|Also known as||Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.|
|Directed by||Warren Steibel|
|Presented by||William F. Buckley Jr. (1966–1999)|
Margaret Hoover (2018–present)
|Theme music composer||Johann Sebastian Bach|
|Opening theme||Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Third Movement (Allegro assai)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||34|
|No. of episodes||1,504 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||60 minutes (1966–1988)|
30 minutes (1988–1999, 2018–present)
120 minutes (debate specials, 1978–1999)
|Production companies||WOR-TV (1966–1971)|
|Original network||First-run syndication (1966–1971)|
PBS (1971–1999, June 22, 2018–present)
|Firing Line with Margaret Hoover|
Firing Line is an American public affairs television show. It first ran from 1966 to 1999, with conservative author and columnist William F. Buckley Jr. as host. It was relaunched in 2018 with Margaret Hoover as host.
With 1,504 episodes over 33 years under Buckley, Firing Line was the longest-running public affairs show with a single host in television history. The program, which featured many influential public figures in the United States, won an Emmy Award in 1969.
Firing Line began on April 4, 1966, as an hour-long show (including breaks) for commercial television. The program was produced at WOR-TV in New York City and was syndicated nationally through that station's parent company RKO General and later Showcorporation of America, a syndication firm which RKO acquired majority ownership of in 1968. Firing Line was mainly seen on weekends in low-rated afternoon or late-night time slots, because of the program's admitted appeal to a small, "middle-brow" demographic group. The first 39 episodes of the series were taped in black-and-white; the series was converted to color in January 1967.
In the fall of 1966, Firing Line began to appear on noncommercial educational television stations, mostly in areas where RKO General found it difficult to sell the program to a commercial outlet. After 240 episodes aired in commercial syndication Firing Line moved exclusively to noncommercial television in May 1971, distributed by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and produced under the auspices of the Southern Educational Communications Association, an arm of South Carolina Educational Television. This was somewhat unusual, given the reputation among many conservatives that PBS unfairly discriminated against non-liberal viewpoints in its other programming. SECA/SCETV, however, was one of the very few public broadcasting entities of the time that was sympathetic to the conservative movement.
Because the program received a relatively unfavorable Sunday evening timeslot on PBS' schedule in the early 1970s, Buckley and long-time director Warren Steibel briefly attempted to return Firing Line to commercial TV, but could not find sponsors. Thus, the program would remain on PBS until Buckley and Steibel discontinued production on December 17, 1999, with Buckley's final episode airing December 26, 1999.
In April 2018, PBS announced that it would begin airing a new Firing Line, hosted by Margaret Hoover.
Although the program's format varied over the years, it typically featured Buckley interviewing, and exchanging views with, a guest, while seated together in front of a small studio audience. Standing or sitting further away in the studio, an "examiner", typically a liberal, would ask questions, generally toward the end of the show. Most guests were intellectuals or those in positions of power, being notable in the fields of politics, religion, literature and academia. Their views could either sharply contrast or be in strong agreement with Buckley's.
Reflecting Buckley's talents and preferences, the exchange of views was almost always polite, and the guests were given time to answer questions at length, giving the program a leisurely pace. "The show was devoted to a leisurely examination of issues and ideas at an extremely high level", according to Jeff Greenfield, who frequently appeared as an examiner. John Kenneth Galbraith said of the program, "Firing Line is one of the rare occasions when you have a chance to correct the errors of the man who's interrogating you."
The show might be compared in politeness and style of discourse to other national public interview shows, specifically those hosted by Richard Heffner, Charlie Rose or Terry Gross, but Buckley was clearly interested in debate. In a 1999 Salon.com article, The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol summarized Buckley's approach to the show: "Buckley really believes that in order to convince, you have to debate and not just preach, which of course means risking the possibility that someone will beat you in debate." Buckley was not averse to asking tough questions of friendly guests either, according to Tom Wolfe, who recalled the interviewer asking him whether there were really any original insights in his book The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Buckley and his producer, Warren Steibel, used various methods over the years to bring extra perspectives to the show. In the early years, there would often be a panel of questioners. In 1977 the panel was replaced by an "examiner" who played a larger part in the proceedings. Examiners varied, with Jeff Greenfield, Michael Kinsley, Harriet Pilpel, and Mark J. Green appearing most frequently. When the show was shortened to 30 minutes in 1988, the role of examiner was eliminated, but there was often a moderator, whose role was similar to that of the moderator in a formal debate. The moderator would introduce both host and guest, and then ask the opening question.
Starting in 1978, scattered among the regular broadcasts were occasional specials and two-hour formal debates, with opening statements, cross-examination, and closing statements. In 1988, at Buckley's request, the running time of regular program shows was reduced from one hour to a half-hour. Beginning in March 1993, the two-hour formal debates would often be followed by half-hour shows in which most or all of the participants engaged in informal discussion. In the 1980s and 1990s, the debate episodes were frequently broadcast on the Monday evenings after PBS pledge drives concluded.
A recurring episode that Buckley had rebroadcast every Christmas, beginning in 1981, was an interview he did with Malcolm Muggeridge at his home in Sussex, England. The title of the episode was "How Does One Find Faith?" The episode deals with questions that are religious and spiritual in nature.
Buckley's distinctive mannerisms were prominently displayed by the program and were part of the public images of both the show and Buckley. Buckley was frequently seen leaning far back in his chair, a pen near his mouth and a clipboard in hand. His flicking tongue, widening eyes, and flashing smile also characterized his style, as did his multi-syllabic vocabulary. Buckley's voice was widely satirized, for instance by Robin Williams on Saturday Night Live and in the animated movie Aladdin.
At the same time that guests were treated politely, Buckley might also gently mock them, particularly if he was friendly with them, as with John Kenneth Galbraith or examiner Mark J. Green. "You've been on the show close to 100 times over the years", Buckley once asked Green. "Tell me, Mark, have you learned anything yet?" When Allen Ginsberg asked if he could sing a song in praise of Krishna, Buckley acceded and the poet chanted "Hare Krishna" repeatedly as he played dolefully on a harmonium. According to Richard Brookhiser, an associate of Buckley's, the host commented that it was "the most unharried Krishna I've ever heard".
Buckley's celebrated politeness sometimes wore thin: In a 1969 debate with linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, Buckley said, "I rejoice in your disposition to argue the Vietnam question, especially when I recognize what an act of self-control this must involve." Chomsky acknowledged, "Sometimes I lose my temper. Maybe not tonight." "Maybe not tonight", Buckley said, "because if you would I'd smash you in the goddamn face." (This comment was a joking throwback to Buckley's famous response to Gore Vidal, when, during another Vietnam debate, Vidal called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi".)
Buckley addressed his guests as "Mr." or "Mrs." He once called Margaret Thatcher "Margaret" because he thought she had addressed him as "Bill". He was embarrassed later when he saw the transcript and realized she had been referring to a legislative bill. He immediately wrote a personal letter of apology to the Prime Minister.
For the show's 15th anniversary in 1981, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Vernon Jordan, Henry Kissinger, and Louis Auchincloss presided over a party for Buckley at the New York Yacht Club.
Prominent guests on the program included:
Margaret Hoover is the current host of Firing Line reboot on PBS. The show premiered on June 2, 2018, on WNET, which serves the New York metropolitan area, and is the largest PBS market in the country. The show maintains the original format of deep exchange of ideas with a single guest on a single issue within its 26-minute runtime. It is produced weekly at the WNET Tisch Studios.
The first fourteen episodes of the program featured guests representing a variety of sociopolitical ideologies, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Ohio Governor John Kasich, journalist Gretchen Carlson, Senator Jeff Merkley, "the rising star of the political Left", Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and "accidental icon of the conservative movement", Jordan Peterson. Margaret Hoover's interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earned national and international attention for the latter's comments ranging from the state of capitalism and the unemployment rate in the United States to the State of Israel, which earned Ocasio-Cortez derision at the time. The former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie was interviewed in which he referred to the crimes that Jared Kushner's father committed as "loathsome". Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas declared in his interview that the U.S. could defeat Iran with, "two strikes. The first strike and the last strike."
The New York Times wrote that, "Under Ms. Hoover's direction, the discourse is civil and substantive." A review of the show by the National Review states, "the reincarnation of Firing Line comes at an interesting time, and a needful one." In the run-up to the show's television premiere Politico said, "It seems like a great idea, so let's test drive it and see what happens." CNN anchor Poppy Harlow stated that Firing Line with Margaret Hoover "is appointment television in my house" on CNN Newsroom. Hoover has made multiple television appearances for the Firing Line reboot, including ones on Good Morning America, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Real Time with Bill Maher.
In May 2019 Hoover was awarded Journalist of the Year by the Algemeiner Journal for her work as host.
Beginning with the move of the program to public television in 1971, the theme music of Firing Line was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Third Movement (Allegro assai), by Johann Sebastian Bach.
A number of episodes of the show have been released on DVD by the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford University, and are sold exclusively through Amazon.com, which also makes episodes accessible via Amazon Video. As well as that, for a slightly higher price, the Hoover Archive will supply unreleased episodes on DVD through its website. Episodes with playlists by year are now available on YouTube.
Digitized audiovisual recordings and transcripts of more than 1,500 Firing Line episodes were contributed to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting via external links from the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford University.
Special Classification Achievements - Programs
With 1,505 installments over 33 years, Firing Line is the longest-running public-affairs show with a single host, William F. Buckley Jr., in television history.
When Firing Line began in 1966 it was on commercial television, syndicated from New York's WOR-TV. After 240 episodes the show moved to public television in 1971, where it remained a PBS staple until Buckley decided to close down the show in 1999.
Firing Line was a creature of the middlebrow—--that long-gone impulse of the mid-20th century popular culture that tried to orient a mass audience toward learning, intellectual sophistication, and cultural uplift.
On Firing Line, Buckley staked a claim for witty, urbane, sophisticated conservatism.
But it started in 1966 on SECA/SCETV, which was one of the very few public broadcasting entities of that time that was sympathetic to the conservative movement.
In 1971, under the auspices of the Southern Educational Communications Association (SECA), it moved to public television and became a full hour.
On a bleak afternoon last week, in a dim little TV studio in lower Manhattan, Firing Line finally ran out of ammunition. Hosted for 33 years by the conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr., the show taped its final installment, which will air on PBS stations the week of Dec. 26.
'Over 33 years, the list of guests on "Firing Line" was impressive and very much bipartisan: Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Clare Boothe Luce and Henry A. Kissinger on the right. Muhammad Ali, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Jimmy Carter and William M. Kunstler on the left. There were also, of course, people who, by dint of political or personal conviction, would not appear on "Firing Line."'
'"Firing Line" is one of the rare occasions when you have a chance to correct the errors of the man who's interrogating you,' John Kenneth Galbraith said that night.
'Buckley really believes that in order to convince, you have to debate and not just preach, which of course means risking the possibility that someone will beat you in debate,' says Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, adding that 'not that many people could beat Buckley, of course.'
Tom Wolfe praised Mr. Buckley somewhat ruefully for being a tough interrogator, 'even though we agreed on so many things.'
The moderator would introduce both host and guest, and then ask the opening question. Source: Preface to the program catalogue compiled by Firing Line staff member Linda Bridges
Bill's acclaimed program, Firing Line, had a delightful Christmas tradition: to rerun his wonderful 1981 interview with Malcolm Muggeridge on 'How Does One Find Faith?' After you digest your figgy pudding, we recommend you take a few minutes to watch this clip from the program. Albeit brief, you are sure to enjoy seeing two giant conservative intellects discussing faith.
The conservative thinker may have shared an accent with some other men of the same age and social class, but his mannerisms and gestures made him entirely unique—and occasionally prone to caricature. He tended to pause for long stretches, wag his tongue, and open his mouth in an exaggerated way. To emphasize a point, he would make a tent with his fingers or grin as he spoke a key word. Toss in his wit, his blue-blooded accent, and his affinity for fancy words, and Buckley had created his own personal language, or idiolect.
The Genie is drawn to be like Buckley twice in the movie. William F. Buckley hosted the TV show Firing Line from 1966-1999. Genie turns into him when he needs to get serious with Aladdin. I'm sure that joke killed with the parents in 1992, but today it takes some Googling to get.
To New York City politician Mark Green, he purred, 'You've been on the show close to 100 times over the years. Tell me, Mark, have you learned anything yet.'
Mr. Ginsberg proceeded to play a long and doleful number on a harmonium, chanting along slowly and passionately, Mr. Brookhiser said. 'And when he was finished, Bill said, "Well, that's the most unharried Krishna I've ever heard."'
Mr. Chomsky says nothing to belie his reputation: 'I said that there are certain issues-for example-Auschwitz, such that by consenting to discuss them one degrades oneself and to some degree loses one's humanity ... Nevertheless, I can easily imagine circumstances in which I would have been glad to debate Auschwitz-for example, if there were some chance that by debating Auschwitz it might have been possible to eliminate or to at least mitigate the horror that was going on. And, I think, I feel the same way about Vietnam.'
But what these philosophies meant for these two, beyond opposing perspectives on pornography and the Vietnam War, is never explored. Instead, the film-makers have compiled clips of the two trading insults, culminating in the infamous exchange in which Vidal called Buckley a 'crypto-Nazi' and Buckley called Vidal a 'queer.' At first the spectacle is funny. But it soon becomes depressing and squalid. Anyone unfamiliar with the history of the time would see only two pompous men with old-fashioned accents insulting each other.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was my guest on Firing Line. Rather to my surprise, the English being more naturally formal than we are, halfway through the program she suddenly referred to me, once, as 'Bill.' I declined to break my Firing Line rule, and so persisted with 'Mrs. Thatcher.' However, the next day when we met again at a semi-social function, I braced myself on leaving and said, 'Good-bye, Margaret.' And a week later, writing her a note congratulating her on her performance, I addressed it: 'Dear Margaret.'
Many of those guests made a return appearance last evening at the party given by Anne Armstrong, Louis S. Auchincloss, Alistair Cooke, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Henry A. Kissinger, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and William E. Simon - themselves all alumni of 'Firing Line' too.
Almost 20 years since Firing Line ceased production, Margaret Hoover is stepping in to become the next host of the conservative talk show on PBS.
June 2, 2018 - The premiere of the public affairs talk show that delivers a civil and engaging contest of ideas.
WGBH Boston and Thirteen/WNET New York have combined forces to launch World and Create, two new digital channels for viewers throughout the Boston and New York metropolitan areas. Available to digital cable subscribers as well as over the air (via antenna) to viewers with digital receivers, the new channels complement the traditional analog channels of both WGBH Boston and Thirteen/WNET New York.
'The show will maintain the character of the original series by William F. Buckley, providing a platform that is diligent in its commitment to a balanced exchange of opinion,' the release added. 'The series comes at a time when meaningful discourse is needed more than ever.'
In speaking of the distinction between conservatives and [classical] liberals in his essay 'Why I Am Not a Conservative,' Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek notes that 'the conservative attitude is a fear of change' and 'a timid distrust of the new as such.' By contrast, Hayek says that a liberal like himself can 'accept changes without apprehension even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about.' Conservatives only feel safe 'if [they are] assured that some higher wisdom watches and supervises change.' It almost seems as though Hayek had Jordan Peterson in mind when he wrote the essay.
Which leads to moments like this one, which occurred during an interview with Margaret Hoover for PBS' 'Firing Line' in which Ocasio-Cortez gets herself into trouble when she starts talking about the Middle East and referring to Israelis who have settled in the West Bank as occupiers of Palestine. Hoover follows up, smartly, and Ocasio-Cortez begins to talk about an increase in settlements that makes it more difficult for Palestinians to access 'their housing.' Sensing that she is making things worse not better, Ocasio-Cortez admits: 'I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue.'
One widely circulated highlight was Ocasio-Cortez's reference to the 'occupation' of Palestine, which host Margaret Hoover asked her to clarify. She responded by saying that she supposed she was referring to the Israeli settlements in 'some of these areas,' which make it difficult for Palestinians to access 'their housing and homes.' Hoover asked for a fuller explanation but got only Ocasio-Cortez's demurral that she was 'not the expert on geopolitics on this issue.'
'Mr. Kushner pled guilty, he admitted the crimes. So what am I supposed to do as a prosecutor?' Mr. Christie said in an interview on 'Firing Line With Margaret Hoover' on PBS. 'If a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, and videotapes it, and then sends the videotape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying before a grand jury, do I really need any more justification than that?' He continued: 'It's one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was U.S. attorney.'
Sen. Tom Cotton said Tuesday the U.S. could win a war with Iran in only 'two strikes' amid simmering tensions between the two countries. When asked if the United States could emerge successful from a conflict with the Middle Eastern state, Mr. Cotton said, 'Yes, two strikes. The first strike and the last strike.' 'If Iran struck out militarily against us or against our allies in the region, then I would certainly expect a devastating response against Iran,' the Arkansas Republican said in an interview on PBS' 'Firing Line with Margaret Hoover' show.
The reincarnation of Firing Line comes at an interesting time, and a needful one.
It seems like a great idea, so let's test drive it and see what happens
The roundtable guests are Rep. Karen Bass, CNN contributor and television host Margaret Hoover, and Daily Beast contributor and author Michael Weiss. Hoover has been selected to bring back the analysis news show Firing Line [with William F. Buckley Jr.] which ran for over 33 years. Buckley interviewed other conservatives, as well as people on the left including Noam Chomsky, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Allen Ginsberg, and even Groucho Marx. Hoover is now the next host for the series which [returns] to PBS.
PBS host Margaret Hoover and Washington Post editor Jackson Diehl received 'Journalist of the Year' awards, and entrepreneur Cyril Berdugo was also honored at the event.