Skip to main content

When Frost landed Nixon

By Ed Bark, Special to CNN
September 3, 2013 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
Click through to see<a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/world/obituaries-2013'> people who passed away</a> in 2013. Click through to see people who passed away in 2013.
HIDE CAPTION
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
People we lost in 2013
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ed Bark: The late David Frost owned the first "big get" interview: Richard Nixon
  • He says it bridged showbiz and "hard news," though some questioned his journalistic cred
  • He says Frost drew apology from Nixon; Mike Wallace doubted he could do it
  • Bark: Frost would interview others -- Perot, Bush -- but the Nixon"get" is his legacy

Editor's note: Ed Bark, former longtime TV critic of The Dallas Morning News, blogs about TV at the website unclebarky.com.

(CNN) -- Barbara Walters getting very personal with Monica Lewinsky.

Steve Kroft squaring off against Bill and Hillary Clinton during a pivotal 1992 campaign interview.

Lance Armstrong going to confession with Oprah Winfrey.

All were "big get" interviews in what's become TV-speak for marquee encounters. But while various outlets now vie for the first post-"twerking" sitdown with Miley Cyrus, let's not forget that the biggest get of them all is still the exclusive property of David Frost, who died Saturday.

Ed Bark
Ed Bark

His series of May 1977 interviews with former President Richard Nixon, revisited in the acclaimed 2008 feature film "Frost/Nixon," remains the Mount Everest of all such face-offs. The interviews also built a major bridge -- since crossed many times -- between the worlds of showbiz and traditional "hard news." Against all odds and in the face of unyielding skepticism from "real journalists," the man who once hosted "Let's Twist on the Riviera" went toe-to-toe with Nixon in his first interviews after resigning the presidency on August 9, 1974.

In largely pre-cable times, and three years before the launch of CNN, Frost paid $600,000 for Nixon's time. That prompted the reigning ABC, CBS and NBC news divisions to reject Frost's advances rather than stoop to "checkbook journalism." He was left to cobble together a network of independent stations in the United States to broadcast the interviews, another precedent-shattering effort that far preceded Geraldo Rivera's 1986 syndicated ratings smash, "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults."

Frost's four taped 90-minute interviews with Nixon, which aired weekly, began with a May 4, 1977, program devoted to Watergate. And the widely perceived ladies' man with the sugar-coated interview style came away with the ultimate trophy -- an apology after Nixon's earlier burst of defiance.

"I think unless you say it, you're going to be haunted for the rest of your life," Frost said, in search of an acknowledgment from Nixon that he had betrayed the public trust.

"I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life," Nixon said -- after earlier leaving Frost open-mouthed with the assertion that "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

News: David Frost, veteran British broadcaster, dies at 74

Remembering David Frost
Journalist David Frost dies at 74
Remembering David Frost

I re-watched the "Frost/Nixon" movie Monday night, and was re-impressed by the performances of Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the title roles. Although some dramatic license was taken, director Ron Howard pretty much crystallized the initial perception of Frost in an early exchange between Langella's Nixon and his agent, Irving "Swifty" Lazar (played by Toby Jones).

"Doing it with Frost would be a whole lot easier than doing it with Mike Wallace," Lazar tells Nixon, who also hoped to use the interview to publicize the publication of his memoirs.

"It would," Nixon agrees. "But it would have a lot less credibility."

But Lazar says they'd be paid a lot more by Frost. And so the deal was sealed.

The late Wallace, then in his early years as "60 Minutes'" most famous bulldog, had an entertainment background himself as the host of several 1950s game shows. But he seemed to view Frost as an inferior during their at-times-combative "60 Minutes" interview. It aired shortly before Frost's first 90-minute program with Nixon. In an excerpt from their real-life exchange, Frost tells Wallace that he hoped for a "cascade of candor" from the former president.

"A cascade of candor from President Nixon? Is this what you expect?" Wallace shoots back.

"No," says Frost. "It was just a phrase that I thought would appeal to you."

Wallace later tells Frost point-blank that Nixon is "hardly going to confess on the air anything about Watergate." He has a book coming out, so "why would he give it to you?"

Wallace's underlying implication is that he would have been able to pry a mea culpa out of Nixon, while an amateur showman such as Frost would be unequal to that task. But Frost holds his ground, telling Wallace that "a lot more facts" about Watergate are now known. And that Nixon "realizes if he misses this opportunity, no one's going to buy the book anyway."

Frost and Nixon clashed on Watergate in the last of their taped sessions, although the Watergate segment ended up airing first. It drew a reported 45 million viewers, easily outdrawing rival programming on ABC, CBS and NBC.

Frost went on to interview a succession of British prime ministers, in addition to former president George H.W. Bush and, in 1992, maverick presidential candidate Ross Perot for a PBS special.

Perot proved to be perhaps even pricklier than Nixon, telling Frost, "Everything you've just said is incorrect" after his interviewer suggested he had problems "dealing with equals."

Frost later told me his encounter with Perot was "a very refreshing experience," although he would have to "acclimatize himself to being challenged."

Post-Nixon and pre-Perot, Frost continued to mix and match, lending his name to political satire ("Spitting Image" after his earlier mid-1960s tenure as host of NBC's "That Was the Week That Was"); game shows ("David Frost Presents Ultra Quiz"); and entertainment specials ("The Spectacular World of Guinness Records").

But in the end he'll largely be remembered as a one-hit wonder who, 36 years ago, changed the face of television by doing it his way. He came, he saw, he conquered.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Bark.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT