|Index||7 reviews in total|
THE DICK CAVETT SHOW-was an 90 minute mixture of talk and variety that
ran for six astounding years on late-night prime time television on the
ABC-TV network from the first telecast on May 26,1969 to the final
episode of the series on August 16,1975. This was at the time one of
the most versatile performers who eventually gave us some of the
biggest entertainment acts in the history of rock,and went toe to toe
with the King of Late Night-Johnny Carson and eventually at the time
Merv Griffin for the battle of late night supermacy. However,Dick
Cavett was one of the few television personalities ever to star or host
major programs in daytime,prime-time,late night,all in quick
succession,and it wasn't about his failure to attract a large audience
with any of them,which his late night talk show brought in some of the
largest ratings ever for ABC at the time,which was well praised and
received by the critics that were generally acknowledged to be
witty,intelligent,and interesting compared to what was scheduled around
them. And this was during his basking in the Nielsen's spotlight during
his first five seasons of the show. But what killed it successful late
night format was that it was too much of the intelligence that not only
did Cavett in,but had him terminated from his job,and his talk show
cancelled from ABC. He often hesitated to bring a thought-provoking
approach to his audience,not let alone people and also show-biz types
and musical figures as guests. It was the viewers,who didn't much care
to have their thoughts provoked,but it was Cavett's wit and too much
detail in things that did him in.
However,Dick Cavett's late night talk-variety show of the late 1960's and early 1970's were essentially more than talk and music with some singing or special performing guest which Cavett brought on a array of some of the biggest artists ever to perform and two of them deserved special attention at the height of the era:Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin was at the height of her fame when she made two appearances on The Dick Cavett Show. The first was in June 25,1970 and her last appearance on the show was on August 3,1970. The other was Jimi Hendrix,one of the greatest influence artists of the 20th Century,made two appearances of The Dick Cavett Show as well. His appearances,and others on the program came at the time of one of the biggest events ever presented in musical history...WOODSTOCK. The events that were transcribed at WOODSTOCK brought in the ratings,since Dick Cavett was going for a hip-younger audience and it shows here as well. As far as the acts that appeared on The Dick Cavett Show were legendary and it consists of some of the best from the era:Joni Mitchell,Jefferson Airplane,John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Crosby,Stills,Nash & Young(which consists of David Crosby,Graham Nash, Stephen Stills,and Neil Young),Paul Simon,Art Garfunkel,B.B. King, Sly and the Family Stone,Tina Turner,Little Richard,Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger(of the Rolling Stones),Sonny and Cher and so many more.
Also during his run,the guests continued to be diverse with some of the most controversial figures ever to appear on television,and Dick Cavett had them on his show. From "Playboy" founder,Hugh M.Hefner,to the most controversial segment ever displayed which appeared in December,1971. Former Governor and White Supermacist Lester Maddox of Georgia walked off the show when challenged on his segregationist views. Guests included national and political figures as well which included at the time newscaster Harry Reasoner,Dr. Christian Bernard, to Rose Kennedy,the mother to President John F. Kennedy. Others included David Frost,David Susskind,Chet Huntley,and one segment included a young man in the audience...John Kerry who was questioning a guest member on Cavett's show about his political views on the Vietnam War. John Kerry appeared on Cavett's show on June 30,1971. Others included political pundit I.F. Stone,maverick Federal Communications Commission member Nicholas Johnson,Security Adviser member G. Gordon Liddy and philosophy professor Paul Weiss,and advise columnist Anne Landers and social commentator Rex Reed.
The others were presented as a series of one-guest shows(which ran for 90 minutes!)which featured some of the best out of Hollywood. One segment had Charlton Heston the first week,and the next week would consist of Groucho Marx,or Jack Benny or for that manner an entire segment which featured Gloria Swanson,George Burns,or Bette Davis. The others consisted of Hollywood heavyweights like Raqhel Welch, Peter Falk,Jack Lemmon,Walter Matthau,Woody Allen,Donald Sutherland, Minnie Pearl,Pearl Bailey,Lou Rawls,and Lloyd Haynes and Richard Harris not to mention sports figures as well including Muhammad Ali to novelist Truman Capote. While the show continue to received excellent reviews,The Dick Cavett Show was suffering in the ratings,and despite viewership decreasing at a alarming rate,and within the show's final season,1974-1975,the show was at the bottom of the ratings pile,and was dethroned by Johnny Carson. However,because of this,ABC pull the plug entirely in 1975,after six seasons. The first five seasons of the show were the best ever(1969-1975). Afterwards,Dick Cavett went on to do another late night talk show format,which lasted one season on CBS,and from there would move his format over to public television,where it would remain for ten years and another two years on a public cable channel.
This was an extraordinary television show and demonstrated beautifully the true potential the medium to educate and illuminate. Cavett's program was nothing less than brilliant at times and consistently excellent. Often it leaned toward the intellectual nature but never failed to be entertaining as well. There was a fascinating, eclectic selection of guests who Dick Cavett gave the time to express themselves and to many times open-up in surprising ways. It is an amazing memory now but to think that at one time a "talk show" would feature acclaimed authors, playwrights, artists, intellectuals, classical musicians, story tellers, politicians, architects, comedians, and stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood and Broadway. These were people who were not always promoting something or even themselves. While this was an era when even the Tonight Show might have Robert Frost as a guest and viewers seemed to appreciate intelligent conversation, The Dick Cavett Show was unique in tackling the hot button issues of the day, not shying away from the controversial. America has dumbed down astonishingly since this program left the air and we are unlikely to see anything like it on network television again. However, for a few bright shining years, viewers were indeed enlightened while at the same time being entertained because of an erudite and engaging host named Dick Cavett. We who spent time with the giants who appeared on our small screens will never forget what Mr. Cavett shared with us and the many fantastic moments of brilliant television we were so fortunate to experience due to his genius.
When this show first debuted, it was pretty much portrayed as the hip alternative to the Tonight Show. While Johnny Carson pretty much had celebrities that appealed mostly to older audiences, Cavett decided early on to have younger and more hip acts on his show. Artist such as Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell all appeared on the show and helped make it a cult favorite among younger viewers. Too bad it didn't last long. Even though Cavett was able to draw in plenty of younger viewers, it was still not enough to topple the Carson juggernaut. This show will always remain one of the great cult favorites of the 1960's.
I have fuzzy memories of watching this show when I was 8-10 years old when I was allowed to stay up late. I remember seeing Janis Joplin on the show and I thought she was great, a true expression of American freedom. A few years ago when my cable company offered VH-1, I taped a show that was recorded right after the Woodstock festival with the Airplane, Stills, Crosby (who I think is a reincarnation of Christ), and Joni Mitchell. What an priceless, incredible show. Recently I went to a Target store and found a DVD of Jimi Hendrix's appearance on the Cavett show with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox. Very tempting to buy. A lot of people dis the sixties, but seeing what is going on now with all this greed and death, I think we need a revival. Peace.
The Dick Cavett Show is the best talk show. I wasn't even born when it's on
during the network run. I saw those episodes on the VH-1 Archives, the ones
with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Paul Simon,
Jefferson Airplane, Sly and The Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, George
Harrison, and More.
I was born on the same birthday as Dick Cavett's.
I Give it *****.
THE WELL KNOWN species of television show known as the Late Night talk
& variety show has long been a regular feature of network television.
It started with something called Broadway OPEN HOUSE (1950-51), which
ran on the NBC Television Network. It was directly ancestral to THE
TONIGHT SHOW, which made it the forefather and prototype for all that
was to follow. (BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE was hosted by comic Jerry Lester.)
THE HOSTING OF such fare in the late night programming instinctively was given to the funnymen. The comedians made the near perfect host as they would do the opening monologue and some occasional comic sketches, while in between introducing talk-oriented guests, singers and new talent comics. Consequently we had the likes of Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and (briefly) Pat Sajak.
BUT WHERE THERE is a rule, one also will find an exception. In the case of the late night talk show genre, we nominate Dick Cavett as our candidate.
ALTHOUGH POSSESSED OF an enormous supply of wit, Mr. Cavett cannot be called a comedian by any stretch of the imagination. His obvious high degree of intelligence and natural ability as an interviewer make a strong case for classifying him as an "intellectual." Small and slight of build, his personality and fine use of the Queen's English made him a giant of a personality.
ALTHOUGH HE DID a brief monologue at the opening of his show, he was no comedian (as we've already said), he sang no songs and played no musical instruments, he absolutely commanded his audience. His real strength did lie in his talent in the interview.
THE ONE INCIDENT that we witnessed (on the tube) was an interview that he did. The subject was a most obnoxious Norman Mailer. Conducting the interview, Cavett had some notes written on a small sheet of paper.
WHILE MOVING ON from one question to another, Mailer made a smug, snide and very patronizing remark, "Just read it off of your little piece of paper!" ROARING BACK AS if he were a cornered tiger, Letterman shot back, "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine!"
I have seen this show two ways. 1) I watched it when I was a teen and
young man in the 1960s and 1970s. 2) Recently I watched it on hulu. (I
swear I have seen some of the same episodes both then and recently.)
The current format might puzzle younger viewers. The available episodes
are not in real-time order but are, instead, a "best of" collection.
And the collection includes both the early ABC version as well as the
later PBS Cavett show. (Actually, before there was the late show
version, Cavett had a day-time talk show, and I used to ditch school in
order to watch it, but don't tell my parents!)
Good selections, here, from the original guests. So far, I have watched interviews with musicians Janis Joplin (two episodes, one where she appeared on the same stage with silent film star Gloria Swanson), Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and Grace Slick (I don't think any American talk show of that era had more rock musicians on it than Cavett's did.); actor/comedian Bill Cosby, writer Eudora Welty (from the PBS period), director Alfred Hitchcock; politicians Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Edmund Muskie, and a debate on the Vietnam War between future Secretary of State John Kerry and John O'Neill from 1971. (I can understand why O'Neill's name is not given any outward billing, but it seems weird that his name is even edited out of the announcer's introduction within the episode. He, BTW, was involved in the "Swift Boat" campaign against Kerry in 2004 when Kerry ran for president.)
Those were different times, and these episodes of the Dick Cavett Show do capture, to an extent, what the '60s and '70s felt like. Those who did not live through it, though, might end up scratching their heads over some of the customs in that foreign country, The Past. Yet some things are caught in their beginning stages. Political correctness was just getting under way, but some things that would be considered insensitive now were still not back then. There are some topical references that made me think, "Oh, I had forgotten that, now I remember, that is funny, but if you had to explain it somebody now, it wouldn't be funny anymore."
George Bush the Elder - who was then the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. - gave a then-topical interview about the expulsion of Taiwan from the U.N. (1971), which is a now forgotten chapter. You can just detect from that episode the appearance of resentment by other U.N. members toward the U.S. In the subsequent interview with now-forgotten-but-then-major Democratic Party figure Ed Muskie, you can see the inchoate willingness of Democrats to try to be understanding toward such resentments. Not that Bush did not try to be philosophical about the anti-American attitude he faced, but he put his complaint in the mouth of a fellow ambassador, who, he said, had voted against the U.S. but told Bush that he felt the party atmosphere that had followed the vote to oust Taiwan was rather unseemly.
A strange moment came when an improve group called The Committee did a piece with Cavett and Janis Joplin incorporated into their ensemble and asked the audience to suggest an emotion for each actor to portray. Nobody in the audience seemed to know what an emotion is. When the director pointed to one actor and asked the audience for suggestions, someone yelled out "Queer!" To which the director responded, "Again," - because previous suggestions had not been emotions, either - "that is more of a lifestyle than an emotion," and the actor in question nodded toward the audience member and said, "You and I can get together and discuss it later." It is hard to imagine any of that happening in the same way today, but it was all part of the 1960s anything-goes milieu.
The same ensemble company did a set piece that was daring then and, I suspect, would be considered too daring to perform today, for fear that someone would be offended: A white actor pretended to be an oppressed black man while a black actor pretended to be a racist white man. I found the skit funny, insightful and uncomfortable. All good things, I think.
Another blast from the past is the weird operation of the now-defunct U.S. Fairness Doctrine, which seemed to get invoked sometimes by accident. Broadcasters were required by law to give equal time to opposing points of view. The downside was that it was easier to avoid any point of view in the first place so that the company did not have to allow free air time to the opposition. To his credit, Cavett took the risk of tackling issues, but sometimes the Fairness Doctrine fallout mystified even him, as when he had controversial contraceptive advocate Bill Baird on his show, and subsequently discovered that because Baird was running for a seat on a local city council in New York, Cavett was forced to give free air time to two of Baird's opponents in the election.
I recommend this series to anyone who wants to be enriched and entertained at the same time. That this show is also a history lesson - albeit an often inscrutable one - is an added virtue.
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