An inside look at how CNN’s Crossfire has become the ultimate social TV show

By Natan Edelsburg 

332516CNN_CrossfireJ3124_300x250_Static_009_POSTCNN’s Crossfire aired from 1982 to 2005 before being cancelled. Eight years later, the show has returned, and its relaunch premiered in September, built on a social TV backbone.

“Few programs in the history of CNN have had the kind of impact on political discourse that Crossfire did – it was a terrific program then, and we believe the time is right to bring it back and do it again,” said Jeff Zucker, President of CNN Worldwide. “We look forward to the opportunity to host passionate conversation from all sides of the political spectrum.  Crossfire will be the forum where America holds its great debates.”

The main difference between the original Crossfire and its reboot has been the impact of social media on the latter.  #Crossfire has trended domestically on Twitter 26 times on 14 different days in October, and the follower numbers for the @Crossfire account have increased fivefold since the show’s launch.

We spoke with Michelle Jaconi Executive Producer of CNN D.C.’s Cross Platform Programming. “Bringing back Crossfire was exciting and natural…we wanted to do something new and different and the way to do that is engagement with the audience,” Jaconi explained. “There’s no show that has been made for Twitter like Crossfire,” she added.

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In September, we wrote about Crossfire’s use of Poptip technology to tally votes for the show’s daily question. Crossfire uses Poptip in posting a daily question on a pressing issue to both Twitter and Facebook. The Crossfire blog uses the live Poptip results to build content, and the real-time social data gained during the question and answer period is then used on air using the Poptip API during a dedicated crowd opinion segment. Since the show premiered, 26,794 unique people have participated in a Crossfire Poptip discussion.

Crossfire of course let’s itself to intense opinions about each side. Jaconi was proud to explain that “people are shocked that we’re especially responding to the haters and calling their bluffs,” on social media. “The whole point of the show is to enrich discussion,” and the show’s team has amazingly been able to to interact with all different types of opinions never shying away from the strongest ones.

As Crossfire continues to rebuild its following, the social engagement surrounding the show will be increasingly important to initiating and fueling on-air debates. More, it will help provide a baseline of viewer sentiments to temper commentator and guest talking points. We asked Jaconi and Digital Producer Eric Weisbrod who works on her team about plans for the future. Jaconi explained that they hope to experiment with the audience picking the topic for the show, which they’ve tested in their social media after show content. Weisbrod added that, “giving live updates on our Facebook page,” will continue to be important since “people can reply into the comments,” a tool that host Newt Gingrich recently tried.