On August 8,1974, Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, announced his resignation. Watergate, the criminal scandal that had begun two years earlier with GOP operatives attempting to bug the Democratic National Committee's Watergate Hotel headquarters, had finally brought him down.
No one covered the events more fully than Dick Cavett on his late-night ABC talk show. "I was an addict," Cavett now admits. "You couldn't wait to get your Watergate fix for the day, especially when it became clear that Nixon was lying."
In the documentary Dick Cavett's Watergate, airing Friday, August 8 on the 40th anniversary of Nixon's historic farewell (9/8c, PBS, check local listing at tvguide.com), Cavett shares his memories, clips from his shows, plus conducts new interviews with former Nixon counsel John Dean and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Ed Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
TV Guide Magazine: Who are some of the Watergate figures you had on your show?
Dick Cavett: I had most of the villains on! I had [former Attorney General] John Mitchell, Nixon aide John Erlichman and White House "plumber" G. Gordon Liddy. When I look back at the shows now, I'm surprised how hard I was on some of them. I also did my notorious shows in the hearing room with the entire Watergate Senate panel. There was some protesting that it was too serious a matter to be handed over to an entertainment program.
TV Guide Magazine: Speaking of surprises, weren't you mentioned in the infamous Nixon White House tapes about 20 times?
Cavett: At least. I keep finding more. I just watched a clip on YouTube, where Nixon says he wants revenge on The Cavett Show. I get a chill every time I hear Nixon say, "Cavett — how can we screw him? There must be ways." Not very presidential.
TV Guide Magazine: What was your impression of those "villains" when they appeared on your show?
Cavett: John Mitchell was quite popular with the audience. He had a charisma — and also a jail sentence later on. G. Gordon Liddy was so entertainingly interesting that it was hard to dislike him. I also had on Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was fired in the unforgettable "Saturday Night Massacre." We really had a criminal in the White House.
TV Guide Magazine: You hear that from Obama's enemies today.
Cavett: Who says that — Cheney? The Huffington Post still has up my comment when I was asked about the death of David Frost. "Why is it never Cheney?"
TV Guide: Why should people, especially those under age 40, care about Watergate?
Cavett: I don't have much faith in any of the young knowing anything ahead of their birth. This year I have endured, "Who are the Marx brothers?" and "Who was Johnny Carson?" Watergate was not only a fascinating and dramatic and entertaining chapter in our history but also a significant one. First there's the fact that Nixon, who was indeed greatly intelligent, got elected despite his lack of grace and his inability to relate to people. And then it's important that there were a number of people in the United States government who were willing to commit crimes for the boss. It could happen again, perhaps.
TV Guide Magazine: How did Dick Cavett's Watergate come about?
Cavett: I feel a little embarrassed about the title of this show [laughs] because Watergate and I are not of the same dimension. But there was tape after tape about Watergate in my library, with the malefactors and the good people
TV Guide Magazine: Do you watch any of the late night shows these days? What's your opinion?
Cavett: I do. I know all of the hosts so I don't like to single anyone out. Late-night talk shows aren't the cash cows they once were. They don't get the audiences they had during Watergate.
TV Guide Magazine: Jimmy Fallon is doing well, considering all the competition.
Cavett: He's wonderful. I'm a fan and a friend. He wrote the introduction to my next book, which comes out in November — a compilation of my New York Times columns.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, it's good that you're still working and that Richard Nixon didn't ruin your career.
Cavett: His administration was constantly monitoring the show. My producer was called once and told that The Dick Cavett Show has had four guests on who spoke against the supersonic transport, so we're putting someone on who will defend it. I also learned years later that the White House had many of the people on my staff audited. Using the IRS was one of Nixon's hobbies, as we now know.
TV Guide Magazine: That's another topical charge.
Cavett: We'll safely say that Nixon was worse, no matter what the accusation was.
TV Guide Magazine: You've had shows on so many different networks. Can you remember them all?
Cavett: [Laughs] I was on ABC starting in the morning in 1968; I replaced Joey Bishop on late-night ABC later that year. Then I was on PBS for five years, then CNBC, and USA and there's CBS in there somewhere. I've got about 2,000 tapes of my shows!