The Dick Cavett Show

The Dick Cavett Show
The Dick Cavett Show
Dick cavett.jpg
Dick Cavett in 2008
Format Talk show, Variety show
Running time 90 minutes
Original run March 4, 1968 – December 30, 1986

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 22–December 30, 1986)
  • CNBC (1989–1996)
  • TCM (2006–present)


Show history

The Dick Cavett Show most often refers to the shows on ABC-TV that Dick Cavett hosted between 1968 and 1975 in New York. The first daytime show featured Gore Vidal, Muhammad Ali, and Angela Lansbury. ABC pressured Cavett to "get big names," even though the shows without them got higher ratings and more critical acclaim.

The Late-night talk show that ran from December 29, 1969 to January 1, 1975 ran opposite NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Cavett took the time slot over from Joey Bishop. 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.")

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. The wide variety of guests, combined with Cavett's literate and intelligent approach to comedy, appealed to a significant enough number of viewers to keep the show running for several years despite the competition from Carson's show.

The late-night show's 45-minute midpoint would always be signaled by the musical piece "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. The Candide snippet became Cavett's theme song, being used as the introduction to his later PBS series, and was played by the house band on his various talk show appearances over the last 30 years.

Typically each show had several guests, but occasionally Cavett would devote an entire show to a single guest. Among those receiving such special treatment (some more than once) were Groucho Marx, Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn (without an audience), Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Noel Coward (who appeared on the same show along with Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Tammy Grimes, and Brian Bedford), John Lennon with Yoko Ono, 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 David Bowie. These shows helped showcase Cavett's skills as a host who could attract guests that otherwise might not do interviews, at the expense of some of the excitement that might ensue 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. Jack Paar, who ABC had tried to recruit as Cavett's successor, insisted that both he and Cavett get at least one week per month as a sign of respect for Cavett. 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. The show remained on the PBS lineup until affiliates voted it off the schedule in 1982.

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 and the late-night show by John Gilroy. Cavett's writer was Dave Lloyd.

The Dick Cavett Show was also the name of a short-lived radio show.

Notable moments

March 4, 1968: The Premiere of "This Morning"

In the first broadcast of his 90-minute morning show, Cavett had as his first guest, engineer/designer/futurist Buckminster Fuller. The two discussed how politicians would eventually become obsolete through technological advances, while the wide-ranging discussion also included a comment from Fuller that a woman is a baby factory and that a man's role is to simply press the right button. Later on in the program, Cavett chatted with actress Patricia Neal, who discussed her long rehabilitation from a near-fatal stroke in 1965.

August 19, 1969: The Woodstock Show

On Tuesday, August 19, 1969, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, and David Crosby and Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), all appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. It is now often referred to as "The Woodstock Show", as many of the performers came directly from the concert for the taping the afternoon before the show aired. Stephen Stills pointed out the mud from the concert venue still on his pantleg. Jefferson Airplane's performance "We Can Be Together" marked the first time the word "fuck" was uttered on live television. Joni Mitchell sang "Chelsea Morning", "Willy", and "For Free". Grace Slick kept calling Dick Cavett "Jim" and briefly talked about her school days at Finch College. Stephen Stills performed "4 + 20". Joni Mitchell sang '"The Fiddle and the Drum" a cappella. Jefferson Airplane (with David Crosby) then launched into "Somebody to Love". The credits rolled as everybody, aside from Mitchell, partook in an instrumental jam as the audience danced.

Jimi Hendrix was scheduled to join the others but was unable to appear at the afternoon taping that occurred only a few hours after he performed at the late-running festival. Joni Mitchell's manager, apparently fearing a similar situation that may have prevented her from appearing on The Dick Cavett Show, did not allow her to perform at Woodstock. He considered the Cavett Show too important for her career for her to risk missing the taping.[1]

Mitchell wrote the song "Woodstock" based on descriptions by Graham Nash and from the images she saw on television, as she could not be there in person. The most famous version of the song is by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who recorded it for their Déjà Vu album (1970). It appears in the film Woodstock during the closing credits. Mitchell recorded it for Ladies of the Canyon (1970).

September 5, 1969: Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx remarked about the musical Hair, which had just opened and was notorious for its ground-breaking use of explicit nudity: "I was going to go, but I saw myself in the mirror one morning, and I figured, why waste five and a half dollars?"

September 9, 1969: Jimi Hendrix

In an interview with Jimi Hendrix, Cavett spoke about Hendrix's performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, and called the style "unorthodox". Jimi commented that the song was "not unorthodox" and that what he played was beautiful. The audience clapped, and Dick blushed.

February 4, 1970: Judy Collins

During an interview with singer Judy Collins, which discussed her experiences as a defense witness at the Chicago Seven trial, several of her comments were censored at the direction of the ABC legal department. Collins wrote a protest letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), claiming a violation of her free speech rights and the network license granted to ABC by the FCC. Her protest was denied, with the FCC ruling that a television network could, at its discretion, delete or edit remarks on its programs. Elton Rule, president of ABC Television, noted that in the network's judgement, "her remarks ... were not within the bounds of fair comment."

February 19, 1970: Sir Noel Coward, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Tammy Grimes, and Brian Bedford

On February 19, 1970, to honor Noel Coward on the occasion of his being knighted, Cavett interviewed not only "The Master" himself, but also his close friends, The Lunts. Tammy Grimes and Brian Bedford, who were appearing on Broadway at the time in a revival of Coward's classic play, Private Lives, performed a medley of Sir Noel's most popular songs. At one point during the interview, Cavett asked Coward, "What is the word for when one has terrific, prolific qualities?" Without missing a beat, Coward answered in a deadpan manner, "Talent", which sent Cavett and the audience into convulsions of laughter.

March 6, 1970: Salvador Dalí

On March 6, 1970, surrealist artist Salvador Dalí appeared on the 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.

Cavett asked Dalí why he had once arrived to give a lecture at the Sorbonne in an open limousine 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, exclaiming "Boogie boogie boogie!" (imitating Groucho Marx in the film A Night at the Opera). The audience broke up, and Dalí appeared at a loss.

April 6, 1970: Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin

On April 6, 1970 actors Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin appeared together on the show with movie producer Mel Brooks and movie critic Rex Reed. Their interview went extremely poorly from the outset with Frechette giving abrupt non-conversational answers, and Halprin staying silent. Cavett apparently believed they lived in a commune, when they in fact were followers of cult leader Mel Lyman. When Cavett asked about the "commune" they lived in, Frechette "categorically" denied that it was a commune and said that "The community is for one purpose, and that's to serve Mel Lyman, who's the leader and founder of that community." At that point, Halprin finally tried to speak, but Cavett went to commercial. When the show returned from commercial, the next guest was brought out, and Frechette and Halprin were not interviewed further.

December 18, 1970: Lester Maddox

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 to Maddox's satisfaction. Cavett had made a reference to the "bigots" who had elected Maddox. Following a give-and-take about how insulting the remark might have been and Maddox's demand for an apology, Cavett had finally apologized to those Georgians who had supported Maddox who might not be bigots. Not satisfied, Maddox left the studio. During the hastily called commercial break, Cavett tried to coax Maddox back to no avail. Cavett suspected that the behavior was mere showmanship and a calculated publicity stunt. The incident was reported on 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.

Truman Capote, also on the show, watched Maddox walk offstage, paused and declared "I've been to his restaurant and his chicken isn't that finger licken." Years later, he said he got more comments about it than any other TV show he had done. Capote reaches for Maddox as he storms off. Maddox yanks his hand away in disgust. The other member of the guest panel was football great Jim Brown.

Maddox later returned for another appearance on the show, and this time Cavett walked off 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.

1971: Norman Mailer Interview

At the December 15, 1971 taping with Mailer, Janet Flanner and Gore Vidal, Mailer, annoyed with a less-than-stellar review by Vidal of Prisoner of Sex, headbutted Vidal and traded insults with him backstage.[2] As the show began taping, a visibly belligerent Mailer, who admitted he had been drinking,[2] goaded Vidal and Cavett into trading insults with him on air and continually referred to his "greater intellect". He openly taunted and mocked Vidal (who responded in kind), finally earning the ire of Flanner, who announced that the discussion had become "extremely boring", telling Mailer "You act as if you're the only people here." Mailer moved his chair away from the other guests and Cavett joked that "perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?"[3] Mailer replied "I'll take the two chairs if you'll all accept finger-bowls." As Cavett professed to not understand Mailer's "finger bowl" comment and made further jokes, Mailer stated "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett responded "Why don't you fold it 5 ways and put it where the moon don't shine."[2]

A long laugh by the audience ensued, after which Mailer asked Cavett if he had "come up with that line himself". Cavett replied "I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?"

The headbutting and later on-air altercation was described by Mailer himself in his essay "Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots."

June 7, 1971: J. I. Rodale

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 realise anything was seriously wrong until Cavett asked (avoiding the cliché), "Is there a the audience?"

The program was never aired and a rerun was aired in its place.[4]

1971: John Simon Incident

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.

1971: The Pornography Episodes

Cavett did a two-part show on pornography; both parts were 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 result was that the show aired with the phrase cut the first night but left in the second night.

August 2, 1971: Ingmar Bergman

Director Ingmar Bergman appeared for the first time on a US talk show, in one of the few TV interviews he ever agreed to do.

March 31, 1972: Chad Everett

During the filming of this episode, actor Chad Everett had a much publicized argument with feminist actress Lily Tomlin. Tomlin became so enraged when Everett referred to his wife as "my property" that she stormed off the set and refused to return.[5]

June 27, 1972: Angela Davis

Angela Davis, an activist who was associated with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s, cancelled 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.

1972: Rogers Morton

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.

June 12, 1973: Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando, who just months earlier had rejected his Academy Award for The Godfather to protest the plight of American Indians, appeared on the show with representatives of the Cheyenne, Paiute, and Lummi tribes to promote his views. After the program ended, Brando assaulted photographer Ron Galella and ended up in the hospital after being punched in the face.

1979: Oscar Peterson

A piano lesson with Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson exposed the styles of Art Tatum, Erroll Gardner, George Shearing with an amazing facility. The show began with Peterson playing a solo piece and then he discussed his debut and view on critics.

Katharine Hepburn Interview

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.[6]

Vietnam War Debate

During a debate about the Vietnam war, Cavett had two veterans debating on the show. The anti-war side was led by a young John Kerry and the pro-war side by John E. O'Neill, later the founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. It was later revealed through then-President Richard Nixon's secret White House tapes that Nixon wanted to "get rid" of Cavett because of this debate.

DVD release

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

DVD Name Release Date Number of episodes 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, Jimi Hendrix, 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. This DVD set also includes the interview with Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.
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


  1. ^ "The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (DVD liner notes)". Daphne Productions. 2005. 
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ Google video titled "Charlie Rose - Dick Cavett, 57 min - Mar 5, 2001."
  4. ^ Cavett, Dick (May 3, 2007). "When That Guy Died on My Show". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "I brought out the next guest, Pete Hamill, whose column ran in The New York Post. Rodale moved “down one” to the couch. As Pete and I began to chat, Mr. Rodale suddenly made a snoring sound, which got a laugh. Comics would sometimes do that for a laugh while another comic was talking, pretending boredom. His head tilted to the side as Pete, in close-up as it happened, whispered audibly, "This looks bad." The audience laughed at that. I didn’t, because I knew Rodale was dead. To this day, I don’t know how I knew. I thought, "Good God, I’m in charge here. What do I do?" Next thing I knew I was holding his wrist, thinking, I don’t know anything about what a wrist is supposed to feel like." 
  5. ^ Lily Tomlin Biography - Time Magazine
  6. ^ As seen in "Bonus Features" on the recently-released "Hollywood Greats" DVD box set.

Further reading

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

External links

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