I missed most of it because it was on too late. School nights, you know. But on Friday nights, I could stay up late and watch The Dick Cavett Show. For me, it’s the canonical example of the talk show.
There were only three television networks back then, and no way to time shift. While popular culture didn’t have the diversity we experience today, there was a tremendous concentration of audience. The limited number of outlets meant there was some obligation to represent the variety of our culture. Cavett faced the impossible task of going up against Carson for 90 minutes five nights a week. His audience was around 3.4 million to Carson’s 7.7 million. These shows were large hubs, connectors, big distributors of cultural information.
When the new currents of the rock culture made an appearance on mainstream television, more than show biz chat was communicated. The strangeness is palpable, and you can see the bold strokes of something new emerging.
And while we think of the coverage of our culture unfolding in real time: in 1969, the day after the three day concert called Woodstock, Cavett had a number of the musicians on his show. I’m trying to imagine if there could be an equivalent today. Stephen Stills still had mud on his jeans.