The Nixon Interviews

The Nixon Interviews

The Nixon Interviews were a series of interviews of former United States President Richard Nixon conducted by British journalist Sir David Frost, and produced by John Birt. They were recorded and broadcast on television in four programs in 1977.[1] The interviews became the subject of the play Frost/Nixon, which was later made into a film; both starred Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon.



After his resignation in 1974, Nixon spent more than two years away from public life. In 1977, he granted Frost an exclusive series of interviews. Nixon was already publishing his memoirs at the time; however, his publicist Irving "Swifty" Lazar believed that by using television Nixon could reach a mass audience. At the same time, Frost sought redemption because his New York-based talk show had been recently cancelled, leaving him consigned to a career based around the stories covered by the proto-reality show Great Escapes.[2] As Frost had agreed to pay Nixon for the interviews,[3] the American news networks were not interested, regarding them as checkbook journalism. They refused to distribute the program, forcing Frost and a group of investors to syndicate the series themselves.[2]

Frost recruited James Reston, Jr. and ABC News producer Bob Zelnick to evaluate the Watergate minutiae prior to the interview. This allowed Frost to take control of the interview by revealing details of a previously unknown conversation between Nixon and Charles Colson. Nixon's resulting admissions would support the widespread conclusion that Nixon had obstructed justice.[4] Nixon continued to deny the allegation until his death, and it was never tested in a court of law because his successor, President Gerald Ford, issued a pardon to Nixon after his resignation.

Frost personally funded the project while seeking other investors, who eventually bought the air time themselves and syndicated the four programs. Nixon's negotiated fee was $600,000 and a 20 percent share of any profits.[1][5]

Nixon chief of staff Jack Brennan negotiated the terms of the interview with Frost.[6] Nixon's staff assumed that Frost would be easily outwitted, and that the interview would be an opportunity for the disgraced politician to restore his reputation with the public. Previously, in 1968, Frost had interviewed Nixon in a manner described by Time magazine as "so softly that in 1970 President Richard Nixon ferried Frost and Mum to the White House, where the Englishman was appointed to produce a show in celebration of the American Christmas." [7]


The interviews began on March 23, 1977 and lasted 12 days. They were taped for two hours a day, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for a total of 28 hours and 45 minutes.[3] The interviews were managed by executive producer Marvin Minoff, president of Frost's David Paradine Productions,[8] and by British current affairs producer John Birt.[8][9]

Recording took place at a seaside home in Monarch Bay, California,[10] owned by Mr. and Mrs. Harold H. Smith, who were both longtime Nixon supporters. This location was chosen instead of Nixon's San Clemente home, La Casa Pacifica, on account of interference with the television relay equipment by the Coast Guard navigational-aid transmitters near San Clemente. Frost rented the Smith home for $6,000[1] on a part-time basis.


The interviews were broadcast in the US and some other countries in 1977.[3] They were edited into four programs, each 90 minutes long.

In the weeks leading up to the interviews with Nixon, David Frost was interviewed by Mike Wallace of CBS's 60 Minutes, the same news organization that Frost had "scooped" (CBS had also been in negotiations to interview Nixon, but Frost outbid them). Frost talked about looking forward to Nixon's "cascade of candor".[11]

The interviews were broadcast in four parts, with a fifth part containing material edited from the earlier parts broadcast months later[1]:

Part Broadcast Content
Part 1 4 May 1977 Watergate
Part 2 12 May 1977 Nixon and the world
Part 3 19 May 1977 War at home and abroad
Part 4 26 May 1977 Nixon, the man
Part 5 10 September 1977 additional material from parts 1-4

The premiere episode drew 45 million viewers, the largest television audience for a political interview in history — a record which still stands today.[12]

In Part 3, Frost asked Nixon about the legality of the president's actions. Nixon replied: "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."[13]

Part 5 opened with Frost's blunt question, "Why didn't you burn the tapes?"[14]


A Gallup poll conducted after the interviews aired showed that 69 percent of the public thought that Nixon was still trying to cover up, 72 percent still thought he was guilty of obstruction of justice, and 75 percent thought he deserved no further role in public life.[3] Frost was expected to make $1 million from the interviews.[1]

DVD releases

There have been several releases on DVD:

  • 1 disc edition, 85 minutes
  • 2 disc edition, 377 minutes

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Nixon Talks". Time Magazine. 9 May 1977.,9171,947900-1,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  2. ^ a b "James Reston Jr. On The 'Frost/Nixon' Interviews". Columbia Journalism Review. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Transcript of CNN's Larry King Live: Frost, Schieffer, Bradlee Discuss Extensive Nixon Interview". CNN. 2001-02-07. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  4. ^ White, Theodore Harold (1975). Breach of faith: the fall of Richard Nixon. New York: Atheneum Publishers. pp. 7. ISBN 0689106580. 
  5. ^ Frost, David; Bob Zelnick (2007). Frost/Nixon: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews. Harper Perennial. ISBN 9780061445866. 
  6. ^ Michael Janusonis, Is Frost/Nixon true? Let’s ask PC grad Jack Brennan — he was there, The Providence Journal, 23 January 2009, Accessed 25 January 2009.
  7. ^ "David Can Be a Goliath - Time Magazine 5/9/77". Time. 1977-05-09.,9171,947901-2,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  8. ^ a b Barnes, Mike (2009-11-13). "'Nixon Interviews' producer Marvin Minoff dies". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2009-12-02. [dead link]
  9. ^ "Producer Marvin Minoff dies at 78 - Worked on Frost-Nixon TV interview specials". Variety Magazine. 2009-11-13. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  10. ^ Interview with David Frost included with the 2008 DVD re-release of the original 1977 Nixon interviews
  11. ^ 1977 Mike Wallace interview with David Frost at AOL Video
  12. ^ "Profile:Sir David Frost". UK News (BBC). 2005-05-28. Retrieved 2008-12-13. 
  13. ^ "Nixon's Views on Presidential Power: Excerpts from an Interview with David Frost". Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  14. ^ Hughes, Ken. "Why Didn't Nixon Burn the Tapes?". Presidential Recordings Program. University of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-12-13. 

External links

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