Van Jones, S.E. Cupp Preview 'Crossfire': Less Theatrics, More 'Ceasefire' Moments
The revival will feature a one-minute segment reflecting on common ground and no live audience. Still, the hosts promise it will be lively. "It's not going to be CSPAN," says Jones.
When CNN resurrects Crossfire on Monday, the show is set to include a one-minute segment at the end where the debate could turn to whether any agreement between left- and right-leaning pundits can be found. Host Van Jones called the planned daily occurrence a "Ceasefire" moment.
"The hope is that at the end of each show...we might have what we call a 'Ceasefire' moment where we actually try to explore any common ground that’s surfaced or any reason for hope that’s come out of this discussion," Jones told The Hollywood Reporter by phone on Wednesday. "We're not going to fake" any sort of takeaway though, he added.
The notion of seeing "Ceasefire" associated with the fiery debate show has been floated before. Michael Kinsley, a former Crossfire host and current editor-at-large at The New Republic, had reportedly pitched the idea for a "common ground" seeking show with that title to CNN. "Every time I read that a new person has become president of the network, I send them an e-mail," Kinsley told The Huffington Post in April. "The results have been zero."
"Ceasefire" is only one of the more reflective segment ideas planned for the revival. The half-hour program features two hosts along with guests discussing a single subject, which is supposed to make for a more substantive debate. The hosts -- former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, conservative-leaning commentator S.E. Cupp, former Obama administration official Jones and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter -- have touted a serious tone for the show.
“Having half an hour, or just under, to really dive deep, I think is going to be so much more valuable than the drive-by hits that most other shows give their viewers," said Cupp to THR. "I don’t think anyone is satisfied after four minutes on Syria, or the debt or any of these other issues. It’s just not enough time to have a meaningful conversation."
Hosts also won't be tempted to play to an assembled crowd because there won't be a live audience when the weekday show debuts at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday. The anchors have been shown in promos seated around a table in a darkened studio trading banter and debating.
"Live audiences were fun and an iconic part of that [earlier] period of Crossfire," said Cupp, previously a co-host on MSNBC's panel show, The Cycle. "But I think we’re looking to make this less of a theatrical kind of experience and more of a serious kind of debate. And removing that element gives us all a little bit more freedom to have conversations."
Jones, who joined CNN as a contributor during last fall's election season, added: "When Crossfire started to become almost a parody of itself, it was in front of a live audience. It’s almost impossible to have a serious debate about very complex issues in front of a live audience and not start playing to the cheap seats and trying to get the applause, trying to get the laugh lines. And so, that’s gone."
In a often cited example of the hosts seeming to lose the audience, Jon Stewart chided Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala in an October 2004 segment that has been credited with leading to Crossfire's cancelation in early 2005. (During his Daily Show return on Tuesday night, Stewart already began mocking the revived CNN show, briefly noting its existence with one shouted expletive.)
But as Crossfire plans its return years later, it's looking to focus on airing opinions and aiming to cut back on sound-bite discussions.
“Listen, we know how cable TV is," Jones said. "Literally by 9 a.m. you already know everybody’s talking points and then from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., it's the same thing over and over again. And so, our goal is to say, 'Look, let’s actually discuss this and debate it.' It’s not going to be CSPAN, you know, where everyone just sits around and talks. It will be a debate show, there will be back and forth, it will be lively, it will be entertaining because it’s commercial television. But the opportunity to go deeper will be there."
CNN pushed forward the debut of Crossfire to Sept. 9 in order to cover the unfolding Congressional debate on Syria. Washington bureau chief Sam Feist told THR the decision was made Saturday after President Obama's White House statement. "It was surprising, but also really exciting because we’ve been debating the issues of the day, recently Syria, amongst each other for weeks," recalled Cupp of the move.
"I think it was a genius move on [CNN president Jeff] Zucker’s part to say, ‘Listen, we have a big debate happening right now, let’s get the debate show going,'" said Jones.