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David Frost, From Comedian to Journalism History

David Frost in the famous Nixon interview. [screen capture YouTube]

David Frost in the famous Nixon interview.
[screen capture YouTube]

THE AMAZING man we all came to know through television, Sir David Frost, passed this weekend. His career was a long and winding road in the most incredible sense. David Frost put the active in activist journalist and became one of the most formidable interviewers in television history.

Somehow it seems fitting that a comedian would be the one to get the interview with Richard M. Nixon that would lead him to revealing himself on Watergate.

The Daily Beast on the remarkable evolution of David Frost:

He burst upon British television like a fiery tribune of the people, conducting interviews live and with a studio audience—something never done before—five nights a week at primetime from a London broadcaster, Rediffusion.

[...] Propelled to almost overnight stardom by That Was The Week (itself one of the inspirations for Saturday Night Live) Frost felt that satire would restrict him, even though the show and his material marked a revolution in its lack of respect for and deference to the BBC’s previously timid rules of political coverage. He also encountered hostility among the corporation’s “serious” broadcasters who felt strongly that television journalism should not be “entertainment” and that Frost was, in manner and cast of mind, an entertainer.

… Frost, on the other hand, realized that television journalism, rid of pomp and ready to pose questions framed not by respectful editors but informed by a sense of how a vox pop audience would ask them, could become a gripping new public forum. He deliberately took a year off from television and enlisted a small band of journalists, including me, to work out the form of the show he would anchor, called simply (and grandly) The Frost Programme.

The Frost Programme became a showcase that would entrap many an arrogant guest unsuspecting of his techniques and believing they could escape them. As Clive Irving writes on the Daily Beast: Many of these were responding to what seemed an almost gladiatorial challenge, as Frost’s instinct for the sudden, revealing question would strike home and leave blood on the floor.

A snippet of the interview that David Frost did with Richard M. Nixon. The entire interview is gobsmacking, riveting and horrifying all at once.

It became a feature film with the journalist getting top billing over the president, which could only happen because David Frost was that journalist. Frost/Nixon starred Frank Langella as Nixon, and Michael Sheen as David Frost. It’s worth seeing if you haven’t.

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2 Responses to David Frost, From Comedian to Journalism History

  1. newdealdem1 September 2, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    I cut my political teeth on Watergate and was as mesmerized by the hearings as I was by Frost’s interview three years after Nixon stepped down in disgrace over Watergarte. All of one piece. As an aside, great TV when TV was great and this was certainly a high point. Frost did not hold back on questioning Nixon and although Nixon made a mint with this interview, this was Nixon as we never really saw him in all of his high paranoia even as he was weaving and bobbing with his answers like a boxing olympian.

    From the AP:

    “as the sessions drew to a close, Frost realized he still lacked something: an acknowledgement by Nixon that he had been wrong.

    Nixon had admitted making mistakes, but Frost put down his clipboard and pressed his subject on whether that was enough. Americans, he said, wanted to hear him own up to his misdeeds and acknowledge abusing the power of the White House.

    “Unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life,” the British broadcaster told Nixon.

    What came next were some of the most extraordinary comments ever made by a politician on television. For Frost, who died Saturday, it was the signature moment of an illustrious television career that spanned half a century and included interviews with a long list of the world’s most powerful and famous, including virtually every British prime minister and U.S. president of his time.”

    I don’t know if Frost was a true pioneer but I do know that his interview with Nixon has never been surpassed.

    “Frost/Nixon starred Frank Langella as Nixon, and Michael Sheen as David Frost. It’s worth seeing if you haven’t.”

    Two wonderful actors. And, yes, Frost/Nixon *is* worth seeing if you haven’t.

    RIP Sir David. Blessed Be.

    • Taylor Marsh September 2, 2013 at 12:31 am #

      The Frost / Nixon interview should be re-televised. It was stunning.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong