How about this as a Debate format?
The CNN / YouTube format was heralded as something "new and provocative". In the end it was still just the same questions. So some gay people asked the questions. Anderson Cooper is a homosexual anyway, so why couldn't he just ask it. The candidates still had their "foot in mouth and head up asshole". The continued to danced around the questions until they redirected it into a way to squeezed it back into the box of the normal rhetoric. They still were free to lie and mislead about not only what has happened but what will happen when they are elected. None of them actually explained how any of their proposed policies would be implemented. In actuality, I don’t blame them. They only have 30 seconds to explain difficult and sometimes situation specific issues of the day. Man i have spent 2 post just explaining wage reform and it will take two more to get most, but not all, of the concept laid out.
The point of a debate is to figure out who the most qualified candidate is to make and approve policy. A president doesn’t "debate" after he is in office. This president has shown they don’t even listen to others. Debating to choose a president is like giving an algebra test to determine who gets a drivers license. (Not that I would be opposed to the idea of that at least being part of the formula. But that is for a different post.) Presidents think through and offer policies. The truth is a president doesn’t often write policies. He simply accepts or rejects those sent to him. What he will or won’t do is solely dependant on what the legislative branch sends him. A president can talk about implementing a national health care program. But if a republican majority dominates the congress or senate, the president may never get a chance to sign such a bill.
Instead of a bunch of questions that a moderator cold have asked, why not have a debate conducted across a blog. Allow them time and a way to not only state what they would do, but how they would do it. For instance, if they were asked a question about weather they would sign a bill, or what it would take to get them to sign a bill that created a national health care policy. They could explain what why and how. They could references and make videos that explains their responses. They could be asked follow up questions by the readers and/ or the other candidates. Everybody wants to help the poor. That is a big topic with many different approaches. Each candidate could reference website, post graphs and upload video is necessary to show they actually know what they are talking about. They could demonstrate the ability to understand the topic at hand, and not just use some predetermined catch speech.
Here is how this format might look. Candidates are asked a question on a blog that is moderated. They are given 3 or 4 days to get around to answering the questions. The public and other candidates view all of the answers. The candidates comment on each others responses in hopes of generating a dialogue. The public can submit questions also that the moderator picks from and posts the best of most commonly repeated version. The moderator should be used to research the factual nature of some claims, and the validity of any references used. that includes affiliations and conflicts of interest. A "Moderators comments" section could be used to let people know that a source has been checked out. It would look much like a discussion that happens across blogs and news formats everyday.
The benefits are that we get thought-out and well defined answers based on knowledge and not how pretty they were when they delivered it. We get an understanding of how well they can communicate their ideas civilly and accurately. We have written proof of things that they said they would or would not do. This will allow for some accountability later in life for the winner.
Some people point out that there is no way to guarantee that the candidates will be writing the entries themselves. So what. Every president has a cabinet of experts who actually address the issues as they come along. I heard what GW Bush thought about "nation building" in his speech during a debate. I would like to have known what donald rumsfeld, dick cheney, paul bremmer, and others he planned on putting in the circle of influence around him thought. I might have made a different decision in 2000. Let them counsel him. in the end he is going to have to "approve this message." They candidate at least better have read and agreed to the contents in it.
Outside of this format, the only other suggestion I could offer is a "Survivor" style obstacle course of activities. Mud wrestling in Speedo’s, a Jeopardy style quiz game, a hot wing eating contest, maybe even your classic drunken tricycle race could be considered as part of the events. Bare knuckle boxing shouldn't be considered "off the table" either.