The Dick Cavett Show

The Dick Cavett Show is the title of a long-running late-night talk show hosted by Dick Cavett on ABC from December 26, 1969 until his retirement in 1996, when the show was handed over to Jon Stewart.

Show history


Dick Cavett

Cavett, who had previously worked as a writer for the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, took over the show from Joey Bishop in December of 1969. The show ran opposite The Tonight Show on ABC until Cavett's retirement in 1996.

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 the next twenty-seven years despite the competition from both Carson and Letterman's shows. 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. The competition between the two hosts became legendary and they often made jokes about each other's success (or perceived lack thereof) although the two were actually close friends in real life and Cavett was often a guest on Carson's own show throughout the 1970s and 1980s. During that time he continued to have high-profile guests, including Richard Nixon following his interview with David Frost, an infamous interview with Johnny Rotten, and interviews with Richard Pryor, Paul McCartney after John Lennon's death, Jimmy Stewart (during which he got into an argument with the actor over his conservative politics), John Belushi (about whom Cavett later remarked to the audience "He was almost here, wasn't he?") and a risque interview with Madonna in 1989, during which she wouldn't stop cursing.

Final Show

The final show aired on June 2, 1996 and featured Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart, to whom Cavett ceremoniously passed the torch by giving him the microphone and letting him end the show by sitting at his desk. The broadcast set a ratings record for that time slot and remains the show's highest-rated episode.

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