Best of Enemies trailer

It’s rare that we can point to one specific point in time where media really changed; the way we communicate is a flow of evolution rather than a series of specific formative events. But there are some cases where we really can say “it all began here.” One point in time is the set of debates between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal, organized by ABC in 1968 as the network’s coverage of the Republican and Democrat national conventions.

Each man was known and notorious for his own reasons. Each was blessed with dextrous verbal wit. And each hated the other, viciously. Pairing them for televised political debates was genius, and their verbal sparring nearly spilled over into physical combat.

Best of Enemies is a wonderful documentary that chronicles not just their debates, but the ways in which the event set a template for so much of the television we’re familiar with now. Check out the Best of Enemies trailer below.

Best of Enemies opens on July 31. Trailer via Magnolia.

In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other’s political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult—their explosive exchanges devolving into vitriolic name-calling. Live and unscripted, they kept viewers riveted. Ratings for ABC News skyrocketed. And a new era in public discourse was born.

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