NEW YORK (AP)--Cable News Network on Wednesday told conservative pundit Tucker Carlson that it won’t be renewing his contract to co-host its “Crossfire” political debate program.
CNN will probably fold “Crossfire” into its other programming, perhaps as an occasional segment on the daytime show “Inside Politics,” said Jonathan Klein, who was appointed in late November as chief executive of CNN’s U.S. network.
Klein on Wednesday told Carlson, one of the four “Crossfire” hosts, that CNN would not be offering him a new contract. Carlson has reportedly been talking with MSNBC about a prime-time opening replacing Deborah Norville. MSNBC is a joint venture of General Electric Co. (GE) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). CNN is a unit of Time Warner Inc. (TWX).
Carlson didn’t immediately return a call to his cell phone for comment.
The bow-tied wearing conservative pundit got into a public tussle last fall with comic Jon Stewart, who has been critical of cable political programs that devolve into shoutfests.
“I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp,” Klein told The Associated Press.
He said all of the cable networks, including CNN, have overdosed on programming devoted to arguing over issues. Klein said he wants more substantive programming that is still compelling.
“I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues,” he said. “I don’t know why we don’t treat the audience with the same respect.”
“Crossfire” began in 1982 and was once a mainstay of CNN’s prime time. Pat Buchanan from the right and Michael Kinsley from the left were two of its most prominent hosts.
But as News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox News Channel perfected the format with popular hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, “Crossfire” lost favor among CNN executives and was moved to the afternoons in 2002. It averages 447,000 viewers each weekday, down 21% from the previous season, according to Nielsen Media Research. Carlson rotates as host with conservative columnist Bob Novak. Paul Begala and James Carville are the left-leaning ringleaders.
Klein said he hoped Novak, Begala and Carville would continue with meaningful commentator roles at CNN.
Carlson had one failed bid at prime time on CNN with “The Spin Room,” which was canceled for low ratings after less than six months in 2001.
He subbed last week for newscaster Aaron Brown as Klein wanted to see him in a different role before making a decision about his future. Klein said his views on wanting to change the tone of political coverage were separate from the decision to keep Carlson.
“His career aspirations and our programming needs just don’t synch up,” Klein said. “He wants to host his own nighttime show and we don’t see that in the cards here. Out of respect for him and his talent, we thought it would be best to let him explore opportunities elsewhere.”
An MSNBC spokesman had no comment on CNN’s decision.
“We think Tucker is a great journalist and we’re exploring our options for a new 9 p.m. show,” said MSNBC’s Jeremy Gaines.