5 signs that CNN's Crossfire is doomed

The Week

The cacophonous pundit showdown that Daily Show host Jon Stewart once decried as "hurting America" is back after an eight-year hiatus. Yes, last night Crossfire officially re-launched on CNN. Critics were not kind.

The hosts for the premiere: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the right and Stephanie Cutter, deputy manager of President Obama's re-election campaign, on the left. (They will alternate nights with conservative columnist S.E. Cupp and former Obama adviser Van Jones).

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Here are a few of the highlights from critics' initial reviews suggesting that the new Crossfire might not be long for this world.

1. It's like ESPN, only way less fun
The dramatic graphics and sound effects create the feeling that CNN is "aping the format of ESPN's round-table-type afternoon discussion shows," writes Bryan Lowry of Variety. Instead of pop-culture catchphrases and a screaming Stephen A. Smith, however, the show featured Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) talking about the situation in Syria.

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2. The hosts aren't nearly mean enough to each other
Gingrich "seemed a bit like a sedated bear," writes the New Republic's Laura Bennett. TIME's James Poniewozik likens the experience to "watching a catfight between stuffed cats," calling the dialogue "uncomfortably stilted."

"If you're going to have on-air sniping as news entertainment," Poniewozik writes, "it should at least be genuine and from the gut."

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Yes, Crossfire was criticized in 2005 for its theatrical bickering, but if people wanted to watch calm, reasonable political discourse, they would just tune into Charlie Rose.

"They just to need to start acting less like the debate's moderators and more like its partisan participants," writes Politico's Dylan Byers. "We're here to see them fight, not to see them get along."

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3. Cable news is full of argumentative shows
When Crossfire debuted in 1982, the idea of talking heads squabbling over politics was slightly more novel. Now, as the Pew Research Center has found, commentary actually takes up more airtime on cable news networks than reporting.

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(Source: Pew Research Center)

CNN was the exception, barely, with only 46 percent of its programming committed to commentary. That number will likely go up — although its hard to predict whether Crossfire's ratings will go up with it.

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4. There was a distinct lack of hot-button issues
Letting pundits battle it out like gladiators in the Coliseum make sense when the topic is abortion or gay marriage. That doesn't hold for Syria, writes Poniewozik, claiming it's "exactly the kind of issue that flummoxes Crossfire's partisan assumptions." He adds:

There's not really a "from the left, from the right" on it; guest Rand Paul's opposition to the attack could have been delivered by a leftist guest as well. Meanwhile, opposing him was Sen. Robert Menendez, making a qualified endorsement of a "limited strike." Contain your qualified, limited excitement! [TIME]

5. Newt Gingrich couldn't remember the name of the show
At one point, Gingrich, 70, welcomed his guests to "Ceasefire," which was the name of an upcoming segment. Not exactly a great sign.

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