CNN ‘Crossfire' Alumni Hope Political Debate Show Returns

NEW YORK -– As news broke Friday afternoon that CNN executives were considering bringing back "Crossfire", the conversation on Twitter quickly turned to "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart.

Stewart was never a regular on "Crossfire," the right-vs.-left political debate show that aired on CNN for 22 years. But his heated October 2004 spat with then co-host Tucker Carlson, and his on-air critique that the show was “hurting America,” has become linked with its demise. "I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart's overall premise," former CNN president Jon Klein said upon pulling the plug on "Crossfire" in January 2005.

But in interviews with The Huffington Post, several former "Crossfire" co-hosts said they believed Stewart's criticism was over the top. They expressed hope for the long-running show's return, emphasizing the decades of important political and policy debates hashed out on set.

“In a city that’s run with interest groups and lobbyists and gerrymandering, and money and everything else, the idea that somehow or another the whole thing was brought down from 4 to 4:30 Eastern on CNN is completely asinine,” said James Carville, a Democratic strategist and former "Crossfire" co-host who recently left the network.

“There are a lot of things that contribute to the problems in this country,” Carville added. “'Crossfire' wasn’t one of them.”

Carville, who said he thought it would be “great” if the program returned, also praised it for its coverage during the run-up to the Iraq War. "'Crossfire' never bought into the war drums on either side," he said.

Indeed, Carville and Democratic co-host Paul Begala both opposed the war. On the right, the late Robert Novak was against the war, while Tucker Carlson supported the invasion, albeit with some reservations, only to become a prominent critic soon after.

Pat Buchanan, who served as a co-host from 1982 to 2000 -- though he took breaks to work in the Reagan White House and run for president twice -- said bringing back "Crossfire" is “a very good idea.”

However, Buchanan stressed that he’d like CNN to revert back to the show's original format and do away with the live audience that was added in 2002.

“I don’t think they should do it in front of a live audience," Buchanan said. “People tend to play to it. It became less of the real back-and-forth, cross-examination.”

During its final few years, "Crossfire" could feel more like a sporting event. The format fueled criticism that the show was more focused on scoring points, and rallying one side of the crowd, than having a deeper discussion about politics.

Liberal radio host Bill Press, a co-host from 1996 to 2002, told The Huffington Post that there was a "real Crossfire," which “was appointment viewing for anyone who cared about politics and policy and lasted 19 years,” and a “baby Crossfire" with a live audience that lasted three years.

Press, who also wrote about the show in The Hill, said the original "Crossfire" was “the best political debate show ever on television” and “canceling it was the stupidest decision ever on television."

“Jon Stewart did not kill 'Crossfire.' CNN killed 'Crossfire,'” Press said. “They created this baby Crossfire, kiddie Crossfire, moved it to [George Washington University] and turned it into a gong show.”

“The real tragedy was killing the original 'Crossfire,'” Press said. “It’s also a classic case of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Press said that he hadn't heard from CNN President Jeff Zucker about coming back to host "Crossfire," but joked that if he is "tanned, rested and ready" in the event that he does.

it's still unclear if "Crossfire 2.0" will happen. The Huffington Post has confirmed with network sources that CNN executives are considering bringing it back, news first reported by TVNewser. Deadline reported that the new version could start in June. However, final decisions about the show's format and who would host it if it gets the green light have not yet been made.

New Republic editor-at-large Michael Kinsley, who was a co-host from 1989 to 1995, said he thinks "Crossfire" was “better than it ever got credit for.”

But "Crossfire" aside, Kinsley has another idea for a new CNN show: "Ceasefire."

He has mentioned the idea before, writing in 2004 that the show would “get your politicians or your experts or your interest-group representatives, and instead of poking them with a stick to widen their disagreement, you nudge and bully and cajole them toward some kind of common ground.”

Kinsley said he reached out to Zucker with the idea after he took over the network. The two had a conversation, but there doesn't appear to be interest on CNN's part. Kinsley said he also suggested the idea to former CNN head Walter Isaacson several years back, and despite some initial interest about a possible back-to-back "Crossfire" and "Ceasefire," the idea never got off the ground.

“Every time I read that a new person has become president of the network, I send them an email,” Kinsley said. “The results have been zero.”