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Interfaith Celebrities: The CNN Shuffle

July 6, 2010

CNN Shuffles the Deck

The impending departure from CNN of news anchor Campbell Brown, a convert to Judaism, has been largely overshadowed by the recent announcement that (Jewish) talk show host Larry King is also going to leave CNN this fall, though he might continue to host specials for the cable news network.

Campbell Brown
Campbell Brown waving goodbye to CNN. (Actually, this photo was taken in 2008, but her forthright honesty about leaving CNN is equally jaunty and cheerful.) Photo: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni.

King's show has been declining in the ratings, but he says he is leaving to fulfill a desire to do other things and to spend more time with his family. Brown has been quite candid about her reasons for leaving this fall. She didn't want to be an opinionated news anchor or personality like those found on Fox News--conservatives like Bill O'Reilly or on MSNBC--liberals, like Keith Olbermann.

By coincidence, two persons previously profiled in this column (besides Brown) figure in Brown's coming on going. Brown's immediate predecessor in her prime time news anchor spot was Paula Zahn, who I profiled in Sept. 2007, just after her firing from CNN.

Brown's CNN time slot will be taken up by a new roundtable news show, co-hosted by Eliot Spitzer, 51,the (Jewish) former liberal Democratic governor of New York. I profiled Spitzer and his interfaith marriage in March 2008, shortly after Spitzer was forced to resign as New York's governor because of his admitted patronage of prostitutes.

About Zahn, I wrote in 2007:

"Straight newscasts like Zahn's have been dying in the ratings, while news shows with highly-opinionated anchors … have fared much better. Frankly, short of doing the news in the nude, there was little Zahn could do to bring up her ratings.

"Zahn, who isn't Jewish, has been married for 20 years to millionaire New York Jewish businessman Richard Cohen. In 2004, she told a Jewish women's group in Connecticut that she was raising her three children with Cohen in their father's faith…"

Zahn currently hosts the relatively high-rated true crime series, On the Case with Paula Zahn, on the Investigation Discovery cable channel.

In the same September 2007 column, I profiled Brown's personal and professional background and her marriage to political consultant Dan Senor, who is Jewish. The New York Times report of their wedding did not mention that Brown had studied to convert to Judaism under Orthodox auspices nor that the couple had a Jewish wedding. Not long after my column appeared, however, Brown spoke to the Cleveland Jewish News and discussed her conversion to Judaism and the fact that she and her husband had a Jewish wedding.

In late May 2010, Brown released this public statement about her impending departure from CNN:

Simply put, the ratings for my program are not where I would like them to be. It is largely for this reason that I am stepping down as anchor of CNN's Campbell Brown.…I have never had much tolerance for others' spin, so I can't imagine trying to stomach my own. The simple fact is that not enough people want to watch my program, and I owe it to myself and to CNN to get out of the way so that CNN can try something else.

As I said about Paula Zahn, there is nothing Brown could have done, "short of doing the news in the nude," to bring up the ratings of a non-partisan, straight news broadcast in the now highly partisan world of prime time cable news.

It is apparent, now, that Brown and Zahn--both talented, attractive and smart--were simply in the wrong spot at this moment in the history of cable TV news.

Spitzer, on the other hand, has proved himself to be a pretty good guest "talking head" on CNN over the past year. He puts forth a partisan viewpoint, but in an informed, rational way. He will be co-hosting his new show with Kathleen Parker, a respected conservative journalist. The focus will be on news analysis and the presentation of a variety of partisan viewpoints in a polite, "civilized" way.

I have a feeling that Spitzer is using this show as a stepping-stone to political rehabilitation. Already his reputation is recovering. He is certainly not old and, you never know, he may seek public office again—like a New York Senate seat if one should unexpectedly open up.

An Award for Amoral Opportunism

Back in August 2007, I wrote a brief column item about Corey Feldman, the (Jewish) former child actor. I wrote that Feldman and his friend, former child actor Corey Haim, who was also Jewish, were about to begin a new cable reality series. I discussed the "two Coreys" stale fame and how they now seemed to live their lives on reality TV. I noted that Feldman's 2003 interfaith wedding was a reality TV event, too.

All this info moved this site's former editor, Micah Sachs, to hilariously caption the item: "A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse."

Well, in the last three years, Feldman has chased fame in such a colossally cheesy way that I just had to provide you readers with an update. After you read this update, I think you'll agree with me that Feldman is this year's winner of the amoral hustler of the year award, entertainment division.

Feldman, now 38, was a competent child actor who starred-in several good teen-oriented '80s films, like Stand by Me and Lost Boys. However, he really hasn't been in a good scripted TV show or film as an adult. Reality TV is the way he has clung to fame.

In 2002-3, he appeared on the MTV reality show, The Surreal Life. Several weeks into the show, Feldman and his non-Jewish girlfriend, Susie Sprague, decided to get married on very short notice. Somehow, he managed to pull together a wedding ceremony in time for it to be on TV.

He and Susie got married as the MTV cameras rolled. The nuptials were presided over by a rabbi and former rap star M.C. Hammer, an ordained minister. It was the year-end extravaganza of the show.

Last year, Feldman and Sprague split up. (They have a son named Zen Feldman). Comics joked that Sprague decided to leave the has-been actor when she woke up one morning and couldn't remember who Corey Feldman was.

As one could predict, the Feldman/Sprague divorce is not proceeding amicably. There are disputes about custody rights and alimony for Sprague.

In 2007, as I said above, Feldman and Haim co-starred in The Two Coreys, a quasi-reality show. This cable series was mostly just plain boring. Occasionally, there were dramatic moments that might be described as tawdry or pathetic. These moments weren't a surprise; the whole show was crafted to milk drama out of Haim's long (real life) battle with drug addiction.

The show got steeply declining ratings and was canceled in the middle of its second season. The sad coda to the series was the drug overdose death of Corey Haim in March 2010.

But, for me, the topper came on June 26, 2010, when Feldman spoke at a sparsely attended for profit memorial service for Michael Jackson, organized by Jackson's mother. Feldman appeared dressed in a Michael Jackson outfit and, in his speech; he profusely praised the late singer.

Feldman, like a lot of other young people, was the object of Jackson's attention and friendship when he was an adolescent. Their relationship cooled down as Feldman grew up and ended for good in 2001. The final break reportedly came when Jackson did not respond to Feldman's somewhat outrageous request to send a private limo to get Feldman out of New York City right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

After the break, Feldman and Jackson never spoke again.

In 2005, Jackson was arrested for child molestation. Just as jury selection began, Feldman gave a long interview about Jackson to ABC News. In the interview, Feldman recalled how Jackson showed him a book of nude photos when he was around 14 years old.

In 1993, however, when the first allegations of child abuse by Jackson surfaced, Feldman, then 22, vehemently denied that Jackson had ever done anything "inappropriate" in his presence.

It's hard to know what the truth is about the photos, but the interview looked opportunistic.

Jackson, as everybody knows, was ultimately acquitted.

Feldman is now singing with a rock band and performing some tribute numbers to Jackson, dressed in the trademark outfits of the late King of Pop and trying to dance like him. I found this repulsive after his apparent betrayal of Jackson to the press.

Here's a Youtube video of Feldman "doing Jackson" earlier this month in Oregon. The music starts about the 1:20 mark in. After I saw this video, I was moved to utter an expression that first became popular during Feldman's heyday, the 1980s: "Gag me with a spoon."

Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant "oldies but goodies") will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L'Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties).

The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know. Write him at middleoftheroad1@aol.com. And feel free to comment below.

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