CNN Wants Newt for Crossfire Refresh

Gingrich on Jeff Zucker’s wish list

CNN has begun casting its net for pundits to appear in the revival of its debate show Crossfire. According to Politico, the news network has approached former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and President Obama’s former deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.

Gingrich hasn’t held down a regular TV gig since 2011, when Fox News Channel voided his $1 million contract after he announced his plans to run for president. 

CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker is said to be looking for a mix of seasoned experts and younger voices for the show, which is likely to feature a rotating panel of guests a la Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) and FNC’s The Five. Former Mitt Romney advisor Kevin Madden is also said to be in the running for a seat on the Crossfire panel. 

Crossfire premiered on CNN in 1982. After two decades of hosting America’s most fractious shouting heads, Crossfire was canceled in January 2005. Then-president Jon Klein pulled the plug on the show (and cut ties with contributor Tucker Carlson) after coming to the conclusion that viewers looked to CNN for information, not partisan squawking.

Klein’s epiphany came on the heels of an October 2004 appearance by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who excoriated co-hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala in a segment that went viral. After telling the two pundits that Crossfire was “hurting America,” Stewart went on to inform them that they were “partisan hacks.”

(Stewart’s best zinger came when Carlson attempted to derail his mockery by criticizing The Daily Show’s recent interview with Sen. John Kerry. “You’re on CNN! The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls!” Stewart cracked.)

A year after Klein yanked the show, CNN saw its adults 25-54 deliveries soar 31 percent. That said, the network remained leagues behind FNC, averaging 152,000 members of the demo to its rival’s 310,000. Things haven’t improved in the last seven years; in fact, CNN is now the No. 3 cable news network, trailing FNC and MSNBC. 

The ongoing ratings slide at CNN has taken a bite out of the network’s wallet. Per SNL Kagan data, FNC in 2012 more than doubled CNN’s ad haul, raking in $713 million in sales revenue to CNN’s $322.5 million.

In his ongoing effort to revive the network, Zucker experimented with another political panel show in March. (Get to) The Point, hosted by Donny Deutsch, averaged a mere 267,000 viewers in the 10 p.m. slot and was pulled after its inaugural week. Stewart merrily tore apart the doomed show, suggesting that Why is This Even on Television? would be a far more apt title.