THE SPECIAL "Dick Cavett's Vietnam"
WHEN | WHERE Monday at 10 p.m. on WNET/13
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago this Thursday [April 30, 1975, when the last Marines were airlifted from the roof to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City] and to mark the occasion, television the week of April 27 will explore various aspects of the war, including this hourlong film that looks at the conflict through the lens of "The Dick Cavett Show" (1968-75, ABC), a late-night series with a host who was relentlessly -- unapologetically -- anti-war. Cavett had many guests who did not support his position (Barry Goldwater among them) but many more who did: Jane Fonda, Sen. Wayne Morse, John Kerry (then spokesman of Vietnam Vets Against the War), and Daniel Ellsberg, to name a few.
MY SAY During his too-brief run as a late-night host on ABC, Cavett insisted on lugging the "heavy furniture" of American life and culture onto his show. There was none heavier than Vietnam. Night after night, the war came to "The Dick Cavett Show," or did on many nights. Cavett certainly wasn't the first to obsess over the great tragedy of Vietnam -- Merv Griffin had the English philosopher Bertrand Russell on his CBS show years earlier to deliver an anti-Vietnam diatribe -- but he was the most consistent, and most outspoken. To Cavett's considerable credit, he took a stand on the most important issue of the age, even if many of his guests were the ones who usually vocalized that stand for him.
Monday's tribute hints at all this, but with insufficient detail. Instead, "Cavett's Vietnam" wastes too much time covering the broader (and well-known) historic points of the war, not nearly enough time covering the finer points of its own fascinating history. An example: Cavett had Lt. Col. Anthony B. Herbert on the show a number of times -- Herbert, who died last year, had gained considerable notoriety claiming he had witnessed atrocities by U.S. troops. Those appearances were big news at the time, but no clips are seen here. Another example: Cavett memorably used debates to generate heat and light over the years, and among the most famous of those may have been the June 30, 1971, encounter between Kerry and John O'Neill, representing Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. Again, not referred to at all.
Still worth watching? Sure -- worth watching if only as a reminder that long ago, a legendary talk-show host had the courage of his convictions.