Dick Cavett’s Watergate on PBS

Category: Television and Streaming

Secrets of the Dead: Dick Cavett’s WatergateExactly forty years to the date when Richard Nixon announced his resignation, PBS airs an interesting and educational, as well as oftentimes humorous, documentary on Watergate. At the time, Dick Cavett had a late night talk show, which was different from what we know today. His involved more conversations with intellectuals than with entertainers. Dick Cavett’s Watergate is a documentary focusing not only on the scandal and the president’s role, but also how Cavett’s show brought the scandal to TV audiences.


In the documentary, the Watergate affair is described as a plot that could be from a John LeCarre novel. It’s also described as “House of Cards on steroids.” As Senator Baker asked during the Senate Watergate hearings, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” According to the president, illegal acts weren’t wrong, but getting caught was. This documentary includes interviews with Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post writers who were responsible for keeping the scandal in the papers, and many others who were in the middle of the affair.


Recently, Dick Cavett met with members of the Television Critics Association to discuss the scandal and the documentary. “I’m very much aware that there are a lot more people uncomfortably young who don’t know whether [Watergate] refers to a scandal or a hotel or a novel or a porno film,” Cavett said. “And I know that some of them are eager to know. I’ve talked to a couple who are college‑age now who said, ‘I welcome this opportunity to get to know about it.’ ‘We had a president who should have gone to jail?’ And I said ‘yes.’ And I think that fact alone is dramatic enough to make it interesting to anybody.”


Even for those who lived through this episode of American history, the film is a reminder how amazing it all was.


“I think it was Gore Vidal who said on a show of mine, [Nixon] may in his way have been the most honest president we ever have had because he always told you exactly what was going on mostly by its opposite as in ‘I’m not a crook’ and ‘I’m not a quitter.’ As history shows, Nixon was a crook and ultimately a quitter.


Secrets of the Dead: Dick Cavett’s Watergate


The film also deals with President Ford’s pardon of his predecessor. “It would have taken four years to deal with Nixon and his trial. And it would have been [in the news] everyday.” Ford’s action helped heal the country faster than had he not pardoned Nixon, although at the time it was thought of by many as a raw deal.


As for Cavett’s role in the American drama, he interviewed the people involved and actually aired a show from the Senate Watergate Hearings room, talking to the senators who were involved in questioning the witnesses. “It seems almost obvious now to me that I did a lot more than I even was aware of,” Cavett acknowledged. “At the time, when I first heard the idea of doing a special on it, I thought do we have enough? Do we have enough for another hour and a half? So it’s just that made it really tough and took great skill on the part of people putting it together, because there was just so much juicy stuff to choose from.”


Because he kept the story alive on TV, Cavett was on Nixon’s list of people he wanted to bring down. Nixon was paranoid about everyone and especially those who opposed him. He even wanted to know if Cavett was Jewish, as his dislike of Jews was front and center. In the film Cavett explained that the Nixon administration punished people by putting the IRS on them. Sound familiar?


Dick Cavett’s Watergate is fascinating. Don’t pass this up. It’s not only a history lesson, but also an American soap opera that played out right before our eyes. The film premiers August 8, 2014 on PBS.



About the Author

Francine Brokaw has been covering all aspects of the entertainment business for 20 years. She also writes about technology and has been a travel writer for the past 12 years. She has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines as well as internet websites. She has written her own book, Beyond the Red Carpet The World of Entertainment Journalists, from Sourced Media Books.

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