Well, much to my surprise, I made it through the whole thing and found the format if not perfect, at least far improved from the circus atmosphere that usually has me reaching for the clicker. Since it's customary to do so, I'm declaring the winner to be Carolyn Washburn who did a great job on the moderation. She was unobtrusive, but asked good serious questions and kept the time hoggers gently but firmly in line.
As for the candidates, they're all losers to begin with and there weren't any big shocking or shining moments. None of them really said anything unexpected and they were all rather flat in their presentations. "Giggles" Giuliani looked especially bad, subdued to point of almost looking cowed. He was clearly dreading the inevitable question on Judy's security arrangements. McCain looked tired. Thompson just looked old and vaguely confused. I continue to be amazed at how a professional actor can have such dismal stage presence. Tancredo and Hunter, meh. I can't even tell the difference between the two. They kind of look alike and are equally uninspiring.
Standouts, such as they were, was Keyes who had the most fire but comes across as an enraged axe murderer. The GOP is truly in trouble if he's going to be their savior. The Stepford candidate, Mr. Romney, probably had the best stage presence but somehow manages to look more fake with every appearance. He's like a cardboard cutout with a pre-programmed tape deck and his shameless butt kissing tribute to the voters of Iowa, which was completely non-responsive to the question asked, was embarrassing to watch.
To the extent that any of them 'won', I'd say Huckabee came off as the most confident, no doubt due to his rising poll numbers and Ron Paul came off as sane and serious, rather than shrill, probably because he was treated with more respect by Washburn than is customary at these events and he wasn't forced to compete for face time. This was a good format for him.
This was a good format period. It's not that it was all that much more informative. Politicians being what they are, ignore the questions to make their preferred talking points and I imagine many will find it boring without the glitz. But for me, it beat the hell out of watching Chris Matthews preen for the cameras for the better part of two hours, while he decides who gets to talk.