`Firing Line' celebrates its 20th anniversary with star-studded roast of its host

Twentieth Anniversary of `Firing Line': Roast of Bill Buckley (PBS, Sunday, March 2, 5-5:30 p.m., check local listings) is the climax of a four-week celebration of the Emmy Award-winning program ``Firing Line,'' which has been on the air continuously since 1966. The other shows have been excerpts from some of the best interviews or, rather, confrontations between Mr. Buckley and guests from many areas of political and economic expertise. How to describe the program? According to Buckley himself, it is an exchange of opinion rather than a talk show. ``I am interested in the free exercise of the human mind and personality.'' Well, in this roast a fascinating collection of minds and personalities avail themselves of the opportunity to take potshots at Buckley, uninterrupted. They include Henry Kissinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, Eugene McCarthy, and Tom Wolfe -- none of them particular partisans of Bill Buckley's political point of view.

They went at him no holds barred.

Jeff Greenfield: ``Mr. Buckley is happiest about not stooping to conquer vast audiences. He prefers to speak to those people whose grasp of public philosophy, theology, and politics rivals his own. So in that sense, for 20 years Mr. Buckley has been more or less talking to himself. But then, who would listen more eagerly?''

Henry Kissinger: ``I was asked whether I thought Bill had moved toward the center. The center has moved toward Bill.''

John Kenneth Galbraith: ``Bill Buckley is a liberating force in one's life because he provides freedom from thought: If he takes a position, you can take the opposite point of one without the troubling thought that you might be wrong.''

Mr. Buckley, who sits more or less quietly throughout all of the insulting banter, then responds in his normal modest manner: ``I don't stoop to conquer; I merely conquer.''

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