CNN said goodbye to pundit Tucker Carlson on Wednesday, and with him likely the "Crossfire" program that has been the granddaddy of high-volume political debate shows on cable television.
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.
"His career aspirations and our programming needs just don't synch up," Klein told the Chicago Tribune. "He wants to host his own nighttime show, and we don't see that in the cards here."
Carlson, meanwhile, told the New York Times that he quit the show last April but agreed to stay on until his contract expired. He also told the newspaper he would become the host of talk show on MSNBC.
The bow tie 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 shout fests.
"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 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 percent 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 the matter.
"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.