Eliot Spitzer Might Not Be a Media Steamroller

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Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Eliot Spitzer has never been one to sell himself short — and that seems to be true in his nascent media career as well. He’s currently in negotiations with CNN over filling Campbell Brown’s 8 p.m. slot, according to people close to the negotiations on both sides, but talks are still fluid and there’s no guarantee that a deal is going to be reached. And Spitzer has been known to overplay his end. A few months ago, he requested a meeting with Laurie Cantillo, programming director of WABC Radio, which is home to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. “I agreed to meet with him as a courtesy to the former governor,” Cantillo told me. “We had one meeting. I think he had it in his mind he would host. That was not our interest.”

Spitzer requested the meeting, and Cantillo told me that Spitzer's representative, George Hiltzik, called to schedule the sit-down. At the meeting, Spitzer brought along his longtime Horace Mann friend Dan Levinson, an advertising executive and director who had produced his campaign ads during his gubernatorial bid. Cantillo told me that in the meeting she made it clear that WABC only wanted him to guest-host a call-in show on Sunday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. The fee for the show would have been “peanuts,” one person familiar with the talks said, because weekend shows command far less than a weekday slot. Spitzer would be free to weigh in on the big issues in the news, but Cantillo in particular wanted Spitzer to spend the debut show talking about his final year in office and answer listeners’ questions about Ashley Dupré and the hooker scandal that brought him down. “What his desires were and what the reality was are different things,” Cantillo said.

After the meeting, Cantillo said she received one call from Spitzer’s rep but that was it. “It was clear he had bigger eyes,” one person familiar with the negotiations said. “CNN happened right after that.” Hiltzik and Levinson declined to comment. Spitzer didn't respond to an e-mail and phone call seeking comment.

Talks with cable networks have so far failed to yield a show. MSNBC executives have indicated that right now they don’t have a time slot available for Spitzer, and they’re not going to restructure their existing programming to make room for him. At CNN, Jon Klein has yet to finalize how to retool the 8 p.m. hour and whether Spitzer is the right fit. CNN, which is looking to revamp its eight o'clock slot to jump-start a prime-time comeback, could ultimately decide to go in another direction and abandon talks with Spitzer entirely (on Friday, the Post reported that CNN is considering Piers Morgan for the Brown slot). Levinson, who talks to Spitzer regularly about his media negotiations as both a friend and adviser, is said to be angry at CNN that his negotiations are playing out in the press. "They're obviously putting out feelers," one person close to Spitzer told me. "I find it amusing when you hear about media outlets thinking about offering someone something. Maybe that's why CNN is in third place."

Cantillo came away with some raw feelings from talks with Spitzer. “I think we gave [him] some thought and decided it wasn't a good idea,” she told me. “I think his expectations were unrealistic.”