Firing Line

Firing Line

"Firing Line" (1966-1999) was an American public affairs show founded and hosted by conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Its 1,504 episodes over 33 years made "Firing Line" the longest-running public affairs show in television history with a single host. The erudite program, which featured many of the most prominent intellectuals and public figures in the United States, won an Emmy Award in 1969.

Although the program's format varied over the years, it typically featured the politically conservative Buckley interviewing a guest and exchanging views, with the two seated together in front of a small studio audience. Standing or sitting further away in the studio, an "examiner", typically a political liberal, would ask questions, generally toward the end of the show. Guests were people notable in the fields of politics to religion, literature and academia, and their views could sharply contrast or be in strong agreement with Buckley's. Most guests were intellectuals, and they were interviewed about ideas and issues of the day.

Reflecting Buckley's talents and preferences, the exchange of views was almost always polite, and the guests were given time to answer questions at length, slowing the pace of the program. "The show was devoted to a leisurely examination of issues and ideas at an extremely high level", according to Jeff Greenfield, who frequently appeared as an examiner.Konigsberg, Eric, "Buckley's Urbane Debating Club: 'Firing Line' Set a Standard For Political Discourse on TV", "The New York Times", Metro Section, p B1, February 29, 2008] John Kenneth Galbraith said of the program, "Firing Line" is one of the rare occasions when you have a chance to correct the errors of the man who's interrogating you."

The show might be compared in politeness and erudition to other national public interview shows, specifically Charlie Rose or Terry Gross, but Buckley was clearly interested in debate.

In a 1999 article, "The Weekly Standard" editor William Kristol summarized Buckley's approach to the show: "Buckley really believes that in order to convince, you have to debate and not just preach, which of course means risking the possibility that someone will beat you in debate." [cite web |url= |title="Firing Line" Ceases Fire |accessdate=2008-03-04 |] Buckley was not averse to asking tough questions of friendly guests, either, according to Tom Wolfe who recalled the interviewer asking him whether there were really any original insights in his book "The Bonfire of the Vanities".

The theme music of "Firing Line" was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Third Movement (Allegro assai), by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Buckley's persona

Buckley's distinctive mannerisms were prominently displayed by the program and were part of the public images of both the show and Buckley. Buckley was frequently seen leaning far back in his chair, a pen near his mouth and a clipboard in hand. His flicking tongue, widening eyes and flashing smile also characterized his style, as did his multisyllabic diction. Buckley's voice was widely satirized as, for instance, by Robin Williams in the animated movie "Aladdin".

At the same time that guests were treated politely, Buckley might also gently mock them, particularly if he was friendly with them, as with John Kenneth Galbraith or examiner Mark J. Green. “You’ve been on the show close to 100 times over the years", Buckley once asked Green. "Tell me, Mark, have you learned anything yet?"When Allen Ginsberg asked if he could sing a song in praise of Lord Krishna, Buckley acceded and the poet chanted slowly as he played dolefully on a harmonium. According to Richard Brookhiser, an associate of Buckley's, the host commented that it was "the most unharried Krishna I've ever heard."

Buckley addressed his guests as "Mr." or "Mrs." He once called Margaret Thatcher "Margaret" because he thought she had addressed him as "Bill". He was embarrassed later when he saw the transcript and realized she had been referring to a legislative bill.

History and format

"Firing Line" began in 1966 as an hour-long show (including breaks) for commercial television, syndicated by WOR-TV in New York City where it ran for 240 episodes.

Buckley and his producer, Warren Steibel, used various methods over the years of bringing an extra perspective to the show. In the early years there would often be a panel of questioners. In 1977 the panel was replaced by an "examiner" who played a larger part in the proceedings. Examiners varied, with Jeff Greenfield, Michael Kinsley, Harriet Pilpel, and Mark J. Green appearing most frequently. When the show was shortened to 30 minutes in 1988, the role of examiner was eliminated, but there was often a moderator, whose role was similar to that of the moderator in a formal debate. The moderator would introduce both host and guest, and then ask the opening question.

In 1971, "Firing Line" moved to public television under the auspices of South Carolina Educational Television, and became a full hour.

For the show's 15th anniversary in 1981, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Vernon Jordan, Henry Kissinger, and Louis Auchincloss presided over a party for Buckley at the New York Yacht Club.

Starting in 1978, scattered among the regular shows were occasional specials and two-hour formal debates, with opening statements, cross-examination, and closing statements. In 1988 the program shifted to a half-hour format for regular shows. Beginning in March 1993, the formal debate would often be followed by shows in which most or all of the participants engaged in informal discussion.

Prominent guests

The more prominent guests on the program included:

*Politicians and statesmen: Jimmy Carter, Harold Macmillan, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell , Edward F. Prichard, Jr.

*Academics: John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky

*Others: Muhammad Ali, Bernadette Devlin, Allen Ginsberg, Billy Graham, Jesse Jackson, Jack Kerouac, Clare Boothe Luce, Groucho Marx, Malcolm Muggeridge, William Shockley, Huey P. Newton, Tom Wolfe, Mortimer J. Adler, Norman Mailer, Walker Percy, Jorge Luis Borges

Further reading

* "On the Firing Line: The Public Life of Our Public Figures," by William F. Buckley (New York: Random House, 1989), ISBN 0-394-57568-7. A collection of transcript excerpts and commentary.

ee also

*David Susskind
*Dick Cavett


External links

* [ The "Firing Line" Collection] (with a [ program list] and RealVideo clips) from the Hoover Institution Archives
*imdb title|id=0257303|title=Firing Line
* [ "Firing Line" Ceases Fire] , a January 1999 article from
* [ "All Quiet on the Firing Line"] , a December 1999 CNN article commenting on the end of the show

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • firing line — firing lines also firing line 1) N COUNT: usu the N in sing, usu prep N If you are in the firing line in a conflict, you are in a position where someone is aiming their gun at you. Any hostages in the firing line would have been sacrificed... He… …   English dictionary

  • firing line — UK US noun [S] ● be in the firing line Cf. be in the firing line …   Financial and business terms

  • firing line — To be in the firing line is to face blame or adverse criticism; the image is of the front line of troops facing the enemy in battle. It is the worst kind of pedantry to insist (as some do) that the correct form should be in the line of fire,… …   Modern English usage

  • firing line — n (be) in the firing line to be in a position or situation in which you can be attacked or blamed for something, often unfairly …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • firing line — n. 1. the line from which gunfire is directed against the enemy 2. the troops stationed along this line 3. the forefront in any kind of activity …   English World dictionary

  • firing line — ► NOUN 1) the front line of troops in a battle. 2) a position where one is subject to criticism or blame …   English terms dictionary

  • firing line — noun 1. the line from which soldiers deliver fire • Hypernyms: ↑line 2. the most advanced and responsible group in an activity the firing line is where the action is • Hypernyms: ↑class, ↑stratum, ↑social class, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • firing line — /ˈfaɪərɪŋ laɪn / (say fuyuhring luyn) noun 1. the positions at which troops are stationed to fire upon the enemy or targets. 2. the troops firing from this line. –phrase 3. in the firing line, a. in the thick of the action: *My horse has the pace …  

  • firing line — fir|ing line [ faırıŋ ,laın ] noun be in/out of the firing line 1. ) to be/not be criticized or blamed: After any defeat, their manager is always in the firing line. 2. ) to be/not be in danger …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • firing line —    Someone who is in the firing line is in a position to be criticized because of their responsibilities or the position they hold.     The managing director of the bank is in the firing line since the fraud was discovered …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

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