From ''Crossfire'' to ''Meet the Press,'' we rate weekly political chat programs
* The Players Michael Kinsley, John Sununu, and target news makers in the middle
* The Rules He who asks the cleverest partisan questions is the cutest. He who executes the fastest rhetorical footwork is the sexiest. Well-formed, complete sentences are a must.
* What to Watch For Kinsley’s faint grins before he pounces, Sununu’s pursed puss before he attacks, and the snarky left-right jabs at the end of each show
* Grade: B For having opinions about everything, every night
THE CAPITAL GANG
* The Players Moderator Al Hunt and three inside-the-Beltway gang members of varying political persuasions
* The Rules Unabashed rip-off of The McLaughlin Group, only with less drama and less-glamorous production values
* What to Watch For Hunt, looking intent, trying to work up McLaughlin-like charisma and hoping to be parodied by Saturday Night Live.
* Grade: C Too stiff to be freewheeling, too much same old same old
THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
* The Players Moderator John McLaughlin and four journalists who wear their points of view like boutonnieres
* The Rules The moderator gets to bully and lecture; the panelists get to withstand and defend.
* What to Watch For Wacky signature phrases (”Freddy-the-beadle-Bahhhns!”), wacky signature psychodynamics (McLaughlin picking on Kondracke, Barnes battling Clift, Germond disliking everyone), wacky resemblance to The Gong Show
* Grade: A For being so very What It Is
MEET THE PRESS
* The Players NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, two reporters (such as Andrea Mitchell, David Broder, R.W. Apple), and the news makers they grill
* The Rules We’re all friendly adversaries on this bus. The questioning, while tough, is dignified, as befits the 45-year-old, longest-running program on network TV.
* What to Watch For A bright-eyed Russert trying (since the program expanded to an hour last month) to beef up the pit-bull factor by jabbing and prodding guests with more gusto
* Grade: B+ The plus is for effort
THIS WEEK WITH DAVID BRINKLEY
* The Players The Grand Old Man himself, plus George Will, Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, assorted news-making guests, and ”our man Jack Smith” reporting from Washington
* The Rules Be self-confident. Be wry. Yea, offer all things unto all brunch eaters: news, background reporting, interviews, discussion, commentary, and sardonic asides.
* What to Watch For The (many) moments when Brinkley’s face telegraphs ”Politics! What a dump!”
* Grade: A For excellence
WASHINGTON WEEK IN REVIEW
* The Players Moderator Paul Duke, three modulated journalists, understated glasses of water, and a big conference table
* The Rules The polite, literate, civilized conversation expected of colleagues as familiar with one another as old wing tips. No pushing or shoving, please.
* What to Watch For Whether tea is actually served or we just imagine that it is
* Grade: B- For courtesy