Watch 12 Seasons of the Dick Cavett Show, 18 Seasons of Johnny Carson & Many Other Classic Shows on Shout! Factory

Dick Cavett was some­times called the “think­ing man’s John­ny Car­son,” and he came up in a sim­i­lar fashion—a stand-up, a joke writer for hire— until he was giv­en a chance to host a late night show. But com­pare a Cavett episode to any late night host today, and it feels like a very dif­fer­ent time. Sure, stars were booked to talk about their upcom­ing movie or album or tele­vi­sion show, but Cavett was so laid back, so chat­ty and con­ver­sant, that it often felt like you were eaves­drop­ping. It’s a style you find more on pod­casts these days than television—Cavett is gen­uine­ly inquis­i­tive. He nev­er got high rat­ings because of it, but he cer­tain­ly got an impres­sive guest list.

We’ve been writ­ing about some of the clips here on Open Cul­ture, but Shout! Fac­to­ry, the DVD com­pa­ny that has piv­ot­ed to stream­ing, offers full episodes of Dick Cavett’s show to watch for free. They some­times have ads, but these days so do most YouTube chan­nels we fea­ture. (Of the episodes I let run, I didn’t real­ly see any com­mer­cials so your mileage may vary as they say).

And what a cul­tur­al trove is there on their site: a select­ed his­to­ry of Cavett’s show, arranged into themed “sea­sons” that stretch from 1969 to 1995. There’s “Rock Icons” (Sly Stone, Janis Joplin, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, George Har­ri­son, David Bowie, Frank Zap­pa, etc.),

“Hol­ly­wood Greats” (Alfred Hitch­cock, Grou­cho Marx, Bet­ty Davis, et al), authors, sports icons, politi­cians, vision­ar­ies (from Jim Hen­son to Ter­ry Gilliam), film direc­tors (includ­ing Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, Jean-Luc Godard, and Ing­mar Bergman), and one called “Black His­to­ry Month” although it’s from dif­fer­ent months and dif­fer­ent years, fea­tur­ing inter­views with Shirley Chisholm, Alice Walk­er, and James Earl Jones. (Let’s also men­tion that Cavett’s inter­view with John Cas­savetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gaz­zara is one of the most anar­chic tele­vi­sion inter­views in his­to­ry). Enter the Cavett col­lec­tion here.

Along sim­i­lar lines, Shout! Fac­to­ry fea­tures 18 themed “sea­sons” of The Tonight Show with John­ny Car­son, the man who refined the talk show tem­plate that late night has fol­lowed ever since. There’s “Ani­mal Antics” with Car­son encoun­ter­ing var­i­ous zoo ani­mals brought on by Joan Embery and Jim Fowler; a wide selec­tion of stand-up come­di­ans—The Tonight Show was con­sid­ered the big break for any come­di­an (and some­times future host); and a selec­tion of Hol­ly­wood leg­ends. (View the episodes here.)

In fact, the whole web­site is a fan­tas­tic time-suck of the first order: a huge assort­ment of Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000, episodes of Ernie Kovacs, The Pris­on­er and its pre­quel of sorts Secret Agent, and much more.

And a spe­cial men­tion to host­ing the first sea­son of Soul! the 1968–69 performance/variety hour that exclu­sive­ly focused on the African-Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence. In its hey­day, Soul! was watched by near­ly three-quar­ters of the Black pop­u­la­tion. And why not: guests includ­ed Muham­mad Ali, James Bald­win, Bill With­ers, Al Green, Gladys Knight, Har­ry Bela­fonte, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, and jazz leg­ends Lee Mor­gan, Horace Sil­ver, and Bob­bi Humphrey.

Explore the entire Shout! Fac­to­ry media col­lec­tion.

Relat­ed Posts:

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Appears in a Rare Tele­vi­sion & Tells Dick Cavett about His Love of Old Tokyo & His Samu­rai Lin­eage (1981)

Sal­vador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Sur­re­al­ism, the Gold­en Ratio & More (1970)

Carl Sagan Issues a Chill­ing Warn­ing to Amer­i­ca in His Final Inter­view (1996)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.