The origin of televised combative political commentary dates back to the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries of 1968. The motivation, not surprisingly, had to do with ratings. At the time the ABC network was struggling financially and desperate to improve its ratings. In fact, it was so financially strapped that its entire set at the Republican National Convention collapsed shortly before the start of the convention.
To improve its ratings, ABC invited personal and political arch enemies Gore Vidal (to the left) and William F. Buckley, Jr. (to the right) to face off in ten televised knockdowns. In the end, as Gore Vidal later commented, there was no debate on the issues but rather meaningless jabs.
In the last episode, the personal animosity reached such intensity that Vidal called Buckley a nazi and Buckley called Vidal a queer. The animosity continued long after the debates ended with published knockdowns that resulted in a multi-year defamation lawsuit.
This new televised form was famously satirized on Saturday Night Live by Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd on the Point/Counterpoint segment of Weekend Update. The episodes always led to Dan Akroyd's famous line "Jane you ignorant slut!"
This televised form continues to garner high ratings for news channels and continues to provide little in the way of meaningful debate.
Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal, Directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, 2015