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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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Famke Janssen (“Hemlock Grove”)

Famke Janssen made both her film and television debuts in 1992, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when she became a Bond girl by the unforgettable name of Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye,” that everything started to come up roses for her. In the intervening years, Janssen has made multiple films, most notably starring as Jean Gray in the “X-Men” franchise, but 2013 marks her inaugural foray into a full-time TV series gig…and by “TV series,” what I really mean is a Netflix series. “Hemlock Grove,” produced by Eli Roth, kicks off its first season on Friday, April 19, but Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Janssen way back in January, at the Television Critics Association press tour, about her new series as well as a few of her past films.

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Bullz-Eye: “Hemlock Grove” marks the first time you’ve ever taken on a series-regular role for television. Did you have any trepidation about taking that kind of a plunge for a show that’s being delivered to viewers in a non-traditional manner, or was that part of what drew you to it?

Famke Janssen: Trepidation about that element? No. Doing a series, period? Yes. [Laughs.] But to me, I think the fact that it was for Netflix and not your traditional network or cable show was one of the deciding factors—or certainly an added bonus, anyway—because it felt like we were kind of in the wild west, with new territory to explore. It wasn’t this whole weight of a specific way of working that we had to carry through in some way. So with that, I was hoping that there would be less control coming from above, and not so much like a big studio standing there with a whip, making you feel like you’re more of a puppet than anything else. Also, the whole 13-episode part was attractive as well, because I’m designed my life in such a way now that I’m trying to go back and forth between writing and directing and acting, and signing up for something that would’ve taken an entire year, as a network show would’ve…I hadn’t considered that at all, just because I don’t have the time for it. I don’t want to tie myself down. So in that regard, it was a perfect set-up, because I can make money and then I can pursue my passion of writing and directing in my free time.

BE: So what can you tell us about Olivia Godfrey without divulging anything too spoiler-y?

FJ: Olivia’s still mysterious even to me, and I’ve lived with her now for 13 hours onscreen, not to mention many more hours shooting the series, of course. She’s married into this Godfrey family, a family with a lot of money, but she comes from a lot of money as well…or she seems to, anyway. But whether she does come from a lot of money or where she really comes from or what her deal really is, nobody really knows, and maybe nobody will ever find out. [Laughs.] She’s highly manipulative. She loves her children, but she’s also somebody who just has an agenda most of the time. And she’s in love with her husband’s brother, and…there are all sorts of integral relationships with bizarre things going on within this small town as well as with these family members. [Shrugs.] It feels like “Twin Peaks” to me. That’s what it felt like. That’s the reason why I really liked it: because it is, in a good way, nonsensical. It’s not linear. You’re not gonna…not everything is going to be explained. There are going to be a lot of mysteries surrounding it all. Nothing is going to be wrapped up with a neat bow.

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