‘Crossfire’ Isn’t On CNN Yet, But Its Hosts Are

Debate-show co-hosts speak softly (so far) in promotional appearances for revival of debate program


Crossfire” won’t return to CNN for at least several weeks. But that hasn’t kept the Time Warner news cabler from staging ‘right-vs.-left’ debates featuring the show’s hosts in regularly scheduled programming.

“Crossfire” hosts including Newt Gingrich, Van Jones and Stephanie Cutter have been spotted on CNN programs including “New Day” (Gingrich and Cutter) and “The Situation Room” (Gingrich and Jones) among other venues, in appearances that are as promotional as they are meant to offer a different take on the news. Gingrich appeared this Sunday on “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley.

During some of the appearances, graphics told viewers that a new “Crossfire” launches in the fall as the hosts responded to questions from anchors on issues such as how to handle NSA leaker Edward Snowden or issues relating to the George Zimmerman trial.

If “Crossfire” sounds familiar, it should. The program was one of longest-running shows, debuting in 1982, with hosts Tom Braden and Pat Buchanan parrying over the issues of the day. A range of other anchors followed, including Michael Kinsey, Robert Novak, Bill Press, Geraldine Ferraro, Mary Matalin, John Sununu, James Carville, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. CNN confirmed in June that it would revive the program this fall, though it declined to give an official start date.

S. E. Cupp, who has most recently been seen on MSNBC’s daytime program “The Cycle,” will join Gingrich, the former U.S. Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, on the “right” side of debates. Stephanie Cutter, a former adviser to both President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, will join with Van Jones, a civil-rights activist and attorney, to represent the liberal perspective.

One thing the co-hosts seem to be avoiding – at least in these initial appearances – is the loud bickering that ended “Crossfire’s” previous run. In 2004, comedian and “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart appeared on the show, and, in a moment that went “viral” and was passed along multiple digital properties, told co-hosts, “You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.” The comedian felt the show no longer fomented substantial discussion of the issues of the day. When “Crossfire” was canceled in 2005, Jon Klein, then-chief of CNN, suggested he felt Stewart’s remarks carried some weight.

Appearance of the new “Crossfire” hosts across CNN’s air is equal parts programming and advertising. The co-hosts reactions fill air time and show how their debate is relevant to the issues of the day. At the same time, it allows CNN to alert viewers to the program’s coming launch without necessarily having to buy commercials or use up promo time.

“Crossfire” hosts are likely to continue to appear across the network’s programming lineup in the weeks before the program launches, said a CNN spokeswoman for the new program. They will also continue to make appearances once “Crossfire” debuts.

Relaunch of the show marks an interesting move for the network, which has been outmatched in recent years by Fox News Channel and MSNBC. CNN has long tried to remain centrist, while the two rivals have found success with opinion-led talk programs in prime-time. A new version of “Crossfire” certainly has the potential to attract fans of talking-head conflict.