PBS Is Rebooting William F. Buckley’s Firing Line

Will Firing Line really defend conservatism or be used as a vehicle for Never Trump Republicans?

William F. Buckley’s Firing Line had some great guests—like the young Thomas Sowell. But Buckley was an expert in excommunicating people from the conservative movement. Will the reboot pursue arguments with Leftism or will it serve as a point of attack against Trump supporters?

Margaret Hoover, the planned show host, poses as a conservative on CNN.

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More importantly, the show seems to be geared for a “kinder, gentler” conversation. Will Conservatives ever win anything if they stay polite and don’t get angry? That’s not how Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton!

Politico reports, “Is America Ready for Kinder, Gentler Political TV?

Buckley came from a moneyed family and profited from his books, speaking engagements and syndicated columns. But his TV show was a labor of love. In the service of standing up for conservative thought, Buckley began “Firing Line” in 1966 to stage thoughtful confrontations between left and right. He forged a respectable face for conservatism at a moment when the Republican Party still included a healthy liberal wing, and extremists like the John Birch Society dominated the right’s public perception. On “Firing Line,” Buckley staked a claim for witty, urbane, sophisticated conservatism. A proper right-winger, in his mind, opposed government regulation and heavy taxes on the wealthy. The notion that the fluoridation of water was a communist conspiracy was stuff and nonsense.

On June 2, PBS is scheduled to begin broadcasting its reboot of the show, with Margaret Hoover as host. Hoover, a minor figure in the George W. Bush administration and the great-granddaughter of the Republican president of the same name, has until now been a supporting player in the cable-news universe of conservative talking heads.

So why now? Televised political discussion was contentious before the election of Donald J. Trump, and it has only gotten worse since. A new “Firing Line” could be an opportunity for both left and right to lower the volume and talk things through. But will viewers accustomed to the cable news echo chamber be willing to gravitate to PBS for a more nuanced debate? Can a politically evenhanded program thrive in our deregulated and fractious news ecosystem, not to mention our toxic political environment? The odds for such a show may not seem good, but the producers—and an underserved, if small, audience hungry for “Firing Line”’s brand of genteel parley—are wagering that the answer is yes.


From the very beginning, Buckley acknowledged, his ratings had been “exiguous,” to use one of his distinctive vocabulary words—that is to say, meager. Buckley was pleased with his low ratings, because he knew that his erudite conversations would inherently appeal only to a narrow audience of political junkies.

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About the author

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder is the "nom de plume" (or "nom de guerre") of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

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