He had no explanation for why so many members of the administration came on his show, since he was clearly no friend. A clip of an Ehrlichman appearance shows the Nixon aide looking at Cavett with barely disguised contempt. In one passage, the just-confirmed Vice President Gerald Ford tells Cavett that based on the evidence he'd been shown, he saw no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the White House.
Cavett asked Ford in 1979, after he'd left the presidency, if he felt he'd been duped. "I got a raw deal," Ford replied.
Yet the program also shows how the passage of time changes opinions. Former Washington Post reporter Bernstein was furious when Ford pardoned Nixon, yet decades later he sees the wisdom in that decision, said John Scheinfeld, the documentary's producer.
Scheinfeld, who produced a well-regarded theatrical documentary on the U.S. government's pursuit of John Lennon, was brought in by Robert Bader, who has combed through Cavett's tapes for various projects. Scheinfeld said the Cavett tapes provided an interesting way to get inside an oft-told tale.
"We're not just regurgitating things that everyone knows," he said. "There's a freshness to it."
Cavett's low ratings at the time didn't make him popular with ABC executives. His concentration on Watergate probably didn't help — competitor Johnny Carson had Charo as a guest the night Cavett did his show from the Senate hearing room — but Cavett said he was shielded from most of what the network was saying about him.
It's a far different late-night world today. A Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert may have talked about Watergate, but it's difficult to imagine any non-news program investing in the time Cavett used for conversations in those days.