One of my fondest early memories is a night spent at a Howard Johnson's off Interstate 95. I was 5 or 6 years old, and a long day of traveling with my parents meant I got to stay up late, eating Krystal burgers and watching TV. Of course, I had to watch what my parents were watching, which was The Dick Cavett Show, and wow it was boring, but I was up late, sucking on a milkshake, so I didn't really care.
Turns out I was watching the PBS version of Cavett's show, which was heavy on cardigans, pipes and "importance" and light on Day-Glo rock stars, dying guests and impossibly awkward moments. The show's previous incarnation as a late-night attempt to draw smart, young-thinking viewers away from Carson was just the opposite. Airing on ABC from 1969 to 1973 (and struggling through 1974 as the occasional Wide World of Entertainment special), the program was definitely modeled on The Tonight Show, complete with a witty Midwestern host and a creepy bandleader. So while Carson cornered the market on helping big-ticket superstars promote their wares, the guests on Cavett's show were an odd mix of B-list and counterculture that meant some sort of zaniness was always in store. (Cavett to Timothy Leary: "I think you're full of crap.")
Moments like these don't happen in today's tightly scripted and PR-controlled world of television, and the unabridged presentation of these music-heavy episodes makes it hard to overstate just how revolutionary and freakish rock & roll must have seemed at the time.
The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons