One of the ways you can judge a talk show's energy and momentum -- or lack of such -- is by the guests.
When a show has strong producers and is going well, they have guests who bring energy, edge and insights to the production. The guests help make the production pop.
One of the signs of a show going bad is low-rent guests -- folks not much in demand who are easy to book and bring nothing with them to the show.
"Crossfire" had two of the latter Thursday with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich. It might not be fair to call them has-beens, but I would be hard pressed off the top of my head to find two political figures less in demand by the standards of political TV than these two.
The only way Ehrlich can get on local TV in Baltimore is to buy time as he did with his last infotainment show on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). This is not a guy who's going to get people switching away from Fox News or MSNBC to see what he has to say on CNN.
But there he was with Richardson Thursday in the scintillating debate: "Is Obamacare a trick or a treat?"
Yes, that's a quote from the CNN website and the show. That's another way you can tell when a show is not going well: The framing and writing are lame.
Viewers were asked to weigh in on Obamacare as "trick or treat."
Isn't that just what we need in America: more mindless, one-dimensional, thumbs-up/thumbs-down dialectic themed to a holiday? Why not go all the way and have the hosts and guests dress up as pumpkins and goblins?
Again, I'll leave it to the political writers to judge the predictable, talking-points arguments that were offered.
But I was reminded of what an unpleasant TV persona Ehrlich has.
When Richardson or hosts Newt Gingrich and Van Jones were talking, the cameras often caught Ehrlich in reaction, and he had that same hostile glower that killed him in TV debates with Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Who knew it was so hard to get first-rate guests in D.C. on Halloween?