NEW YORK — Bill Press, the former KABC talk radio host and chairman of the California State Democratic Party who has been arguing the "left" side of issues on CNN's "Crossfire," is being replaced by former Clinton insiders James Carville and Paul Begala.
The two one-time advisors and political strategists for President Clinton will rotate in the job at the venerable political debate show. The change comes as the show, currently a half-hour program that originates in a CNN studio, gets set to expand to an hour in April and move to a new home in front of a live audience at George Washington University.
The shift marks an attempt to revitalize the franchise and improve its lagging ratings. Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson will continue to trade off arguing the position on the "right."
Press, meanwhile, will become a political contributor to the network. CNN has just added an 8 p.m. half-hour rebroadcast of "Crossfire," and the program, which airs at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time, will begin a half-hour earlier when the expansion takes place.
The new hosts are the latest change implemented by CNN in the face of stiff competition from Fox News Channel. Starting some time in the spring, the expanded "Crossfire" will be followed by a new program hosted by Connie Chung, who is leaving ABC News.
Although CNN's ratings are up from a year ago, Fox remained the most-watched cable news network, on average, for the second consecutive month in just-released results for February. Moreover, "Fox Report With Shepard Smith" surpassed CNN's "Larry King Live" as the No. 2 cable news show, according to Nielsen Media Research data.
According to ratings for a total-day, 24-hour basis, Fox drew an average 661,000 viewers to CNN's 514,000 and MSNBC's 337,000 for the month. Fox also ranked first in prime time, where "The O'Reilly Factor" (2.09 million viewers on average) remained the top cable news show, followed by Smith, who drew an average 1.29 million viewers to King's 1.26 million. CNN said King's ratings were negatively affected by having to go head to head with NBC's Winter Olympics coverage.