The Dick Cavett Show most often refers to the shows on ABC-TV that Dick Cavett hosted between 1968 and 1975 in New York. The first daytime show featured Gore Vidal, Muhammad Ali, and Angela Lansbury. ABC pressured Cavett to "get big names," even though the shows without them got higher ratings and more critical acclaim.
The Late-night talk show that ran from December 29, 1969 to January 1, 1975 ran opposite NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Cavett took the time slot over from Joey Bishop. 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 several years despite the competition from Carson's show.
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.
In January 1973, despite a vociferous letter campaign, ratings forced the show to be cut back to occasional status, airing one week a month under the umbrella title ABC's Wide World of Entertainment. Jack Paar, who ABC had tried to recruit as Cavett's successor, insisted that both he and Cavett get at least one week per month as a sign of respect for Cavett. By the end of 1974, it was airing only twice a month.
The PBS series featured single guests in a half-hour format and was produced by Christopher Porterfield, a former roommate of Cavett's at Yale University who had coauthored the book Cavett published in August 1974. The show remained on the PBS lineup until affiliates voted it off the schedule in 1982.
On all three of the early ABC shows, the bandleader was Bobby Rosengarden and the announcer was Fred Foy of The Lone Ranger fame. The morning show was produced by Woody Fraser and the late-night show by John Gilroy. Cavett's writer was Dave Lloyd.