CNN prepares for GW debut

CNN’s “Crossfire” will debut with new hosts and a restructured program from the Jack Morton Auditorium in the School of Media and Public Affairs building Monday, kicking off a partnership between GW and the political talk show for at least the next year.

CNN has not released information about the first day’s hosts or guests.

About 50 students watched a dress rehearsal of the show Monday, which allowed the show’s staff to get used to a new set and show format, and camera crews to try out different angles for the broadcast.

“We didn’t want to be experimenting on the air,” Executive Producer Sam Feist said after the initial run. “Now we’re going to start tweaking.”

Feist will sit in a truck in the MPA loading dock to direct the show each night, communicating to “Crossfire” hosts and other staff through headsets.

Set designers and painters were also on hand Monday to finalize the show’s appearance. The half-hour show has been expanded to an hour, there are two new hosts and the show takes on a new interactive component in front of a studio audience.

A “Crossfire” emblem combined with GW’s recently-released new logo will adorn the back wall of the auditorium to complete the revamped set. The show will occupy the MPA building from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. weeknights for the one-hour broadcasts that air at 7 p.m.

CNN crews worked throughout the week to prepare for the show’s GW debut and will hold a second dress rehearsal at 1 p.m. Thursday.

During Monday’s dress rehearsal, hosts James Carville and Bob Novak faced off with guests, including GW adjunct professor Ken Adelman, in heated debate about issues ranging from former President Bill Clinton to Iraq to college basketball. Carville and democratic political strategist Paul Begala are also a new addition to the show, replacing six-year host Bill Press and joining current hosts Novak and Tucker Carlson.

Carlson and Begala will face off at Thursday’s rehearsal.

Carville, a political consultant and writer best known for managing Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, livened up the mock show by wearing sunglasses for part of it and belching on the set.

One viewer took advantage of a new “Fireback” component, which allows viewers to e-mail comments about the show to fire at Carville Monday. The New York resident described the new host as “too radical and kooky.”

Carville said these comments came from people who “don’t like the truth,” drawing laughs from the audience.

Both Novak and Carville ridiculed and interrupted guests, including Adelman, who did not agree with them.

Adelman argued that the United States should take action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who he described as the “main threat to the country right now” with weapons of mass destruction.

Carville and Novak repeatedly cut Adelman off, repeating Vice President Dick Cheney’s words that there is “not even a close tie between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein” and adding that there is “no proof” of the professor’s points.

For each night of “Crossfire,” students can receive an e-mail announcing topics, hosts and guests through CNN’s Web site. Students can pick up tickets for the first two weeks of the broadcasts at Ticketmaster, said Heather Clapp, who GW recently hired as coordinating producer for the GW/CNN project.

Clapp, who graduated from GW in 1998 with a degree in political communication, will coordinate ticketing, student interns, security and publicity for the show. Previously an associate producer at CNN, she worked on programs including “Crossfire,” “Capital Gang” and “Reliable
Sources” for three years.

Clapp said she is working out a ticketing system for the rest of the programs and is promoting “Crossfire” at Colonial Inauguration and outside GW as a “must-see event” for D.C. tour groups.

“We already have great interest from students and alumni,” she said.

She said student interns will help with ticketing, research and production of “Crossfire” each night. University Special Events is currently organizing volunteers for the first two weeks of the broadcast from GW.

Clapp said she is developing an internship program with GW professors, volunteer positions, a Presidential Academic Fellowship and work-study jobs.

“We want (the internships) to be a broad experience, both editorial and production exposure,” said Clapp, who interned at CNN as an undergraduate.

Student Association Roger Kapoor said he thinks the show “will catch on like wildfire” on campus, and that “Crossfire” presents opportunities for students and the University.

He also said the visibility the show provides GW and other benefits “weigh out” the relatively few student complaints about CNN occupying the MPA building.

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