'Crossfire' Returns to NewCable News Landscape

Fast-tracked relaunch of political debate program is latest overhaul of the CNN lineup
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amorabito@nbmedia.com | @andreamorabito

With Congress prepping for a vote on U.S. military intervention in Syria, CNN last week announced it would move up the premiere of the relaunched Crossfire by a week, which will be hosted by Newt Gingrich, S.E. Cupp, Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones.


Why This Matters
By bringing back the longrunning political debate program, CNN is betting viewers will embrace bipartisan discussion and related social-media and online activity.

The long-running political debate program first debuted in 1982 with hosts Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden and over the years made cable news names out of Tucker Carlson and James Carville before being canceled in 2005 in the face of declining ratings and an on-air attack by Jon Stewart (YouTube views: 5.9 million) that the show was “hurting America.”

Ahead of its premiere on Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m., B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito spoke with Crossfire executive producer Rebecca Kutler about how social media will affect the new version, what advice she’s given the hosts and how Crossfire can compete in a partisan cable news landscape. An edited transcript follows.

The show will have a similar format as the old version with two hosts in a halfhour, single-topic debate. What will be different?

I think that we’re creating a modern spin on the classic Crossfire. This is in a way a return to what made the original Crossfire great, which is a serious, thoughtful debate for 30 minutes on a single topic, and there’s almost nowhere else in television that you can find that right now.

But of course, it’s now 2013 so the set will feel [like] a nod to the past with a look to the future. This is Crossfire in the era of social media. This is not a conversation that begins and ends at 6:30 at night, this is a conversation that will play out earlier in the day on Twitter and Facebook and continue to play out after the show ends, and that’s really exciting. [T]his debate show is custom made for the social media generation.

Pundits arguing over each other is a familiar scene on cable news. How do you prevent Crossfire from becoming a shout-fest?


I don’t think there’s anything like this on television right now. CNN is the only forum that can host this. We’re the only network that would provide a fair forum for the left and the right. I wouldn’t call our hosts pundits, these people have big careers…they have life experiences they bring to the table that are going to differentiate the kinds of questions they ask and the debate that plays out. We are producing this to be a respectful, thoughtful show. We’re encouraging people not just to ask provocative questions, but spend just as much time listening.

The success of Fox News and MSNBC shows that cable news viewers like to watch hosts whose views they agree with. How can you get those people to watch a show like Crossfire?

I think there’s a lot of viewers who naturally want to do that and when they start to watch the show, they’re going to see it’s one of the smartest places on television to learn not only the argument that you already agree with, but also about the opposing argument and maybe change your mind sometimes.

Jon Stewart famously criticized Crossfire in 2004, saying it was “hurting America” and failing in its responsibility to public discourse. Do you think the show has such a responsibility? How would you defend the new version against that critique?

When you watch the show and you see the level of debate and the thoughtful questions our hosts and guests bring to the table, I think the show will speak for itself. [CNN Worldwide president} Jeff Zucker is a bold leader and one of the first decisions he made since he came to CNN was to bring back Crossfire. And I love what that represents—it’s a passion for debate on the news of the day. I think that’s an important thing that’s right now sometimes missing from the cable news landscape.

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