NEW YORK >> Eliot Spitzer was bounced from CNN’s prime-time lineup on Wednesday, having spent less time as a TV host than he did as New York governor.
CNN reshuffled its schedule to add a new program by former CNBC personality Erin Burnett, move Anderson Cooper’s flagship newscast into the tough 8 p.m. time slot and eliminate Spitzer’s "In the Arena" program.
Spitzer signed off his show Wednesday, saying it would be his last. He ended with a quotation from Theodore Roosevelt praising people who get "in the arena" to try and improve society, a passage he said inspired the name for his show. CNN talked to Spitzer about staying with the network as a commentator, but he decided not to.
"We engaged serious people in conversations about national and global issues in a way that was informative and challenging," Spitzer said. "I believe that we provided diverse and valuable perspectives during the show’s tenure. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at CNN."
Spitzer, who resigned in March 2008, 14 months into his term as New York governor amid a prostitution scandal, began his nightly show on CNN in October. At first he was paired on "Parker/Spitzer" with conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, who left in February. The show was then renamed "In the Arena" with Spitzer the lead personality.
It’s in a tough time slot, where Campbell Brown, Connie Chung and Paula Zahn all found rough going before him at CNN. Spitzer’s show averaged 595,000 viewers for the first six months of the year, compared to dominant competitor Bill O’Reilly at Fox News Channel, who averaged just under 3 million viewers. MSNBC, first with Keith Olbermann and then with Lawrence O’Donnell, averaged 984,000, the Nielsen Co. said.
Spitzer’s average was actually up 8 percent over what the network had in that time slot over the first six months of 2010, but the trends were ominous. The show’s June average was 457,000 viewers, while Nancy Grace on sister network HLN had 1.5 million viewers in June with her focus on the Casey Anthony trial.
"There has been improvement for that show but we wanted to see it do more," said Ken Jautz, executive vice president of CNN/US. "We wanted to see it do better."
Spitzer has never ruled out a return to politics, and by helming a prime-time television show, the former governor maintained a level of visibility that could have helped relaunch his electoral career. But friends said Spitzer had until now been focused on his work at CNN.
"I don’t think on the day this breaks Eliot Spitzer’s on the phone plotting his political future," said Jimmy Siegel, a media strategist who worked on Spitzer’s 2006 governor’s race. But, Siegel added: "America is the land of second acts. Voters tend to have short memories."
Cooper’s 10 p.m. newscast has been CNN’s most successful evening program, so it will now get the test at 8 p.m. Jautz called it CNN’s flagship news program and said it made sense to air it at the critical prime-time hour. It also provides a contrast to commentary-focused shows with O’Reilly, O’Donnell, Grace and Keith Olbermann on Current TV, he said.
CNN will rerun Cooper’s show at 10 p.m. on the East Coast for viewers used to it at that hour, Jautz said. He said it wasn’t a sign of retrenchment for CNN to have a regular rerun in prime time, and that Cooper will remake part or all of his show at 10 p.m. should breaking news warrant. "In the Arena" will air with guest hosts until Cooper’s show switches into that time slot on Aug. 8.
John King’s current 7 p.m. show will move up an hour to make way for Burnett then. Wolf Blitzer’s two-hour "Situation Room" will air from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Piers Morgan’s show continues at 9 p.m.
CNN is shooting for a late September premiere for Burnett’s new program, which doesn’t have a name. Despite her business background at CNBC, her CNN show will be general interest, Jautz said.
"It will make use of her strength in that area, but it will not be a business show," he said.
Moving up the political shows by an hour will take advantage of breaking news then, particularly heading into an election year, he said.
Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy contributed to this report.