the Arena," which CNN described as an "ensemble" program that will feature Eliot Spitzer, Parker's co-host on "Parker Spitzer."

Parker's departure from the program has been rumored for almost as long as the show has been on the air, with periodic reports of conflicts between her and Spitzer. The network said the decision was mutual, but Parker was not considered for a role as the network began considering an overhaul.

Parker writes an op-ed column for The Washington Post that is syndicated nationally and will leave to "focus on her writing," CNN Executive Vice President Ken Jautz said in a face-saving staff memo released to the media.

The retrenchment is another blow to CNN's attempts to rebuild its flagging prime-time lineup. In addition to introducing "Parker Spitzer" last fall, the network replaced the long-running "Larry King Live" interview program at 9 p.m. with a new celebrity-interview show hosted by British journalist Piers Morgan.

"Parker Spitzer" was something of a departure for CNN, which had long resisted the distinctly ideological prime-time programs of its cable news rivals Fox News and MSNBC. The program featured the generally liberal Spitzer, the former Democratic New York governor who was brought down by his relationship with a prostitute, and Parker, a right-of-center columnist, in a roundtable discussion format.

But the show never attracted much of an audience. On Wednesday, it drew 713,000 viewers, ranking it a distant third among the cable news networks after Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News (3.32 million viewers) and "The Last Word" with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC (1.04 million). The poor lead-in also hurt "Piers Morgan Tonight" at 9 p.m. His program was also a distant third behind Fox and MSNBC's offerings.

"Parker Spitzer" has occasionally finished fourth in its timeslot behind Nancy Grace's program on CNN's HLN, and it was especially challenged among viewers ages 25 to 54, the key news audience segment for advertisers.

Perhaps worse, the program's audience spiked during a week earlier this month when Parker was off the air. The program had its best weekly ratings in early February, fueled by interest in the crisis in Egypt, with Spitzer as solo host.

On the new show, Spitzer will interview newsmakers each weeknight along with two new contributors, former Fox News morning host E.D. Hill and Will Cain, a columnist for the conservative journal National Review and a sometime panelist on Fox News.

"Simply put, the new program will look beyond the headlines to analyze and discuss the most important stories of the day," Jautz wrote. "The program will provide context and analysis through balanced and thoughtful discussions and interviews with a wide range of guests and newsmakers who cumulatively represent various points of view."

Parker, who will continue to appear on CNN occasionally, said in a statement, "While I am extremely proud of the show we created, and the subject matter and level of discourse 'Parker Spitzer' promoted every night, it was a difficult decision to scale back my column a few months ago and, with the show going in a new direction, it is a good time to move on."

Parker, who won the Pulitzer last year for commentary, wrote a twice-weekly column for The Post before joining CNN, but cut back to once a week after the show began.

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