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Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets Hardcover – November 9, 2010

4 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The erstwhile host of The Dick Cavett Show unburdens himself in this collection of rambling though piquant essays from his New York Times online column. It' s an eclectic and sometimes surprising lineup: on- and off-set celebrity anecdotes; meditations on the art of the comic insult; jaundiced assessments of the 2008 presidential contenders; not one but two apologias for radio DJ Don Imus; scenes from a Nebraska boyhood, with minor hooliganism and encounters with a movie-house pervert. Cavett occasionally lets his affable host' s persona slip to voice idiosyncratic passions, in his plea to ban fat actors from TV commercials, for example, and his snipes at public figures for language mistakes and mispronunciations (he reviles George W. Bush almost as much for saying nucular as for starting the Iraq War). Some pieces misfire, especially when Cavett overuses transcripts from his shows; even the celebrated trash talk showdown between guests Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer lies flat on the printed page. But in his beguiling profiles of celebrities--the deft magician Slydini; the humbled gossip columnist Walter Winchell; an aging John Wayne, who reveals an unheralded appreciation for Noël Coward plays--Cavett proves himself a solid writer as well as a talker.
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From Booklist

Cavett’s talk shows on ABC and later PBS were the perfect format for a former comedy writer who was also the son of English teachers. He was erudite and amusing and a great conversation partner to an array of guests, from Katharine Hepburn and Richard Burton to William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer. Drawing on his recollections from show business as well as his years growing up in Nebraska, Cavett offers a collection of his columns for the online New York Times. He revels in misuses and mispronunciations of words by the famous and those who should know better, comments on both political silliness and serious issues, and talks about political celebrities such as Sarah Palin and Rod Blagojevich. He recalls friendships with famously taciturn celebrities Johnny Carson and Bobby Fischer, testifying on behalf of John Lennon, sparring with Bette Davis, and hosting John Updike and John Cheever on the same show. Cavett is also personally revealing, recounting his bouts with depression, ego-bruising encounters with famous comedians, and career ups and downs. An enormously amusing and well-written collection. --Vanessa Bush

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091953
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dick Cavett is, for me, like that cliché about the 1960s: If you remember him, you weren't there. I know I wasn't --- he launched his first talk show on 1968, when I didn't own a TV set, and he was pretty much finished with a regular show by 1987, when I finally bought one. So I never had the pleasure of watching him.

But I know about Dick Cavett. He was the smart one. Pretty much, the only smart one.

He was from Nebraska, and blond, and boyish to a fault. He was a gymnast and a magician, and then he went to Yale, where he read a book. But he was obsessed with show business, and, as quickly as he could, became a joke writer for Jack Paar and, later, Johnny Carson.

Then he got his own show --- and reinvented the form. Clive James, who knows a thing or two about talk shows, isolated his genius: "The idea that one man could be both playful and serious was never deemed to be quite natural on American television, and Cavett was regarded as something of a freak even at the time.... Cavett never mugged, never whooped it up for the audience, rarely told a formally constructed joke, and listened to the guest. To put it briefly, his style did not suit a mass audience..."

That's not exactly a knock --- I worked at America Online for a while, where we courted the mass audience as if it held the secret of life. (It doesn't.) In the years since, the Internet has taught us that "niches are riches." Despite this, no one has managed to come up with a way to lure Cavett back to TV.

On the other hand, why should Cavett do TV? It would be almost impossible to top his past. He's 74. And, more to the point, he's got a New York Times column that's won him the devotion of literate grownups --- in my view, the dream demographic.
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Format: Audio CD Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was pretty young during Cavett's run on nighttime television, but I always watched. It was a great education--much better interviews with writers and movie people than what we see today where it's usually strained chit-chat trying to be funny, mixed with promotions for one's latest movie. He really did talk with "everyone who was anyone".

I have listened to all 8 CDs and really enjoyed every minute of ithemI haven't read the book (Cavett's NYT online columns), but I will take exception to the Publisher Weekly review (above) that this is "rambling". As spoken, it is not the least bit rambling. Actually, these little essays are very well structured throughout. I know Cavett is a skillful interviewer/conversationalist with celebrities, but his anecdotal writing here is very good and made even better, I think, by having him reading it.

If you have ever thought, "I wonder what it would be like to sit with Dick Cavett and have him tell me about memorable famous people he's met" this would be it. He's a good raconteur and his stories unfold enjoyably, often seeming as if hie's talking directly to you, and giving you some real insights into the many famous people he's met and/or become friends with.

Cavett's columns combine personal reminiscence (his Nebraska childhood, some Yale, being a comedy writer for some of the top names on television--Paar, Carson--and remaining friends with them) with famous people he's met along the way (some that stand out for me are Nixon, Carson, Slydini, Basil Rathbone, his fascination with Richard Burton. Groucho Marx, ever-present, like a Muse).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Growing up, I remember a different breed of talk show from the type now popular. Even when I wasn't actively watching them, they were soaking in to my impressionable gray matter. "This is what it means to be adult. This is how adults talk." Well, I'm an adult now and most adults now prefer to talk like kids. I'm not exempt from that charge.

Dick Cavett was one of those talk show hosts. Also one of those guys who seemed to be either always canceled or hired. I could be hallucinating that. Maybe the only guy doing a Cavett type show currently,, sans the hiring and firing, is Charlie Rose. Tom Snyder is gone. In the Detroit area, there was a man named Lou Gordon, very dimly remembered.

I went to YouTube and looked at a couple old interviews. Still good stuff. The comments though show that people who were raised with the hooting-audience-keep-it-moving-don't-delve-too-deeply pace of talk show gave Dick Cavett rather low marks, confused glitter with gold in thinking this interviewer -- many called him The Interviewer -- didn't really know how to do the job. No one ever seems to say anything real anymore and whippersnappers like it that way. (I type whippersnappers with a smile -- I'm still at least a full decade from using it non-ironically.)

Anyhow, the book in question contains reprints of Cavett's New York Times column. Many of the included anecdotes involve guests on his various shows. Many of these guests would be utterly unknown to a younger audience, because fame is all fleeting and stuff, like that. ;) Groucho Marx, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Katharine Hepburn are some of the people covered. He told a ghost story involving Basil Rathbone that's still messing with my head. There's a name I doubt many people still know.
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