Review: 'Crossfire' Reboot Awkwardly Retreats Into The Future

Any appraisal of CNN’s “Crossfire” has to start here:

Jon Stewart’s 2004 appearance on the show to berate hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson was the death knell for “Crossfire.” In truth, the program had long before jumped the shark snark:

As Stewart said, “You’re doing theater when you should be doing debate.” Translation: The show largely trafficked in drama, conflict, and scoring cheap political points.

Carlson’s rebuttal that Stewart went too easy on his political guests (“You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you’re accusing us of partisan hackery? … You’ve got to be kidding me”) elicited the best line of the segment from Stewart: “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?”

The anti-chemistry between former Obama staffer Stephanie Cutter and shape-shifter Newt Gingrich is downright painful to watch.

A few months later, “Crossfire” was put out of its misery and cancelled.

Now, though, the network is under new management: NBC “Today” show ex-pat Jeff Zucker, whose lighter, brighter mandate to the newsroom has turned CNN into Cable News Nosh. But his resurrection of “Crossfire” might not, in the end, meet that mandate if the show follows its better angels.

To be sure, the updated version features a predictably over-caffeinated opener — lots of swooshy sound effects, mile a minute graphics, and Big Game Day music.

See for yourself:

This YouTube comment pretty much sums it up: “wow this is a great format … almost like a game show … it would be even … better if they had buzzers and could score points or get slimed … the whole family'd love it!”

As for the show itself, the word often used to describe its debut was “awkward.” That’s putting it mildly. The anti-chemistry between former Obama staffer Stephanie Cutter and shape-shifter Newt Gingrich is downright painful to watch. See below for reference:

Beyond that, Cutter sounds like she still works for the White House, while Gingrich is his usual scatter-brained self. Presumably the producers have a chiropractor in the wings at all times.

More importantly, the show seems to be moving forward by going backward in three areas.

No live audience. As with the original “Crossfire,” the new version is a studio show, effectively eliminating the gladiator-arena atmosphere. In other words, no more playing to the cheap seats.

No grab bag of issues. The new production has — for now, anyway — adopted the single-issue format of the original, which provides at least a glimmer of hope that there could be some serious discussions on the program.

No YouTube afterglow. Of course, there was no YouTube in the 1980s, but the re-launch so far has remarkably little digital bounce. “Crossfire” videos on YouTube are getting views in the low four figures.

Then again, YouTube views don’t pay the rent. TV ratings do. And those were mixed for the heavily hyped debut.

Plug “CNN Crossfire ratings” into the Googletron and you get these results, among others:

Deadline Hollywood: "CNN’s ‘Crossfire’ Premiere Ratings Modest"

Huffington Post: "'Crossfire' Gets A Ratings Victory In The Demo On Opening Night"  (The “demo” in this case is adults 25-54, the audience most coveted by advertisers.)

Variety: "'Crossfire' Returns Modestly for CNN, But Improves Timeslot

These are early days, so all of the above could change. But here’s a prediction: I suspect that a year from now, CNN president Jeff Zucker won’t need a lecture from Jon Stewart to convince him to cancel “Crossfire.”


This program aired on September 17, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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