By DAVID BAUDER
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK — Eliot Spitzer became a national punch line after he resigned in disgrace as New York governor, following a prostitution scandal.
Two years later, he’s a hot commodity in cable television news.
Executives at both CNN and MSNBC have talked to Spitzer about jobs hosting programs on their networks. The increasingly visible former governor had a handful of test drives, most recently last week when he filled in for Dylan Ratigan for an hour in the afternoon at MSNBC, and he’s a frequent guest on news networks.
“He’s got personality, he’s got smarts, he’s got an edge and he’s got enough controversy about him that the name means something,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and now a professor at George Washington University.
Should he decide to join cable’s chattering class, Spitzer would likely have some real choices about how he decides to present himself as a television personality. It’s not known whether he’s decided to make that leap; Spitzer declined through an intermediary to talk to The Associated Press about it.
Spitzer looked comfortable on the MSNBC set last week, with little indication he can’t master the technical aspects of carrying his own show. He often talked too fast, giving the show a rushed sense of urgency. In cable news, that can be a plus.
He interviewed guests, but also made certain the audience knew his opinions, too. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Markey was “always on the right side of the issues” he said in wrapping up their discussion. Arizona’s new immigration law? “I deeply oppose it,” he said. He even lobbied baseball commissioner Bud Selig to overturn an umpire’s bad call and give Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game.
“It seems to me that he craves the spotlight and I think he craves relevance,” said Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College politics professor and veteran Spitzer watcher. “He really deeply believes that he has something to offer that is uniquely Spitzer and that drives him. The fact that he blew it on so many levels pushes him more. This is almost redemption.”
Check out an ‘SNL’ paraody of Spitzer:
His television appeal would come from a brash, aggressive smartness, “almost the quintessential New Yorker attitude,” Muzzio said.
If Spitzer was to take a full-time television job, it would leave open the question of whether he’s making a full-time career change or using television as a weigh station before getting back into politics.
Time would be necessary for political redemption. A recent poll showed New York voters don’t want him back now, even if they haven’t completely ruled it out in the future, said Lee Miringoff, chief of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Despite Spitzer’s strengths, former NBC News executive Bill Wheatley said he’s still surprised to see him being talked about for the cable news jobs.
“It would certainly get attention, but I don’t know in the long run if it’s going to make a lot of sense,” said Wheatley, the No. 2 executive at NBC News before his retirement a few years ago. “It’s not a good idea, in my opinion, for a news division to associate itself with a guy who not only got himself in trouble with his sexual escapades but also wasn’t a very effective governor.”
“He’s extremely bright,” Wheatley said. “But having said that, come on. You can’t find anything better than that?”
CNN and MSNBC executives wouldn’t talk about their pursuits.
In terms of visibility, CNN would seem have more to offer. The network is looking to fill the 8 p.m. EDT hour on its prime-time schedule that’s being vacated by Campbell Brown. Spitzer, not deficient in self-esteem, can take on cable talk’s feuding titans, Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann.
MSNBC has a 10 p.m. EDT time slot open, but at this point is satisfied with Olbermann reruns and won’t trust the time to a newcomer such as Spitzer. There is plenty of opportunity during the daylight hours, however. Few people watch MSNBC during the day.
MSNBC would be able to offer a show where Spitzer would be the star, relatively free to mold as he sees fit and certainly free to express his opinions. On CNN, Spitzer would have to share the stage. Spitzer would probably be paired with an unlike-minded co-host for a show that recalls CNN’s old ‘Crossfire.’
Having an opinionated Spitzer out front and alone would mean completely changing the identity and niche CNN has set for itself, as a nonpartisan network without the predictable opinions found at Fox News Channel and MSNBC. Despite its prime-time ratings troubles, CNN has given no indication that it is interested in doing so.
If Spitzer decides to sit before the cameras every day, it would make for the most intriguing of media redemption stories.
“He’s a little like a car wreck,” George Washington’s Sesno said. “You can’t avert your eyes. In the world of television, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if it’s a good car.”
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