The other night I saw documentarian Alex Gibney’s film “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” and it got me wondering: Where’s the Eliot Spitzer featured in that movie in the former pol’s new CNN program, “Parker Spitzer?”
The Spitzer that Gibney reveals comes across as flawed but fascinating. Even after his fall from grace, he’s obviously smart and still a little combative. And the flashbacks to his take-no-prisoners assault on Wall Street demonstrate just how tough he could be — so much so that he developed a list of high-powered enemies who may, the movie suggests, have plotted his professional demise. (Spitzer helped them, obviously, by giving them the tools with which to embarrass and neutralize him.)
The Spitzer on display in the CNN program, by contrast, shows flashes of those attributes but otherwise reminds me of an eager-to-please gameshow host. It’s like he’s been neutered, and not in a sexual way. Multiple channels were circling this guy; based on the show (whose ratings remain tepid at best), it’s hard to figure out why.
The movie inspired me to take another look at the program. Spitzer opened the point-counterpoint segment Tuesday with a monologue about the Tea Party movement taking over the Republican Party, which is “now in the thrall of a grass-roots campaign.” There was substance in his argument, but much of it was lost in the presentation — basically, politics in the form of the old “Siskel & Ebert,” only not nearly as compelling.
It doesn’t help that his co-host, Kathleen Parker, seems to think of herself as plucky comic relief. On Tuesday Spitzer started to go after a Tea Party radio host for her lack of economic knowledge. Parker quickly backed him down, and they cut the segment short amid frozen smiles.
The same stilted, empty banter accompanied their “Political Party” segment — which is a real waste of time — in the last third of the show, which opened with a discussion of the movie “Jackass.” Insert your own joke here.
Variety has already favorably reviewed Gibney’s film, and I largely agree with that appraisal.
Alas, I wish I could be equally generous regarding “Parker Spitzer.” But at this point, one of the last projects birthed under ousted CNN president Jon Klein is looking a little bit like NBC’s since-canceled “Outlaw” (which came from Conan O’Brien’s company, Conaco): A former employee’s curse, intended or not, on those left behind.
“Client 9” speculates about Spitzer eventually plotting a return to politics. If so, he’s chosen an interesting if not particularly novel path back in. (See all the GOP presidential hopefuls circling the 2012 campaign while killing time — and collecting checks — on Fox News Channel’s payroll, just as Pat Buchanan kept parking himself on cable in between futile presidential runs.)
Either way, I suspect it won’t be too many election cycles before Spitzer is looking for some new challenge to take on, and “PS” is, indeed, little more than a silly postscript to the Spitzer scandal — as well as a spate of questionable decisions at CNN.