Former Democratic New York governor Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker will co-host a new 8 p.m. program on CNN. The show, still untitled, will have to compete in a cable news time slot dominated by Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Channel and his liberal counterpart Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. For CNN, it is an hour that has already felled multiple hosts, from Paula Zahn to Campbell Brown.
But while Spitzer and Parker are on opposite sides of the political aisle, they say their show will not be an ideological smackdown.
"We can certainly disagree on fundamental stuff and get along really well," said Spitzer. "And that's what will be different about this show. We're not being critical of the other shows, but we want to come at it from a whole different worldview."
Added Parker: "I love the idea that people might see that we can disagree and still be friends and still be civil and still laugh at the end of the day. That's the way we used to be in this country until we became so polarized. And that's what's going to distinguish our show from the others."
"I think we were amazed about how much we agree on," said Spitzer.
For instance, both of them agreed that President Obama had no choice but the dismiss Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of American forces in Afghanistan in the wake of a Rolling Stone article in which McChrystal and his inner circle repeatedly disparage the administration.
Spitzer, of course, was forced to resign as governor in 2008 when he became embroiled in a prostitution scandal. But he has managed to rehabilitate his image by becoming a TV pundit, appearing lately on MSNBC.
Asked if he could have predicted such a reversal in two years, he said: "No way. No how. But then again, life is unpredictable."
Parker will keep her writing job as an opinion columnist at the Washington Post, she said. She is syndicated in more than 400 newspapers and this year won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
While Spitzer and Parker met for the first time a couple weeks ago, Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S., said he isn't concerned about their on-air chemistry.
"You will never have chemistry on the air if you don't have it in real life," he said. "What we have seen so far is that they click as two intelligent, outspoken people with a great sense of humor who love kicking around the issues of the day as well as the banalities. And that's a great start."
CNN executives will put together a staff and hire an executive producer and then begin hammering out the format of the show. But Klein, who famously axed the CNN shout-fest Crossfire in 2005, cautioned that Spitzer and Parker's show will have nothing in common with that show.
"I don't think these two would be capable of doing a Crossfire-like show with its rote, repetitive, Punch and Judy game-playing," he said. "We've never been looking for that and they have no interest in doing it."
Klein declined to discuss plans for the 9 p.m. hour, which has also been the topic of much speculation in light of Larry King's age and CNN's foundering primetime ratings.
"We are more than engaged in doing all the things we need to do to get this 8 o'clock show off the ground successfully," he said.
Asked if signing up Spitzer and Parker was not a reversal of CNN's stated position as cable's non-partisan news brand, Klein replied: "The other networks have a sole anchor who spends that hour cramming a point of view down your throat and the other side is brought on simply as a punching bag. And they've stacked their entire lineups with like-minded individuals."
Spitzer and Parker, he continued, "are not going to be knee-jerk liberal or knee-jerk conservative. They'll offer intelligent analysis that is not meant to push one particular side but rather give viewers all the best ideas and let them make up their own minds."
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