By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published May 26, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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A few days after his weekend visit to Ten Chimneys, Dick Cavett was talking about what a good time he had at the home of one of America's theatrical power couples.

"I get asked to do a lot of them," Cavett said about such public appearances. "Three out of five times, I regret saying yes.

"This one was the absolute exception. I'd be happy to do it again tomorrow -- well,  maybe not tomorrow. But in  a few days."

Cavett's sold-out talk stems from his classic interview with the Genessee Depot estate's famous owners, America's premiere acting couple, Alfred Lunt and  Lynn Fontanne, along with Noël Coward.

As the 73-year-old Cavett noted in our Tuesday afternoon chat, that interview is one of the rare ways modern audiences can sense their personalities.

"I was sorry for one thing about the audience. I asked to put up their hands anyone who'd seen them perform live, and very few had."

Cavett joked about not making the "there were giants in those days" comment about the caliber of guests his old talk shows gathered. But it's true, from Norman Mailer to John Lennon and Groucho Marx, they sat down for true conversations, in a style that's rare on network TV.  

In a subtle aside clearly designed to move a couple copies of the DVD boxed-sets of his old show, Cavett went down a long list of legends whose conversations are included.

"I look at the box again, only Woody (Allen) and I are alive. Who are the counterparts of those guests?"

As for the quality of hosts, Cavett didn't want to wade back into the late-night wars. He wrote about NBC's Jay Leno mess in his New York Times blog, and referred me back to that

But I asked him specifically about the one host who comes closest, at least in my opinion, to Cavett's style, CBS' Craig Ferguson.

"He is wonderful," said Cavett, saying he's of a mind to drop Ferguson a line and tell him so.

If this interview sounds a bit conversational, it's Cavett's style seeping through -- tangents here and there from both sides. 

He explained that he picked up that style from Jack Paar, the pre-Johnny Carson "Tonight Show" host. He was a writer for Paar.

"Don't do interviews," Paar told him, casting aside the "what's your pet peeve questions" and the like. "Just make it a conversation. That's the secret."

If you've never seen Cavett -- or are nostalgic for a sample -- here's a clip of Lucille Ball on Cavett's old show, which shows his conversational interview style. The movie they're referring to is 1933's "Roman Scandals":

And here's an early appearance on the panel of  "What's My Line?" with Ed Sullivan as the mystery guest. He pops up at 2 minutes and 18 seconds into the clip with a typical Cavett crack:

On TV: Fox's "24" ended its run Monday night with nearly 9 million viewers, while NBC's "Law & Order" pulled in 7.6 million for its series finale, according to Nielsen Media Research numbers. Neither numbers are bad for a network show, but they're nothing to write home about.

  • Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and professional dancer Derek Hough won Tuesday night's season finale of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
  • Chicago's Michael Ventrella, 30, won the finale of NBC's "The Biggest Loser." He lost 264 pounds and won $250,000.
  • Speaking of "Dancing," reports Kate Gosselin got $500,000 for her five episodes on the show.
  • The schedule for the Stanley Cup hockey finals has forced Channel 4 to move its Memorial Day special up a few hours. "Flight of Honor: The Incredible Journey of Wisconsin World War II Veterans" will air at 6 p.m. Monday, rather than 9 p.m.
  • CBS' "Big Brother" will be back July 8, taking up spots on the network's Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday schedules.
  • TNT says there's no truth to the rumors that it may pick up "Law & Order," now that NBC has axed it.

She knew him before he was an "Idol":  Milwaukee's Ana Celia Baez is the winner, along with five guests, of Wisconsin Vision's "Meet Danny Gokey" contest, when Milwaukee's "American Idol" finalist makes a Milwaukee visit next week.

"I had an opportunity to work with him when I was in high school," said Baez, 24, who just received her Master's in counseling psychology at UW-Madison. She worked with Gokey at Journey House.

"I saw, even back then, the influence he has on youth," she told me in a phone conversation.

She's not the traditional winner of a fan competition, noting that "his music is just the tool he's using to reach out."

But she is a fan, first learning to love his voice at Gokey's church, Faith Builders International Ministries

While Baez and her friends will have a private meeting with Gokey, the singer will meet with fans at Wisconsin Vision's Elm Grove store, 12876 W. Bluemound Rd., from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on June 2.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.