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Dick Cavett in the Digital Age

The house, a 1912 Georgian, towers atop a leafy hilltop past an ornate iron gate. Mr. Cavett, who never knew a name not worth dropping, seems pleased at its celebrity lineage: the film and television star Robert Vaughn and Harry Houdini’s brother both lived there. Houdini, he said, “used to practice his underwater escapes in manacles and chains in the pool,” a fact that delights him, because he was an avid magician as a child.

‘Don’t Do Interviews’

Back in the sunroom, an ornate Italian fountain was babbling just outside, as Mr. Cavett sat in a wicker rocking chair with a serene smile.

As the light poured through three windows, beads of perspiration were beginning to form on his visitor’s face. Who would not be daunted by the task of interviewing the consummate interviewer?

“Jack Paar called me once,” Mr. Cavett said, referring to the early “Tonight Show” host who gave him his first gig. “He said, ‘Hey, kid, when you do your show, don’t do interviews.’ I thought, ‘Did I hear you right? Am I supposed to read to the guests?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, I mean “interviews,” Q. and A. Make it a conversation.’”

But in a late-night landscape rebuilt for clickable clips, unscripted moments seem increasingly rare. “If I were doing a show today,” Mr. Cavett said, “it would not include a nice actress who’s so ‘excited’ about her new movie, and so ‘excited’ about her director, and so ‘excited’ about the costumes. ‘Excited’ is a word that could easily be stricken from the show business vocabulary.”

“For the interviews that endure,” he said, “you don’t get the sense that, say, Katharine Hepburn did another talk show the next night. And then the next night she did another one. So many guests now are on a promotional tour.”

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