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The Dick Cavett Show

The Dick Cavett Show has been the title of several talk shows hosted by Dick Cavett on various television networks, including:

  • ABC daytime (March 4, 1968–January 24, 1969) (originally titled This Morning)
  • ABC prime time (May 26–September 19, 1969)
  • ABC late night (December 29, 1969–January 1, 1975)
  • CBS prime time (August 16–September 6, 1975) (actually more of a variety show)
  • PBS (1977–1982)
  • USA prime time (September 30, 1985–September 23, 1986)
  • ABC late night (September 23–December 30, 1986)
  • CNBC (1989–1996)
  • TCM (2006–present)

Show History

When used without qualification, the title most often refers to the first three shows on ABC and especially the late-night show, which ran opposite NBC's popular The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Cavett took the time slot over from Joey Bishop. The Cavett show is generally acknowledged as the most noble and worthy attempt to go head-to-head with the unassailable Carson. The Dick Cavett Show was also the name of a short-lived radio show.

While Cavett and Carson shared many of the same guests, Cavett was receptive to rock and roll artists to a degree unusual at the time, as well as authors, politicians, and other personalities outside the entertainment field. (On The Tonight Show, such guests seldom took center stage, but would be booked last in order to fill the remaining time, if they appeared at all.) The wider variety of guests, combined with Cavett's literate and intelligent approach to comedy, appealed to a significant enough minority of viewers to keep the show running for several years despite the competition.

On all three of the early ABC shows, the bandleader was Bobby Rosengarden and the announcer was Fred Foy of The Lone Ranger fame. The morning show was produced by Woody Fraser, the late-night show by John Gilroy. Cavett's writer (when any was needed) was Dave Lloyd.

The late-night show's 45-minute midpoint would always be signaled, in between commercials, by "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. The Candide snippet has since become Cavett's theme song, used as the intro to his later PBS series (recorded by a Rosengarden-led combo) and played by the house band on his various talk-show appearances over the last 30 years.

The very first show (in daytime) featured Gore Vidal, Muhammad Ali, and Angela Lansbury, though this show was aired second, as ABC executives were unhappy with it. ABC pressured Cavett to "get big names," even though the shows without them got higher ratings and more critical acclaim.

In addition to the usual monologue, Cavett opened each show reading selected questions written by audience members, to which he would respond with witty rejoinders. ("'What makes New York so crummy these days?' Tourists.")

  • "I have some good news and some bad news for the balcony. I'm not going to tell you the bad news, but here's the good news. It will take several minutes for the flames to reach you."

Notable moments

In August, 1969, shortly after Woodstock, Crosby, Stills & Nash; Jefferson Airplane; and Joni Mitchell all appeared. Crosby, Stills & Nash, with mud on their boots, sang Wooden Ships, Jefferson Airplane sang—live, without lip-synching, and with guitars plugged into real amplifiers— and Grace Slick talked about her school days at Finch College. Joni Mitchell sang The Fiddle and the Drum, a capella. ''

The show was often unpredictable and produced some famously tense moments.

On March 6, 1970, surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was behaving very eccentrically on a show with silent screen star Lillian Gish and baseball legend Satchel Paige (Dalí carried an anteater on a leash in with him when he came on stage, and he tossed it in Gish's lap, much to her consternation). At one point Cavett asked him why he had once arrived to give a lecture at the Sorbonne in an open limo filled with heads of cauliflower. Dalí responded with a barely coherent discourse regarding the similarity of the cauliflower head to the "mathematical problem discovered by Michelangelo in the rhinoceros' horn"! Cavett interrupted him by waving his hands in Dalí's face and exclaiming "Boogie boogie boogie!" just as his hero Groucho Marx did in A Night at the Opera. The audience broke up, and Dalí appeared at a loss. A female viewer in a Washington, D.C. hospital bed reportedly had to have her stitches partially resewn from laughing so hard.

On December 18, 1970, former Georgia governor Lester Maddox walked off the show in the middle of a conversation about segregation after Cavett refused to apologize. (This had little effect on the proceedings, since it happened at the end of the show.) Truman Capote was on the show and said he got more comments about it than any other TV show he had done. Cavett suspected that the walking off was mere showmanship and a calculated publicity stunt. It was reported in the news before it aired that night, increasing viewership. In Greenwood, Mississippi, the hometown of Cavett's wife Carrie Nye, the guests at a country club dance abandoned the dance floor to watch the show on the TV in the lounge. In Atlanta, although the incident was the lead story on then-ABC affiliate WQXI (now WXIA)'s 11 p.m. news, the show itself did not air until two nights later; the incident occurred on a Friday night, when the station aired a movie in place of Cavett, whose Friday show was delayed until Sunday night. Matters were patched up, and Maddox returned on a later night, and this time Cavett himself walked off the show as a joke. Left alone on stage, Maddox cued the band and began singing "I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do" as Cavett reappeared in the wings to join in.

In an interview with Jimi Hendrix, Dick spoke to him about his performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, and, when speaking comically to any of Hendrix's enemies, called the song "unorthodox". Jimi commented that the song was "not unorthodox" and that what he played was beautiful. The audience clapped, and Dick blushed.

A 1971 interview with Norman Mailer was not going well. Mailer moved his chair away from the other guests (Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner), and Cavett joked that "perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect? Mailer replied "I'll take the two chairs if you'll all accept finger-bowls." Mailer later said to Cavett "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett replied, "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine?" A long laugh ensued, after which Mailer asked Cavett if he had come up with that line and Cavett replied, "I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?"

As noted in Cavett's autobiography (p.321-323), on June 7, 1971, publisher J. I. Rodale, an advocate of organic farming, died of a heart attack during taping. Cavett was speaking with journalist Pete Hamill when Rodale began to make a snoring noise. Cavett's reaction to this is contested. He claims that both he and Hammill realized immediately that something was wrong, while other accounts have him addressing the unconscious man with "Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?" The audience did not catch on until Cavett asked (avoiding the cliché), "Is there a doctor... in the audience?" The program was never aired and a rerun was aired in its place.

Cavett told Timothy Leary, "I really think you're full of crap," and to Elliott Roosevelt he said, "Perhaps you could now bring yourself to answer the question."

Critic John Simon revealed on the air to the home audience that during the most recent commercial break, fellow guest Mort Sahl had threatened to punch him in the mouth.

Cavett did a two-part show on pornography, both parts taped the same day and shown on two nights. During the first part, he was discussing the depiction of oral sex in movies and made a parenthetical utterance: "oral-genital sex...mouth on sex organs." A flap ensued where executives demanded that the censor cut the second phrase. An angry Cavett described the ongoing situation at the beginning of the second part, reusing the phrase. One of the guests, legal scholar Alexander Bickel, sided with Cavett. The rather ridiculous result was that the show aired with the phrase cut the first night but left in the second night.

Angela Davis, an activist who was associated with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s, was pressured into canceling a scheduled appearance on June 27, 1972. The basis for the controversy was the continuing debate over the SST (Supersonic transport) system. ABC had insisted on inviting either William F. Buckley, Jr. or William Rusher of the conservative National Review magazine to have a balanced viewpoint, but Davis declined.

A show with Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton resulted in nine animals being added to the endangered species list after Cavett commented on them.

Marlon Brando, who just months earlier had rejected his Academy Award for "The Godfather" to protest the plight of American Indians, appeared on the June 12, 1973 show with representatives of the Cheyenne, Paiute, and Lummi tribes. After the program ended, Brando broke the jaw of photographer Ron Galella and ended up in the hospital with a bite wound.

Groucho Marx on the show discussing the musical Hair, which had just opened: "I was going to go, but I saw myself in the mirror one morning, and I figured, why waste five and a half dollars?"

During a two-part interview with Katharine Hepburn, Hepburn got up and left at the end of the first half of the interview, thinking her job was done. Cavett apologized to the audience, promising she would be back the next evening (she was). However, this was actually staged by Cavett and Hepburn as a joke, seen in "Bonus Features" on the recently-released "Hollywood Greats" DVD box set.

During a debate about the Vietnam war, Cavett had two former Vietnam War veterans debating on the show. The anti-war side was led by a young John Kerry. Through Richard Nixon's secret White House tapes, it was later revealed that Nixon wanted to "get rid" of Cavett because of this debate.

Trivia

  • One of the shows that received the most compliments was one with Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Noel Coward, the three's last appearance together. Laurence Olivier and Ingmar Bergman made their first-ever appearances on an American talk show.
  • Occasionally, Cavett would devote an entire show to a single guest. Among those receiving such special treatment (some more than once) were Marx, Olivier, Katharine Hepburn (without an audience), Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Fred Astaire, Woody Allen, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball, Zero Mostel ("on some shows I've had just one guest, but tonight I have Zero") and even David Bowie. These shows helped promote Cavett's skills as an interviewer who could attract guests who otherwise might not do interviews, at the expense of some of the excitement that ensued from the multiple-guest format.
  • In January 1973, despite a vociferous letter campaign, ratings forced the show to be cut back to occasional status, airing one week a month under the umbrella title ABC's Wide World of Entertainment. By the end of 1974, it was airing only twice a month.
  • The PBS series featured single guests in a half-hour format and was produced by Christopher Porterfield, a former roommate of Cavett's at Yale University who had coauthored the book Cavett published in August 1974, shortly after he had become executive producer of the ABC show. The show remained on the PBS lineup until affiliates voted it off the schedule in 1982.

DVD release

Five DVD sets have been released featuring various episodes of the series.

DVD Name Release Date Ep # Additional Information
The Dick Cavett Show:
Rock Icons
August 16, 2005 9 This 3-disc set features 9 episodes that include appearances from David Bowie, David Crosby, George Harrison, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Jessy Dixon Singers, Joni Mitchell, Tex Ritter, The Rolling Stones, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Sly & the Family Stone, Stephen Stills, Stevie Wonder, Wonderwheel and Gary Wright. Bonus features include Bob Weide's interview of Dick Cavett.
The Dick Cavett Show:
Ray Charles Collection
September 13, 2005 3 This 2-disc set features 3 episodes compiling 14 songs performed live by Ray Charles. Bonus features include new episode introductions and an interview with Dick Cavett.
The Dick Cavett Show:
John & Yoko Collection
November 1, 2005 3 This 2-disc set features 3 episodes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono appearances from 1971 to 1972. Bonus features include new episode introductions and an interview with Dick Cavett.
The Dick Cavett Show:
Comic Legends
February 21, 2006 12 This 4-disc set features 12 episodes from the series featuring interviews with Woody Allen, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, George Burns, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Groucho Marx and The Smothers Brothers. Bonus features include new episode introductions, Cavett Remembers The Comic Legends with Bob Weide, an interview with Joanne Carson, Dick Cavett on the Ed Sullivan Show, Cavett Backstage featurette, promos, outtakes and Here's Dick Cavette, a 30-minute special featuring footage from The Dick Cavett Morning Show with Groucho Marx, Bob Hope and Woody Allen.
The Dick Cavett Show:
Hollywood Greats
September 12, 2006 12 This 4-disc set features 12 episodes from the series featuring interviews with Robert Altman, Fred Astaire, Peter Bogdanovich, Marlon Brando, Mel Brooks, Frank Capra, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Groucho Marx, Robert Mitchum, Debbie Reynolds and Orson Welles. Bonus features include new episode introductions, promos, and the featurette Seeing Stars with Dick Cavett and Robert Osborne.

See also

List of late night network TV programs

Celebrity guests

References

Further reading

  • Cavett by Dick Cavett and Christopher Porterfield, Bantam Books, August 1974. ISBN 0-15-116130-5

External links

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