CNN announced yesterday that it had hired the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer to host a new opinion-based programme, in a high-stakes bid to revive its evening schedule.
Spitzer will line up later this year alongside the conservative columnist Kathleen Parker on an as-yet unnamed "round-table" discussion programme at 8pm, replacing Campbell Brown, who announced last month that she would be leaving the network. CNN said that the two figures would be a "fearless" pair of hosts on the programme and were "beholden to no-one".
The former New York governor resigned in disgrace in 2008, after it was discovered that he was a client of a high-priced prostitution service. Investigations were believed to have begun after his bank reported a series of suspicious transactions from Spitzer's bank account, which investigators estimated to have totalled to around $US80,000 ($A92,000) over the course of several years.
Spitzer said that he was "grateful to CNN for the opportunity to co-host a show that will advance the discussion of the defining issues of our time".
Since resigning, Spitzer has made several appearances in the media, but his hiring by CNN is regarded by many observers to be a risky - and deliberately attention-seeking - option for the ailing news network.
"We cast a very wide net, and after looking at scores of potential anchors, Kathleen and Eliot demonstrated they belong at the head of the pack," said Jon Klein, CNN's president.
When Brown announced that she would be leaving the once-powerful network once a new 8pm programme was in place, she said that she had wanted to avoid going down the path of expressing polemical opinions in the manner of Bill O'Reilly on Fox News or Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.
But in a statement, Klein was quick to emphasise what he portrayed as a point of difference between CNN's new offering and those of its cable rivals.
"Other cable news channels force-feed viewers one narrow, predictable point of view; in contrast, CNN will be offering a lively roundup of all the best ideas – presented by two of the most intelligent and outspoken figures in the country.
"Eliot and Kathleen are beholden to no vested interest – in fact, quite the opposite: they are renowned for taking on the most powerful targets and most important causes."
Despite his attempts to identify a point of difference, several observers have already pointed out a notable point of similarity from CNN's history books. Between 1982 and 2005, CNN aired the high-profile debate programme Crossfire, which involved a head-to-head clash between a liberal and a conservative commentator.
The return of the head-to-head opinion format represents a back-flip from the decision in 2005 to axe Crossfire: at the time, Klein said that the public was fed up with "head-butting debate shows", and was more keen on receiving news shorn of partisan opinions.
But faced with a catastrophic ratings decline - and rumours that the talk show host Larry King might be replaced - the network has been forced to move back in old directions.
Media Spy discussion: CNN