Kathleen Parker Out at CNN's 'Parker Spitzer'

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Kathleen Parker

UPDATED: As she focuses on her syndicated newspaper column, Spitzer will now be sole host of CNN's 8 p.m. hour with a changing set of guests.

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.” 

Read the full memo from CNN executive vice president Ken Jautz to staff:
"I want to share with you some news today regarding our 8pm show. Kathleen Parker has decided to leave the program to focus on her writing, and we have decided to take the show in a new direction. We will be adopting an ensemble format with several newsmakers, guests and contributors joining Eliot Spitzer each night. The new program will be called, "In the Arena," beginning Monday.  E.D. Hill and Will Cain will join the program as well others within and outside the CNN family.
"We have been pleased with how the 8pm hour has become a centerpiece of substantive, policy-oriented conversation, and we are looking forward to building on that with this new format. Simply put, the new program will look beyond the headlines to analyze and discuss the most important stories of the day. 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. 
"Kathleen will continue to appear on CNN occasionally to provide her insights and commentary. We thank Kathleen for her hard work and all that she has done to help us launch our new 8pm program. We respect her as a colleague and appreciate her perspective and contributions," the memo concluded.
Here is Parker's statement:
"After bringing viewers a new 8pm show on CNN, I have decided to return to a schedule that will allow me to focus more on my syndicated newspaper column and other writings. 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. I want to thank the viewers who have been so kind with their comments and support. I will continue to appear to contribute and analyze occasionally on CNN and look forward to continuing my relationship with CNN and the many talented individuals I have worked with here."
Here is Spitzer's statement:
"I wish Kathleen all the best in continuing on with her spectacular career. It has been a joy working with her as a teammate, and I continue to be a huge fan of the wisdom that jumps from her written work and the wit, charm and insight she brings to all that she does."