Dick Cavett’s Vietnam: Civil Discourse on TV Used to be a Thing!

Dick Cavett (Photo: Daphne Productions / PBS)
Dick Cavett (Photo: Daphne Productions / PBS)

PBS returns to the archives of the Dick Cavett Show to discuss the quagmire of war in the new documentary Dick Cavett’s Vietnam.

Following in the steps of last summer’s documentary Dick Cavett’s Watergate, PBS will debut the next installment of its Cavett retrospective Monday at 10pm.1 Dick Cavett’s Vietnam provides context for American sentiment toward the Vietnam War by way of clips from Cavett’s 1968-75 talk show. Narrated by Cavett, the documentary also includes interviews with historians and General Wesley Clark, who fought in the war.

One of the most striking aspects of the clips selected for the documentary are the range of viewpoints expressed on the show and how calmly they are delivered. Deeply held opinions about the conflict were presented, from anti-war advocates Jane Fonda and Warren Beatty, to pro-war advisers from the Johnson and Nixon administrations, to the complicated positions held by people such as Reverend Billy Graham (anti-war, but also anti-perceived Godlessness). Though opinions were sometimes met with applause (though not to the degree of the modern day “clapter effect”), the guests weren’t trying to win points with easy answers. When opposing viewpoints shared the stage, the speakers were allowed to finish their sentences without fear of getting shouted over by their opponents. Late in the documentary, Cavett shares some hate mail he received from people from both ends of the political spectrum for being too much on the opposing end.

Unlike the Watergate installment, Dick Cavett’s Vietnam comes across a bit more open-ended in terms of the story it is trying to tell. Part of this may be because the repercussions of Vietnam are still being felt today, particularly in a post-Iraq/Afghanistan context. The documentary touches on this point a bit too briefly, and avoids making any direct comment on how shifts in media coverage have an effect on how much is understood by the average person regarding world affairs. There also isn’t a tremendous amount of attention paid toward the Kent State shootings, which took place 45 years ago next Monday.

Still, an incredible amount of information and history is packed into this one-hour documentary. Dick Cavett’s Vietnam makes me hope that more installments will come out of this series. Be sure to check out tonight’s installment.

  1. Check your local PBS listings.  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv