NEW YORK — Fox News Channel plucked Washington journalists Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke off syndie political talker “The McLaughlin Group” on Tuesday, saying the two will host an as-yet-unnamed, weekly, half-hour politico show for the cabler.

In what was called an “accident of timing,” fellow “McLaughlin” panelist and Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift also announced that she has inked a deal with FNC to be a political contributor on various shows. She will, however, continue in her role as a regular panelist on “McLaughlin.”

Clift told Daily Variety she had “no idea that Fred and Mort were handing in their resignations (Monday), but there had been some tension concerning their expanding roles at Fox.” She added that with the new FNC show tentatively skedded to go head-to-head with “McLaughlin” on Saturday nights in the Washington market, the two men were “kind of asking for it.”

Longtime panelists for “McLaughlin,” Barnes and Kondracke had also been appearing as guests on various FNC shows since the cabler’s launch in October 1996, but Barnes said “about a month ago, we all got very serious about getting this Fox show off the ground.”

“This is the type of challenge you just can’t say no to, and business is business,” host John McLaughlin said. “I’m proud of the fact that these guys grew up on ‘McLaughlin.’ ”

Produced by Washington-based Oliver Prods., “McLaughlin” airs on the NBC O&Os in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, and on 320 PBS stations across the country.

The talker regularly draws more than 5 million viewers per week –one of the largest public-affairs audiences in TV — and, quipped one insider, “On a good night, Fox News Channel gets about 60,000 viewers. But I hear they’re paying big money over there — they pay Brit Hume $1.2 million for his show. We can’t compete with that.”

Terms of the deals could not be confirmed.

A “McLaughlin” spokesman said the show will likely now look more to “irregular panelists” Jay Carney of Time magazine, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of the Nation magazine, David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News & World Report, and the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page to act as panelists.

Both Barnes and Kondracke do acknowledge they’re giving up big numbers in exchange for the chance to try something new, and, as Barnes said, “something I can be in charge of.”

The show is still in development, but will not consist of panelists “chewing the fat, and we won’t have nicknames.” The two suggested they will do a mix of their own reporting, some interviewing and that they’ll talk politics with one guest per week.

“I think the panel format is exhausted,” Barnes said. “I hope I’m a reflection of how viewers feel.”