In the television age, Sundays have long been reserved for worship, sports and political chat shows. But it took a politics-mad showman named John McLaughlin, who died at 89 on Aug. 16, to throw all three in a blender and splash it in America’s face.
Launched on New Year’s Day 1982, The McLaughlin Group was an indelible, bizarre, easily parodied (most memorably by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live) short-attention-span shoutfest aired weekly on PBS and other stations. McLaughlin pressed his four panelists for punchy commentary on national and foreign affairs, usually calling first on fellow ex–Nixon aide Pat Buchanan, who would yak uninterrupted until he had properly antagonized Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift. Off they’d go, with McLaughlin sure to get the last word. President Reagan called it a “political version of Animal House.”
The show’s ecclesiastic pomp came honestly: McLaughlin had been a Jesuit priest before turning to politics, and before abandoning his collar he rankled the Society of Jesus with public pronouncements, including a 1974 boast that historians would judge Nixon “the greatest moral leader of the last third of this century.”
In recent decades, the once revolutionary Group grew musty compared with its Sunday peers with spry panelists and slick graphics. Yet host and panel endured until Aug. 12, when illness prompted the first McLaughlin-free show in its 34-year run. That episode was relaxed and sedate–and it felt entirely Wrong!
This appears in the August 29, 2016 issue of TIME.
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