There was a time when politicians did not want to appear on TV outside of the news. it wasn't dignified. Things have changed. Three candidates from the last presidential election hosted Saturday Night Live, and President Obama appeared on the web series Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. Our current president once hosted his own reality TV show, among other entertainment projects. We can trace the crack in the custom back 50 years, to the 1968 season premiere of the sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. I will never forget the entire family's jaws dropping when we saw presidential candidate and former vice-president Richard Nixon say "Sock it to me?" in a clip of barely two seconds.
Laugh-In writer Paul Keyes, a fervent Nixon supporter and media adviser, convinced the candidate to make the brief cameo while campaigning in Los Angeles. At first, Keyes suggested Nixon could make a reference to the show’s catchphrase “you bet your sweet bippy,” but the candidate wasn’t having any of it.
According to television historian Hal Erickson, Nixon told his advisers that he didn’t know what ‘bippy’ meant, and didn’t want to find out. They settled on “sock it to me,” but producer George Schlatter recalled that it took six takes for Nixon to make it through the phrase without sounding angry or offended. Schlatter remembered running out of the studio with the Nixon cameo footage, fearful that the candidate would change his mind or that his campaign team would try to stop him, but television history had been made.
Read the story of Laugh-In and the Nixon appearance that changed TV forever at Smithsonian.