debates looked good--because they bore some reflection to what was on the minds of a subset of actual likely voters, and was not a creation of the punditocracy.
It is clear what the public wants: substantive questions on core public concerns. Get the candidates off their preprogrammed talking points, but not with "gotcha" questions about media-overhyped, manufactured controversies.
Finally, technology allows near-real-time fact-checking of candidate claims. A team of researchers can feed moderators corrective information on the spot that candidates can be queried on; we don't have to wait for the post-debate analysis to learn that a candidate is misstating the facts.