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In July 1975, after Nixon had signed his $2 million memoirs contract, he sent his agent, Irving ("Swifty") Lazar, to talk to the TV networks in New York. When Frost found out about this he offered Nixon a flat $500,000 for four shows. NBC was also bidding, and Lazar coaxed Frost into raising the ante to $600,000, plus a reported 20% of any profits. Helping Frost land the contract was Herbert Klein, Nixon's longtime press confidant, who felt that Frost was not the kind of U.S. journalist who is "always trying to put in his own opinions." Klein's other recommendation: U.S. TV's talkative Merv Griffin.
With the contract in his pocket, Frost still had no one to air the shows he would produce. CBS was shy of "checkbook journalism" after having been widely criticized for buying an interview with Nixon's former chief of staff, Haldeman. News executives at some networks were willing to put Nixon on the air, but only if their own journalistic stars could do the grilling. Undaunted, Frost got Syndicast, a New York-based independent TV marketing agency, to sell broadcasting rights to individual stations. He contracted with Pacific Video in Los Angeles to do the taping. Both were cut in on the profits.
Investors like Jimmy Goldsmith, the banker-owner of the French magazine L'Express, helped Frost meet his $2.5 million in production costs. Frost will retain about half of all profits.
While advertising for the controversial shows sold slowly in the U.S., foreign networks were much less hesitant. The rights to foreign broadcasts alone have netted Frost $1 million so far, putting the production into the black. Final profits are expected to exceed $2 million. This means Nixon may pick up $1 million or more for undergoing his grilling by Frost. It might seem, with this on top of his memoir proceeds, that abuse of office pays. Without Watergate, Nixon's views would hardly command such sums.
But what does the nation—and history—profit from this uniquely modern electronic means of eliciting a personal accounting from a discredited President? Certainly, after viewing the series, millions will be forcefully reminded of the high personal price Nixon has paid. Yet he is destined to fail in these interviews to persuade any but his partisan followers that his Watergate lies and, yes, crimes, were the result of mere failures of judgment. If these same televised questions and answers could somehow have been transformed into a court of law, any reasonable jury would almost certainly have found Nixon guilty of participating in the crimes for which so many of his men were sentenced to prison.
In Shakespeare's Richard II, the deposed king says, "Oh, that I were as great as is my grief . . ." Watergate-show viewers will be painfully aware that Nixon's grief is far from feigned. He even seems at last to realize that his agony was caused by his own failings. This, perhaps, is as much as he ever can or will feel about his role in those years that were as much an ordeal for the country as for him. It may not be quite enough to alter Richard Nixon's place in history.