Why CNN Axed Eliot Spitzer's Show

Elliot Spizter Wall Street Journal 2011
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 16: Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer attends a forum on the future of New York September 16, 2010 at the New York Public Library in New York City. The forum, which was sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, also included New York former Governor George Pataki and current governor David Paterson. Mainstream politicians in New York have been caught off guard by the controversial primary win of upstate millionaire and Tea Party endorsed Carl Paladino as the Republican party`s pick for governor. 

“We’d like to do better. And we can do better,” said CNN/U.S. exec Ken Jautz.

NEW YORK – The latest shakeup at CNN – which could result in Eliot Spitzer leaving the network after less than a year – underscores the competition in cable news at 8 p.m.

Spitzer’s show, In the Arena, five months ago replaced Parker/Spitzer, which launched last fall with Kathleen Parker as Spitzer’s co-host. Chemistry between the two hosts never materialized and Parker exited earlier this year. Before Parker/Spitzer – which was developed under former CNN/U.S. chief Jon KleinCampbell Brown languished for more than two years in the timeslot. She announced in May 2010 that she had asked to be let out of her CNN contract citing her show’s poor ratings as a primary reason for her decision.

Spitzer was informed of the network’s decision to cancel his show this week, Ken Jautz, executive vp of CNN/U.S., told The Hollywood Reporter. Spitzer will anchor his last edition of In the Arena Wednesday. And the show will continue with rotating anchors until Anderson Cooper 360 moves into the 8 p.m. hour on August 8. Spitzer is said to be still weighing an offer to continue on the network as a commentator.

“Eliot has been offered an alternative position at CNN and he is formally considering that,” said Jautz. “He’s not given us an answer yet.”

But Spitzer released a statement that seemed to intimate that he would not be continuing at CNN: “We engaged serious people in conversations about national and global issues in a way that was informative and challenging. I believe that we provided diverse and valuable perspectives during the show's tenure. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at CNN."

“We wanted to create a line up that provided better flow from show to show,” explained Jautz. “And we think we’ve done that.”

A rerun of AC360 will air at 10 p.m. while Piers Morgan Tonight will stay put at 9 p.m. and Erin Burnett – who jumped from CNBC to CNN earlier this year – will anchor a new 7 p.m. general news program that is set to bow in the fall.

“We have a lineup that underscores our commitment to quality journalism,” added Jautz.

Cooper’s show, he said, “is our flagship program. It’s best to put your flagship program in your marquee hour. And the shows at 8 o’clock are representative of what the news networks stand for.”

For the second quarter 2011 ratings period, CNN posted double-digit year-over-year gains in total day and primetime. But the network still finished the quarter behind MSNBC, which posted more marginal gains during a newsy second quarter that included the killing of Osama bin Laden and continued unrest in the Arab world. For the second quarter, Spitzer’s program averaged 545,000 viewers with 168,000 of them in news’ target demographic of 25-54-year-olds, marking gains of 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Still, In the Arena finished the 8 p.m. hour behind Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly (2.8 million total viewers with 650,000 in the demo), MSNBC’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (946,000 total viewers with 253,000 in the demo) and HLN’s Nancy Grace (862,000 total viewers with 254,000 in the demo).

CNN may also be facing new competition from former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, whose 8 p.m. program on Current has bested CNN in the demo multiple times since Olbermann bowed on Current last month.

“There have been improvements in that hour,” said Jautz, referring to In the Arena’s ratings gains. “But we’d like to do better and we can do better. We have to try different things and see how we do.”

The 8 p.m. hour is arguably more competitive than 10 p.m. where AC360 airs now. But the show is still CNN’s highest-rated primetime hour, posting gains of 43 percent in the demo (304,000 viewers) and 23 percent in total viewers (843,000) for the second quarter. 

The network’s decision to air a rebroadcast of AC360 at 10 p.m. instead of a fresh program has some in the industry scratching their heads. “They’re giving up an opportunity to have three primetime hours,” said one industry insider. “It’s a step back.”

CNN said that the rerun will be updated and live as news warrants.

Jautz said that the shakeup has nothing to do with any desire on Cooper’s part to do his live show earlier as he prepares to launch a daytime talk show this fall.

“No, this was not a response to [Cooper] doing a talk show in the fall,” he said. “We’re supportive of the daytime show. We were attendant in the conversations leading up to it. The show will be produced in this building and partly using our facilities.”