About six weeks after I signed Tom Braden and Pat Buchanan for a program I had just created to be called Crossfire, Ted fired me. He hated the idea. He called Braden and Buchanan "a couple of turkeys," refused to put them on the air and offered to pay each of them $75,000 that was supposed to be their salary once the show started. He was going to pay them for not appearing. Braden and Buchanan were tougher than Ted thought. The deal I'd made with them stipulated that they would have an hour show in primetime. They threatened to go to court and Ted reached a compromise -- he would put them on the air at 11:30 p.m. for a half an hour. They took the deal and made the show the number one show on CNN, so Ted moved them up to 7:30 p.m. where they remained for years. Later the show filled a full hour, but it never became the show that I had planned.
Yesterday, CNN announced that Crossfire would return after a eight-year hiatus. The hosts, of course, are different, and in my view there are too many of them, four instead of two. Moreover, the original plan called for one guest per night. He or she was to be the most important news maker of the day. The spotlight was on the guest, Braden on the left and Buchanan on the right were to question whatever statements he made. He or she were caught in the "crossfire." (The brilliant title was proposed by Paul Bissonette, CNN's PR man.) The show worked that way for a brief period; Buchanan and Braden were good friends and their disagreements were always polite, but it's very tough getting top news makers to appear on television shows and over time the show became a shouting match between the hosts. In 1985, Buchanan left the show and he was replaced by Robert Novak, who may not have shouted, but certainly sneered. Then Buchanan came back and Braden left to be replaced by Michael Kinsley, a Time magazine, New Republic alumnus who almost matched Buchanan's intelligence.
After Buchanan and Kinsley left, the show declined drastically. Other hosts, including Bob Novak (in a return engagement), Geraldine Ferraro, Bill Press, Mary Matalin, Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala and James Carville, all took a turn at it, but the show was by and large a long boring shouting match.
Crossfire 2 has already hired its hosts: Newt Gingrich and S.E. Cupp will represent the right and Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones sit on the left. Gingrich is a "get"; smart and quick, he's worthy of the job, but he's no Buchanan. I don't know much about the other three, but judging from their performance on CNN last night, they've got a lot of work to do to match the original Crossfire hosts. I have my doubts about Ms. Cupp because she's keeping her other job as a contributor to Glenn Beck's programs. (I'd have doubts about anybody who worked for Glen Beck.) The two liberals have yet to prove themselves. It should be noted that the cast has the usual gender/ethnic make up -- two men, two women, three whites, one black. CNN has yet to disclose a time slot that will be awarded them.
I wish them all the best. God knows CNN needs a winner, and all of us need a newsier, better CNN. After all, I got fired for creating the show.