The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett steps out of the elevator, hangs a right, and strolls into the lobby of the Beverly Hilton, a man on a mission: to participate in the promotion of a PBS documentary which premieres on August 8 at 9 PM EST/PST: Dick Cavett’s Watergate, an examination of the Watergate scandal and its effects on Richard Nixon’s presidency that’s structured around archival clips from Cavett’s late night talk show.

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After introducing himself, Cavett can’t resist making an observation about the familiarity of his surroundings: “You know, this is the same lobby where I stood when I was out here for two weeks auditioning to be a writer on The Jack Paar Show.” As has been the case for Cavett on more than few occasions during the course of his half-century (and then some) in the TV business, this observation proves to be only the first sentence of an anecdote.

“I came into the hotel one night and I heard singing,” continued Cavett, glancing and vaguely gesturing at the entrance to a nearby ballroom. “I opened a big door, and Judy Garland was onstage. The lights came on, and there were George Burns, Jack Benny, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, and about a hundred more. It was a huge charity thing. You couldn’t see any face that you didn’t know!”

With this brief recollection, Cavett immediately confirms that at least one of his lines during his memorable appearance on The Simpsons was absolutely spot-on: he really does have some wonderful stories about famous people that involve him in some way.

Who came up with the idea of viewing the Watergate scandal through the prism of your show?

You know, I think (executive producer Robert S.) Bader did. I’m almost certain he did. Yeah, he’s the one who’s most up on tapes that I had and stuff like that, so I don’t think it could’ve been anyone else. He just went through the stuff. I think initially he looked at 350 Cavett shows to make the (Shout Factory) DVDs, and then he just finally had to stop looking at them and start making them! But I was stunned to find how much stuff we have. It’s going to be a strain to make it only an hour. There’s so much good stuff. That’s a luxury, because there are so many shows that are a strain to make even an hour.

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Downton Abbey Wine Collection

Fans of the hit PBS show “Downton Abbey” can now enjoy wines similar to those poured by Mr. Carson for Lord and Lady Grantham. The Downton Abbey Wine Collection features two blends from the Bordeaux region of France: a “Blanc” white wine and a “Claret” red wine. Downton Abbey Blanc is a light and crisp white blend, while Downton Abbey Claret is medium-bodied red with bright fruit and a silky finish. We tried both of them and were impressed, particularly when you consider the reasonable price of $14.99 per 750-ml bottle.

Both blends use the same vines, soil and region used to produce the wines from the Downton Era and are made by the Grands Vins de Bordeaux, a family-owned winery with more than 130 years of winemaking experience in the prized Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux, France. The wines are available in select stores and also at Wine.com and DowntonAbbeyWine.com.

If you know someone who is a fan of this excellent period drama, then the Downton Abbey Wine Collection will make for a very memorable gift. “Downton Abbey” returns to PBS for Season 4 in January 2014 so the timing is perfect for a gift this holiday season.

Downton Abbey Wines

  

American Experience: JFK

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The story of John F. Kennedy is one of the most fascinating in American history. Regardless of your opinion of our 35th President, he will always be an iconic figure in American history, due to both the pivotal nature of his presidency and his tragic assassination. Debates will rage on about his performance in office and the circumstances surrounding his assassination, and his prolific adventures with the opposite sex have been fodder for the tabloids for decades.

JFK had some spectacular failures like the Bay of Pigs and even greater triumphs such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the space program. His story will captivate anyone who appreciates American history, so any documentary is likely to maintain the attention of viewers. But it’s hard to imagine anyone telling the story better than the folks at PBS who produce the American Experience. They have consistently told the story of America through its presidents and other influential Americans in a series of compelling documentaries. “JFK” easily lives up to that legacy and it’s a must-see as we mark the 50th anniversary of that terrible day in Dallas. Like other American Experience documentaries, this is not just a story of the JFK presidency but also a story of the man.

“JFK” premieres on Monday and Tuesday, November 11-12, 2013, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET on PBS. Follow this link and you can also purchase the DVD.

  

Weekly Web Series Review: Horrifying Planet

Much like public access talk shows, nature programs on the likes of PBS and TLC are fertile ground for parody, as evidenced by the popularity of “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.” The Onion‘s web series, “Horrifying Planet,” takes it even further by employing a distinguished-sounding, British narrator (though I suspect the British accent may be fake) similar to the ones actually used in real nature programs. The twist is that “Horrifying Planet” is filled not with the reverence for nature usually found in the real programs it spoofs, but rather a bitter, scornful disdain for nearly every aspect of the natural world.

According to the narrator of “Horrifying Planet,” zebras are “Nature’s Ultimate Prey,” evolved over the course of millennia to be the perfect victims of brutal murder. “With no purpose other than to feed monsters,” the narrator richly intones, “the zebra spends its entire life standing around, awaiting a violent death.” Meanwhile, the American robin is posited as nature’s “Perfect Murder Machine,” which seems silly until the point is made that “worms are capable of regeneration, so robins could satiate themselves on fractions of individual worms, and leave the rest. But it does not. Unequivocal evidence of the robin’s bloodlust.” Not given quite the credit that either robins or zebras get, chimpanzees are described as “Still Dumber Than the Dumbest Human,” in perhaps the series’ funniest episode. Asserting the superiority of humanity over the lowly chimp, the narrator says, “Indeed, not only are humans capable of wiping out chimps with inventions like bulldozers and dynamite, they have even developed a system of ethics that justifies it.”

The narrator’s smooth delivery falters when he is forced to discuss the vile spider, in an episode that is little more than an amalgam of audible cringing, and the tone of the series itself makes an abrupt shift in episode 6, which blends the usual nature show parody with that of an infomercial. With all the incessant negativity of “Horrifying Planet,” one would assume an episode entitled “Deer Are Fine” might be lightening up a bit, but in fact, “fine” in this context merely means “mediocre,” with the narrator advising the more unique relatives of the common deer to “Scale it back, buddy. You’re just going to end up dead like the rest of us, on our horrifying planet.”

  

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