NEW YORK – Former President Clinton and his 1996 election opponent Bob Dole are joining the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes for weekly debates on national issues in the show's old "Point-Counterpoint" style.
The two agreed to 10 segments, starting Sunday night, but CBS executives say the network will consider extending the debates into next season.
Clinton said he often watches some of the political shows on cable television that degenerate into screaming matches.
"There may be a market for people who want light instead of heat," the former president said.
The retired politicians taped their first segment Friday morning, declining to identify the topic. Asked who won, Clinton said, "He did."
"I got a `B,"' said Dole, the former Senate majority leader. "He got a `B-minus."'
Clinton said that given their old jobs, both men want to be careful about what they say regarding any potential war with Iraq. All citizens want to be supportive of the armed forces, he said.
Clinton, who has reportedly been offered several television opportunities, said the CBS idea appealed to him because 60 Minutes is a serious show. "It's just once a week and not too long, so we won't be in anybody's way," he said.
CBS would not say how much he and Dole will be paid.
The segments will revive the "Point-Counterpoint" segments popular until they stopped airing in 1979, but will instead be called "Clinton/Dole" one week and "Dole/Clinton" the next week.
Executive producer Don Hewitt said the planned format calls for one debater to pick a topic and write a 45-second script that would be faxed to his opponent. The response would also be 45 seconds. After the initial arguments, the first debater would get 15 seconds to rebut, followed by a final 15 seconds from the opponent.
"It is going to be provocative but not mean or nasty. That would be a first for us," quipped Dole, whose sharp tongue occasionally got him in trouble during his political career.
Clinton said their wives — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. — were "both terrified" about what they may say.
"They should be," Dole added.
Clinton said, "All I can do is make a blanket plea that neither of them be held responsible for what we say."
Producers of 60 Minutes hope the Clinton-Dole debates will boost ratings. The show has been in the top 10 for the past 20 years, but its popularity dropped recently, with the loss of about a million viewers in the last year.