The Nixon interviews were a series of conversations between former President Richard Nixon and British journalist David Frost, produced by John Birt. They were recorded and broadcast on television and radio in four programs in 1977. The interviews became the central subject of Peter Morgan's play Frost/Nixon in 2006 and the 2008 film version.
Nixon spent more than two years away from public life after resigning from office in 1974, but he granted Frost an exclusive series of interviews in 1977. He was publishing his memoirs at the time, but his publicist Irving Paul Lazar believed that he could reach a mass audience by using television. Frost's New York-based talk show had recently been cancelled. Frost had agreed to pay Nixon for the interviews and the American news networks were not interested, regarding them as checkbook journalism. They refused to distribute the program and Frost was forced to fund the project himself while seeking other investors, who eventually bought air time and syndicated the four programs. The interviews were also broadcast on radio by the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Nixon's chief of staff Jack Brennan negotiated the terms of the interview with Frost. Nixon's staff saw the interview as an opportunity for the disgraced president to restore his reputation with the public and assumed that Frost would be easily outwitted. He had interviewed Nixon in 1968 in a manner that Time magazine described as "softly". Frost recruited James Reston, Jr. and ABC News producer Bob Zelnick to evaluate the Watergate scandal details prior to the interview. Nixon's negotiated fee was $600,000 (equivalent to $2,500,000 in 2019) and a 20-percent share of any profits.
The 12 interviews began on March 23, 1977, with three interviews per week over four weeks. They were taped for more than two hours a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for a total of 28 hours and 45 minutes. The interviews were managed by executive producer Marvin Minoff who was the president of Frost's David Paradine Productions, and by British current affairs producer John Birt. Recording took place at a seaside home in Monarch Bay, California owned by Harold H. Smith, a longtime Nixon supporter. This location was chosen instead of Nixon's San Clemente home La Casa Pacifica due to interference with the television relay equipment from Coast Guard navigational transmitters near San Clemente. Frost rented the Smith home for $6,000 on a part-time basis.
On Sunday evening May 1, 1977, CBS's 60 Minutes broadcast an interview of David Frost by Mike Wallace. This was the same network that Frost had "scooped" (CBS had negotiated to interview Nixon, but unlike the news organization, Frost was willing to pay for the sessions). Frost talked about looking forward to Nixon's "cascade of candour."
|Part 1||4 May 1977||Watergate|
|Part 2||12 May 1977||Nixon and the world|
|Part 3||19 May 1977||War at home and abroad|
|Part 4||26 May 1977||Nixon, the man|
|Part 5||10 September 1977||additional material from parts 1–4|
The premiere episode drew 45 million viewers, the largest television audience for a political interview in history — a record that still stands today.
In part 3, Frost asked Nixon about the legality of the president's actions. In the context of American national security, Nixon replied: "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
A Gallup poll conducted after the interviews aired showed that 69 percent of the public thought that Nixon was still trying to cover up, 72 percent still thought he was guilty of obstruction of justice, and 75 percent thought he deserved no further role in public life. Frost was expected to make $1 million from the interviews.
There have been several releases on DVD featuring different edited presentations of the Interviews, the first of which is generally focused on clips from the first segment on Watergate with additional commentary, whereas the extended release features the "complete" interviews in the original four (and the later fifth) segments just as they were broadcast in 1977. In particular, footage from the Frost/Nixon interviews were included on the 2009 DVD release of Frost/Nixon, which presented a dramatized re-creation of the interviews and the events surrounding them; the reverse of the keep case explains that the footage was included primarily for the sake of comparing it to the film's depiction. However, it is still unclear whether or not the (more than 20 hours of) tape cut from all the publicly released editions will ever be made available to the public.
- 1 disc edition, 85 minutes ("Frost/Nixon: The Watergate Interviews")
- 2 disc edition, 377 minutes ("Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews")
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- "Trial by Television". 15 July 2007. Retrieved 15 May 2017 – via washingtonpost.com.
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- Reston, James. The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0307394200.
- bu.edu. "Robert Zelnick : Chairman, Department of Journalism; Professor of Journalism". wayback.archive.org. Archived from the original on 23 October 2003. Retrieved 15 May 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Frost, David; Bob Zelnick (2007). Frost/Nixon: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews. Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-06-144586-6.
- Barnes, Mike (2009-11-13). "'Nixon Interviews' producer Marvin Minoff dies". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
- "Producer Marvin Minoff dies at 78 - Worked on Frost-Nixon TV interview specials". Variety. 2009-11-13. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
- Interview with David Frost included with the 2008 DVD re-release of the original 1977 Nixon interviews
- "Tricky Dick and the Dane: The 40th Anniversary of the Frost-Nixon Interviews". kcet.org. 5 May 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- 1977 60 Minutes Mike Wallace interview of David Frost on YouTube.
- "Behind The Scenes Of The Frost/Nixon Interviews". npr.org. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- "The Smoking Gun Tape". www.watergate.info. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- "Profile:Sir David Frost". UK News. BBC. 2005-05-28. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- "Nixon's Views on Presidential Power: Excerpts from an Interview with David Frost". landmarkcases.org. Archived from the original on 2019-04-17. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
- Hughes, Ken. "Why Didn't Nixon Burn the Tapes?". Presidential Recordings Program. University of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- David Frost Interviews Richard Nixon on IMDb
- "British presenter David Frost taking on Nixon". Summer Breakfast. Radio National. 5 January 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-01-31.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is how a team of journalists prepped Frost to take on Nixon in the interview. One of those journalists was Bob Zelnick, played by Oliver Platt in the [Frost/Nixon] film. The real Bob Zelnick speaks to us on Summer Breakfast.