- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Sam Feist is the most intense man in the room, and with good reason. "Crossfire," the political debate show that he produces for CNN, is going live before a studio audience for the first time.
It is Monday evening, two hours before showtime, and Mr. Feist is talking on two phones at once, pressing buttons, barking orders and walking at a sprinter's pace as he prepares the debut before an audience at the Jack Morton Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University.
"The problem with being an executive producer is you're responsible for everything," says the 33-year-old Mr. Feist, an 11-year veteran of CNN. But that weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders attitude is something that Mr. Feist appears to embrace.
Previously a producer with "Wolf Blitzer Reports," Mr. Feist joined "Crossfire" two months ago, just as plans for a live version of the show were discussed. Since then, the show has been his project, and there is great excitement on the set today.
Present are the show's hosts, conservative Tucker Carlson and liberals Paul Begala and James Carville. Conservative Robert Novak will be patched in via satellite from Atlanta, adding a complicated element to an already hectic day.
Also on hand are visitors from CNN's headquarters in Atlanta, including Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Walter Isaacson.
Mr. Feist walks to CNN's broadcast trailer, where 10 other members of the crew work alongside 25 television monitors and a host of other complicated equipment. Dressed in a light-brown suit, the redheaded Mr. Feist has a phone in his right hand and is talking to a top producer in Atlanta. He has a two-way radio in his left, and is talking to assistant producers on the set, who are preparing the hosts to give a teaser of "Crossfire" at the end of the CNN show "Inside Politics."
To Mr. Feist's relief, the teaser goes smoothly. The hosts are their typical relaxed, funny and professional selves, and the cameras are focused on all the right people not an easy task when four individuals with strong opinions are vying to be heard. But Mr. Feist still voices some apprehension as to how the show will go once the element of a live audience is introduced.
Just before 6 p.m., Mr. Feist gathers the show's hosts in a small, humid room on the fourth floor. The CNN crew is still settling in here, it seems. It takes some time for Mr. Feist to figure out how to make a long-distance phone call, and boxes and papers are strewn across the floor. In one corner of the room, a television is tuned to Fox News.
Mr. Feist sits on a table, while Mr. Begala, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Carville slouch comfortably in chairs, trading jokes and the occasional partisan jab. Mr. Novak is patched in via speakerphone. Assistant producers and interns race in and out of the room, giving updates on when guests will arrive. Some crew members sit at laptop computers, ready to look up any facts or figures the hosts may need.
While taking calls on his cell phone and the office phone and checking his e-mail on his hand-held BlackBerry, Mr. Feist is reminded that he will have to give a brief introduction of the show to the audience. He and a fellow producer quickly craft a short speech; Mr. Feist is extra careful to include a word of thanks to the university.
Mr. Feist and his crew write some passages to be used directly before and after commercial breaks, and when introducing guests. The hosts, meanwhile, discuss some general questions for the guests and each other, but appear comfortable with the largely unscripted off-the-cuff format of the show.
Mr. Feist says that despite the often-heated debate between hosts on the show, the four men are cordial to one another in real life.
"That's important, because they have to work together very closely," Mr. Feist says. "You need to have a team that gets along."
Tonight's main topic is the war in the Middle East, but there also will be a segment where the hosts discuss with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, his recent characterization by Republicans as an "obstructionist."
The guests are Mr. Daschle, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot, former governor of Montana. Mr. Feist is relieved to hear that Mr. Daschle's plane finally has landed. But at the same time, an assistant producer is on the phone with an aide to Mr. Racicot, trying to determine the fastest way to get him to the studio.
Mr. Feist would like to send a car; Mr. Racicot would prefer to walk or take the Metro. Mr. Feist says Mr. Racicot must be here by 6:45 p.m., because he would be scheduled to go on first if Mr. Daschle doesn't arrive on time.
At about 6:45 p.m., Mr. Feist gives a quick introduction of the show to the audience and runs back to the CNN trailer, ready to go live. He then is informed that all of the guests have arrived and are ready.
"About the worst thing that can happen is a guest not showing up," a relieved Mr. Feist says later.
Mr. Feist is told that all systems are go, and that "Crossfire" will begin as planned with a live report from Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, who is in Jerusalem.
At 7 p.m., "Crossfire" goes live and proceeds with minor problems that only a highly trained eye would notice. The remote report from Mrs. Amanpour comes in clearly, and even the audience-interaction segment the one thing that Mr. Feist and his fellow producers feared the most goes smoothly. At 8 p.m., when the show goes off the air, all praise goes to Mr. Feist, who is greeted with applause and handshakes from everyone involved.
"There are always tweaks to any program," says Mr. Feist, who spends his free time away from the show helping to raise his 9-month-old daughter. "Fortunately, there aren't as many tweaks as I thought there would be. The great thing about live television is that once it's over, there's nothing you can do about it. It's like a big weight being lifted off your shoulders."

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