After months of sagging ratings and swirling rumors, Kathleen Parker is leaving CNN’s little-watched primetime effort, Parker Spitzer.
The news comes nearly two months after the Wall Street Journal reported that CNN was quietly considering replacing the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist as co-host of the 8 pm show.
Parker, along with her counterpart, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, had failed to gin up the sort of buzz the news operation longs for, much less garner enough viewers to make the program competitive with cable rivals Fox News and MSNBC.
In its first four months, Parker Spitzer averaged only 499,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.
“It was painfully obvious that it wasn’t working,” said one CNN insider. “[Spitzer] was clearly dominating, and [Parker] was clearly uncomfortable.”
Still more troubling, Parker Spitzer was supposed to be part of CNN’s much-needed primetime reinvention. Instead, rumors of off-screen disagreements, booking troubles and continued ratings woes plagued the series since its October launch.
By early January, Turner Broadcasting chief Phil Kent was already publicly acknowledging his disappointment. “We still think that form of show is the right idea for a network like CNN at 8 o’clock, but the execution has not been what we have been happy with up to date,” he said at an investor conference. “It is a work in progress. We are trying to make that show better.” He made certain to add that CNN U.S. prime-time accounts for only 10% of CNN’s revenue.
In Parker Spitzer’s place, CNN will introduce In the Arena, which is being billed as an ensemble nightly program with “several newsmakers, guests and contributors.”
Beginning Monday, the show will feature Spitzer, former Fox News anchor E.D. Hill and National Review columnist Will Cain, among others. (The New York Post first reported Hill and Cain, both conservatives, were being considered as potential Parker replacements early last month.) According to sources, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who has appeared on the show before, has been mentioned as another potential contributor from the conservative side of the aisle.
Parker, who many in the media deemed a misfit from the start, will turn her focus back to her writing. On occasion, she will appear on the network to lend commentary.
“While I am extremely proud of the show we created, and the subject matter and level of discourse Parker Spitzer promoted every night,” she said in a statement, “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.”