Striking is that the NYT had run just a couple of days previously an article questioning the ongoing relevance of PBS in television broadcast form. The thrust was that much of the previous path-breaking format had been lifted by the networks and, in turn, PBS had taken on some of their schtick so the point of differentiation was quite pallid. As Billy B. ruled a considerable public television roost for 33 years, it was oddly synchronistic for both to have been covered so closely together in the American Empire's holy journal.
True there is no set alternative to 'Firing Line' yet (sad this is), but the argument is resolved and Mr. Buckley's death serves as an inadvertent bookend to such. Back in the day, PBS had such doyennes as Buckley, Louis Ruckeyser's long-running 'Wall Street Week' show and a half-dozen other regularly scheduled egg-head extravaganzas to keep the East Coast Triple A intelligentsia set suitably girded for light dinner conversation. These shows were unique. Look at the Ruckeyser model, for example, and how it has spawned to several daily competing networks devoted to arb gossip and endless earning statement tea leaf ponderings. Back when David Brinkley was still trading nasty private asides with Chet H., you didn't have on the air a bunch of pusillanimous newspaper people lobbing rhetorical hand grenades from left-to-right, and vice versa, except for PBS' 'Washington Week In Review'. Only was there the set Sunday interview formats of dodgy government stalwarts such as 'Beat (sic) The Press' and 'Mace (sic) The Nation'. Both of them about as lively on a routine basis as looking at radiation test results. Now the Lord's Day is littered with pontificating pundits of at least several political hues, all on the prowl for a clean jail yard shanking to settle a score or position themselves as the new leader of the columnists' Crips.
Besides the obvious contribution of creating "National Review" almost single-handedly and beating the Rockefeller wing of his own party into witness protection program status, Buckley was part of something quite wonderful in its day that has enlivened commercial television through surreptitious infestation of its better elements. My chief regret is that probably never again will I spy a new imitation of Buckley's extreme mannerisms (the Robin Williams' 'Saturday Night Live' mock 'Firing Line' skit variation being a favorite) as he will be forgotten by pop culture.
Bravo Bill! May Murray Kempton continue to be your rhetorical walking partner on the other side and Lucifer - without home court advantage - be your next rhetorical sparring partner.