On the 40th anniversary of the most famous political scandal in American history, PBS has released the new DVD “Dick Cavett’s Watergate.”

Through a combination of fortuitous timing and journalistic instinct, Dick Cavett and his talk show were an important part of the revelations about government sponsored break-ins, dirty tricks, and the slow-moving tidal wave of lies and denials that failed to hide the vast web of criminal behavior.

Recordings from Nixon’s Oval Office tapes reveal how Nixon and his fellow conspirators viewed Cavett as an enemy for his continuing coverage that played an important part in keeping the heat on the administration. The focus of this 60-minute documentary is archive footage from Cavett’s television shows of 1973-74, including interviews with Gerald Ford, a large number of Nixon administration figures, and with Woodward and Bernstein, the reporters who made the story public.

Until it couldn’t ignore it any longer, national television approached the Watergate story tentatively, leaving it to print journalism. Cavett’s interviews helped keep the complicated story in a wider venue of public consciousness, which would prove to be important in keeping track of a story that took over 18 months to be revealed in its full, mind-blowing detail.

There are also contemporary interviews with Cavett himself, and other prominent figures in the scandal like John Dean, who offer smart perspectives on the difficulties of pursuing the story and the gradual “train wreck of decisions” that led to Nixon’s downfall.

While too sketchy to serve as meaningful history, there is still undeniable power in the footage of Nixon and company’s bald-faced deceptions, and in the scratchy voices on the illegal recordings he made in the Oval Office. Barely denting the surface of the complex Watergate timeline, this is a video for those already familiar with the events, and those viewers will nod knowingly at the parade of names, events and shockingly wide ties that populate this breezy, occasionally arresting, tour through political nostalgia.

The DVD of “Dick Cavett’s Watergate” is presented in widescreen, with optional English SDH subtitles. Picture quality is what you would expect from decades-old video recordings, though the contemporary interviews look crisp.

The audio track is a bare-bones stereo, as is typical with PBS releases of their recurring series.

There are no extras on this disc.

Parting thoughts:
A harmless soundbite-style treatment of a vast narrative, “Dick Cavett’s Watergate” wades in the waters of one particular perspective on a shameful passage in American history.