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Posted by on Feb 14, 2009 in Arts & Entertainment, Society | 1 comment

Cheever and Updike on Late Night Talk: The Opposite of Entertainment is Not Education

One-time late night talk host Dick Cavett writes about welcoming John Cheever and John Updike as guests on his show in 1981. I remembered this incident recently in comments at Ann Althouse’s blog. I couldn’t find it on Youtube at the time of Updike’s recent death. Cavett and the Times have posted it.

While Cavett’s show seemed to drive Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show to Hollywood and show-biziness as a way of defining and separating itself, it shouldn’t be forgotten that even under Carson and before that, Jack Paar, late night talk shows once delved into depthy subjects. Paar interviewed people like Martin Luther King, Jr. Carson once spent an hour and a half on his show debating and demolishing the half-witted, inflammatory assertions of a conspiracy in the assassination of John F. Kennedy offered by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in a Tonight Show interview. He also welcomed scientists, theologians, and politicians to talk with him, sandwiched between the stand-up comics, musicians, and actors that have always been standard late night fare.

Cavett could be pretentious and wordy. (Not to mention nerdy and egregiously deferential to anyone he regarded as a legend.) But I might check out a late night talk show more than once every six months or so if we had a bit more meat amid the bread and circuses that we see with Letterman, Leno, and all. Leno, Letterman, O’Brien, and others of their ilk are smart people. No doubt about it. I just wish that they’d devote themselves and their shows to more than just making us laugh.

As I once heard an accomplished preacher say, “The opposite of entertainment is not education.” Nor of erudition.

[This has been crossposted at my personal blog.]

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