“Crossfire” hits half-year mark

They are still doing it every night. Both partners are still interested and the kids are happy. The unprecedented marriage between CNN and GW is thriving. CNN’s “Crossfire” hosts have said “The George Washington University” more than 350 times to an international audience and more than 21,000 individuals have watched a live taping in the Jack Morton Auditorium since the show made the University its permanent home April 1.

Almost six months since “Crossfire” arrived on campus, CNN producers “couldn’t be happier,” University officials are boasting and GW students are still interning and filling the seats for the nightly, rowdy exhibition of political punditry.

High-fives all around

“There isn’t another University that can come close to what we’re doing here,” said Mike Freedman, vice president for communications. Freedman added CNN executives told him Georgetown University and University of Maryland- College Park officials have inquired about bringing the show to their campuses.

Freedman, who played an instrumental role in bringing CNN’s longest-running political show to campus added, “from the University’s perspective, its been a nice success story.”

Freedman said interest has “exceeded” his expectations, noting that students make up most of the audience, which averages 180 people in the 222-seat auditorium. GW also advertises to tourists and interns, but University officials said students are still the venture’s target audience.

CNN and GW signed a six-year contract in February allowing the network to use the Media and Public Affairs auditorium for four hours nightly from Monday to Friday.

CNN brought “Crossfire” to GW a handful of times since the mid-90’s and for two weeks following September 11 before signing the contract to move the show to the University. Show officials cited strong student questions and a new look as reasons for moving from the studio.

Freedman said GW and CNN are “equal partners” in the arrangement, which has CNN renting the auditorium and the University publicizing and providing support staff for the CNN executives told him Georgetown University and University of Maryland- College Park officials have inquired about bringing the show to their campuses.

Freedman, who played an instrumental role in bringing CNN’s longest-running political show to campus added, “from the University’s perspective, it’s been a nice success story.”

Freedman said interest has “exceeded” his expectations, noting that students make up most of the audience, which averages 180 people in the 222-seat auditorium. GW also advertises to tourists and interns, but University officials said students are still the venture’s target audience.

CNN and GW signed a six-year contract in February, allowing the network to use the Media and Public Affairs auditorium for four hours nightly Monday to Friday.

CNN brought “Crossfire” to GW a handful of times since the mid-90’s and for two weeks following September 11 before signing the contract to move the show to the University. Show officials cited strong student questions and a new look as reasons for moving from the studio.

Freedman said GW and CNN are “equal partners” in the arrangement, which has CNN renting the auditorium and the University publicizing and providing support staff for the show.

Freedman declined to give monetary figures, but said the publicity for the University and student opportunities like GW-exclusive “Crossfire” internships were “immeasurable.”

“We never looked at the show as a way to make money,” Freedman said. “GW students can intern for a news show without even leaving campus.”

The show gives the University international publicity with fixed times for GW mentions, the use of the GW logo as a backdrop for the audience questions and the show’s email, cnn@gwu.edu.

Freedman said “Crossfire” has allowed the University more opportunities to host events like the D.C. Mayoral debate in early September because of the facilities and equipment CNN has installed.

He said television programs like Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” expressed interest in using the auditorium but GW must give first rights to CNN. GW offered Comedy Central Lisner Auditorium but he said network officials opted for another D.C. venue for its tour this fall.

“Crossfire” Senior Executive Producer Sam Feist said he “couldn’t be happier” with the arrangement, noting that the addition of the studio audience has helped the show increase its ratings among college-age audiences. Feist said ratings are up 200 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds and 50 percent overall.

Feist said the show’s move to GW, and the addition of the audience, have added to the “energy” of the program and contributed to the ratings jump.

“Just by their existence, (the audience) is adding to the pacing of the program . it brings an energy level to the program we didn’t have before,” he said.

In addition to adding the studio audience last April, “Crossfire” added fiery Democratic hosts Paul Begala and James Carville, switched to an hour-long, multi-topic format and added new segments.

Feist said rumors last spring about Republicans avoiding the show because of the new hosts’ badgering are untrue, noting that guests have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the new format.

He said he noticed other networks picking up “Crossfire” elements, citing a future college tour for MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” as a sign of the “Crossfire” impact.

A spokesperson for FOX News said despite “Crossfire’s” ratings boost, the show is “not on (FOX’s) radar screen” noting that the “FOX Report with Shepard Smith” consistently beats CNN in the 7 p.m. EST timeslot.

A campus fixture

Freedman said bringing “Crossfire” to campus met his goal of bringing enrichment, academic and career opportunities to campus.

CNN made “Crossfire” internships exclusive to GW students starting this past summer. Feist said interns from GW are more familiar with Washington and better versed on the issues, making the move to strictly GW students “an added bonus.”

Feist said the show is constantly tinkering with the format and is looking into installing polling devices for the studio audience.

Coordinating Producer Heather Clapp, who serves as a liaison between GW and CNN, said “Crossfire” has had a permanent impact on GW. She said area restaurant Lindy’s Red Lion has started a “Crossfire” burger special and that Friday shows are becoming a prime date spot for GW couples.

Despite some complaints about the show’s news value, many students interviewed said the show has been a positive addition to the University.

“I think it’s great publicity for the school and brings (GW) name recognition,” junior Kate Sweeney said. “There is a prestige to having it here.”

Senior Perry Wasserman said the show brings “ingenious publicity” for GW, even though he called the program “pure entertainment” and “a circus.”

Other students said “Crossfire” on campus pushes students to stay informed about current news.

“It motivates people to pay attention to politics,” said freshman Nathan Howe, a philosophy major. “I never paid attention to politics before I saw the show.”

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