By the time Stewart appeared on it to promote his book, the show had degenerated. At its height, though, it did a good job of sharpening political arguments. And the original format, to my mind, has never been bettered.
The show ran for half an hour and examined one question. There were two hosts: one liberal, one conservative, both opinion journalists rather than operatives for a political party. In the early 1990s, Michael Kinsley (now a Bloomberg View columnist) and Patrick Buchanan did the job. There were two guests, usually politicians or public-policy experts on each side of the debate. There was no studio audience.
Each of these features made “Crossfire” better. The one-subject rule made it impossible for the politicians to make it through the show on sound bites alone. That both hosts were journalists made for a fairer debate than the usual practice of today’s political shows, which put journalists up against political operatives.