The popular talk show host was an early and avid disseminator of the reporting that led to Nixon's fall, interviewing an amazing assortment of government officials and pundits (oh,
Along the way, Cavett earned the honor of Nixon's personal vitriol (26 mentions on the Watergate tapes, none of them friendly) and a chance to film an episode of "The Dick Cavett Show" from the Senate chamber in which the hearings were taking place.
So if the hour-and-a-half documentary, premiering Friday on KOCE, seems a bit slight and self-congratulatory, it, like the man himself, moves nimbly enough to cover a surprising amount of ground.
Foremost it tells the story of the scandal. Deftly wielding archival footage and present-day interviews with the usual suspects, including
Like many Americans, Cavett was fascinated and disturbed by the seemingly endless revelations sparked by the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters. Unlike most of his fellow citizens, he had his own show (complete, it must be noted, with the Peter Max-inspired graphics of the period).
So while most other television outlets ignored Woodward and Bernstein's initial reporting on the Watergate break-in, Cavett latched on — three days after the break-in, he asked then-Sen. and presidential hopeful Ted Kennedy what the burglars hoped to find at the Watergate — and did not let go.
A former comedian and "Tonight Show" writer, Cavett was charming and literate, with a dry but aggressive wit. His easy conversational style, both with the audience ("Well, you all know what's happening," he says at one point, after a brief description of how the scandal did not seem to be hurting Nixon's chances for reelection) and his guests, masked a reportorial doggedness.
And the guests he had! G. Gordon Liddy, explaining why the bugging of the Democrats was necessary, the attorney general lying his head off, the newly named Vice
Anyone still laboring under the assumption that
But more than Cavett's personal abilities are on display. The willingness of so many participants on either side of the hearings to even talk to Cavett in the middle of a scandal reveals both a political hubris and a misunderstanding of television. The Watergate hearings occurred in people's living rooms, allowed them to be judge and jury.
So when Nixon, on one tape, can be heard targeting Cavett, it's really just another example of his underestimating television, a miscalculation that plagued his career to its final collapse.
'Dick Cavett's Watergate'
When: 9 p.m., Friday