Rumors have been swirling that CNN may revive Crossfire, the shuttered political debate show, since last Friday, and now it seems that most of the regular talking heads on the old Crossfire think it's a great idea so long as CNN doesn't make one fatal mistake.
Crossfire was a political debate show that ran from 1982 to 2005. The show would put two hosts, usually journalists or opinion columnists, and two guests, usually politicians or public policy experts, on opposite sides of a table and made them debate a single point for enough time to fill thirty minutes of television.
The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone tracked down a handful of former Crossfire co-hosts and, well, they all think bringing the show back is a pretty good idea. James Carville, a former co-host who recently left CNN, thinks it would be a "great" idea, pointing out that Crossfire wasn't always so bad. Niether side of the spectrum supported the Iraq war. "'Crossfire' never bought into the war drums on either side," he told Calderone.
On Friday, TV Newser's Alex Weprin reported CNN was looking to bring Crossfire back from the dead. The show was cancelled in 2005 only a few months after Daily Show host Jon Stewart famously sat down with Tucker Carlson, ripped the show to shreds, and said it was "hurting America." Then-CNN president Jonathan Klein agreed. "I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart's overall premise," he told The New York Times' Bill Carter after the show was cancelled.
Other former hosts are fans of bringing the show back, but only under certain conditions. "I don’t think they should do it in front of a live audience," Pat Buchanan told Calderone. "People tend to play to it. It became less of the real back-and-forth, cross-examination." Bill Press was another former co-host who supports bringing the show back, but only if they bring back the "old" Crossfire. "It was the first political debate show on television, and it was by far the best and it was appointment television," Bill Press had previously told Politico's Patrick Gavin. In 2002, the show moved to a studio at George Washington University and was broadcast in front of a live studio audience. That's the Politico Press and Buchanan hate. They prefer the format of the original when it was shot with no audience and it was purely four people talking. The studio audience is really what killed the show, Press contends. "It was literally a gong show. They actually rang the bell and they had boxing gloves. They treated it as something amateurish and silly," he said.
Amazingly, this isn't the first time the idea of reviving the old Crossfire has come up. Last summer, Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in his Bloomberg View column that CNN should consider reviving the old school Crossfire to save political debate on cable. The older, simpler style of the original Crossfire could do it:
The one-subject rule made it impossible for the politicians to make it through the show on sound bites alone. That both hosts were journalists made for a fairer debate than the usual practice of today's political shows, which put journalists up against political operatives.
After Ponnuru's column came out, The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis, New York's Jonathan Chait, and Washington Examiner columnist Timothy Carney all came out in support of the idea. One notable detractor was the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who argued that Crossfire's "left vs. right" format wouldn't elevate the discourse any more than other political talk shows.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, CNN needs to confirm that it's actually bringing the show back. Klein, the president who cancelled the show, left the network a few years ago. Jeff Zucker is in the driver's seat now and his version of the networks wants to "reintroduce" itself. Does that mean bringing back Crossfire? Calderone said they're still debating it. Deadline's Dominic Patten reported last week that the show was definitively coming back in June, which seems sudden. Politico's Dylan Byers reported the show was "probably" coming back. Until then, we wait, but it seems like the first episode of the new Crossfire already has a good cast to debate whether or not bringing it back was a good idea.