Buckley Ends His Run on ?Firing Line?

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - After 33 years at the conservative forefront on television, William F Buckley is calling it a career cease fire on "Firing Line''.

Buckley was scheduled to tape the final episodes on Tuesday of his PBS series, which started at conservatism's ebb and provided a forum for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The last show will air during the last week of December.

"You've got to end sometime and I'd just as soon not die onstage,'' said the 74-year-old Buckley. "That it ends at the millennium gives it a poetic touch.''

The National Review magazine founder started "Firing Line'' in 1966, in the midst of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and two years after Barry Goldwater's humiliating defeat. His ideas advanced with the conservative movement, through the glory years of Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher.

Wire service reports say that the 1990s saw "Firing Line'' often drowned out by the combative political talk that proliferated on cable television. It was cut from an hour to 30 minutes.

"I don't think it has the impact it had because there are so many things you can watch with conservatives and liberals,'' said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and an ABC commentator. "That wasn't the case in the late 1960s.'' Kristol, 46, said as a teen-ager he watched Reagan debate Bobby Kennedy on the Vietnam War, with Buckley serving as moderator.

"For people of my generation, Bill Buckley was pretty much the first intelligent, witty, well-educated conservative one saw on television,'' he said. "He legitimized conservatism as an intellectual movement and therefore as a political movement.''

Despite its title, "Firing Line'' stood out as a forum where ideas could be debated at length and not screamed across a table. Buckley was always willing to give time to an intelligent idea, even when he disagreed, conservative columnist George Will said.
"Americans watch billions of hours of television and almost never see a conversation,'' Will said. "They see talking heads, they see interrogations, they see shticks of various sorts, monologues, but actual conversation and protracted discussion of any sort is unheard of.''

While conservative heroes like Mrs. Thatcher, Goldwater, Jerry Falwell and Jack Kemp were Buckley guests, he also brought on such liberal figures as George McGovern, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Kenneth Galbraith and Eugene McCarthy.

Buckley and "Firing Line'' were saluted this week in an unlikely place - the liberal magazine The Nation. Writer Christopher Hitchens said "Firing Line'' was one of the best places for people of all political stripes to explain themselves. "I did my first `Firing Line' in 1983 and swiftly learned that if I left the studio cursing at what I hadn't said, it was my own fault,'' Hitchens wrote.

"Firing Line'' is seen on about 300 of PBS's 350 stations nationally. Buckley has endorsed a successor: He is urging more PBS stations to pick up "Uncommon Knowledge,'' a weekly public affairs program with Peter Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter, as host. It is seen on 75 PBS stations.