The McLaughlin Group is a weekly debate program moderated by former Jesuit priest and Nixon aide John McLaughlin. In each episode, he moderates debates on the major issues of the day.
The original panelists were:
- Pat Buchanan
- Robert Novak
- Jack Germond
- Morton Kondracke
As of the series finale, the regular panel consisted of:
- Pat Buchanan (joined 1982)
- Eleanor Clift (joined 1985)
- Tom Rogan (joined 2014)
- Clarence Page
Other notable panelists included Fred Barnes, Monica Crowley, David Rennie, Tim Carney, and Mortimer Zuckerman, among others.
The program started on Washington-based station WRC in 1982 and kept going for 34 years, even inspiring parodies and other debate programs. Though it was cancelled following McLaughlin's death in August 2016, the final panel is making an attempt to get back in the game; a revival pilot was released on the anniversary of McLaughlin's death, with Rogan as moderator and new guest panelist Evan McMullin taking the seat he had himself occupied for nearly two years. Otherwise, the panel makeup remained the same as it had the year before.
The McLaughlin Group provides examples of:
- Artifact Title: Even post-McLaughlin, the program is still called The McLaughlin Group out of respect for the fact that McLaughlin changed the political punditry game forever, making television history in the process.
- Berserk Button:
- Don't feed John McLaughlin the wrong facts. He's been known to go on violent rampages because of it.John: The standards we have in the shop are very high. If you're going to maintain those standards, it requires a lot of effort. If a researcher gives me erroneous information and I utter it on the air, then that's serious — and that has happened.
- Robert Novak very often mashed a bunch of Dr. McLaughlin's other buttons during his run on the show, culminating in an incident where Novak accused him of preparing to turn Democrat live on television and McLaughlin basically went apoplectic during the commercial break almost to heart attack-inducing levels.John: VILE! VILE! VILE!
- Don't feed John McLaughlin the wrong facts. He's been known to go on violent rampages because of it.
- Bookends: The final original episode of the original series ends with Tom sending John his and the other panelists' best wishes. The pilot of the revival series ends with Tom, now the moderator, telling John he hopes he liked that show.
- In the first issue of the 04/01/16 episode, John McLaughlin refers to an earlier discussion of US-UK relations which took place during the 12/12/14 episode.
- In the pilot for a planned revival, Tom Rogan continues many of Dr. McLaughlin's old traditions, including the "Issue one" catch-phrase, the exit questions referring to "metaphysical certitude", vocalizing quotation marks, and even making ribs at his panelists (for example, 1 in one exit question meaning the likelihood of Pat Buchanan running with Chelsea Manning on a Presidential ticket in 2020). He even brought back the commercial breaks, which haven't been obvious, if present, in several years.
- The Cameo: As a special treat, Tom Rogan gave John a posthumous cameo towards the end of the 04/08/18 episode, depicting a portion of a debate about the winners and losers in the 1994 midterms.
- Catch Phrase: John McLaughlin has plenty of them, some of which Tom Rogan has inherited for the revival. For example:
- "Issue one!" — The first words he speaks on each program.
- "On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 meaning zero probability and 10 meaning metaphysical certitude..." — A typical introduction to exit questions.
- "Wrong!" — Typically spoken in response to an opinion McLaughlin disagreed with.
- "Bye-bye!" — His typical closing phrase.
- "Out of time!" — Sometimes used if the program cuts things too close timewise.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Not only has Mortimer Zuckerman not been seen on the program since the summer of 2015, he's been MIA, period, since that time. Particularly jarring as the last prolonged absence he'd been through was caused by an accident that ended with his arm being in a sling for his first appearance or two since the accident.
- Disproportionate Retribution: During a heated debate on gun control in the 10/02/15 episode, John McLaughlin goes "John, fetch me my revolver" on his entire panel.John: If this continues, I'm going out to get my own revolver.
[the panelists laugh]
Clarence: Look out.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the pilot episode, the panel consisted of Chuck Stone, Robert Novak, Jack Germond, and Judith Miller. Within a short amount of time, due to being underwhelming compared to Novak and Germond, Stone and Miller were replaced by Pat Buchanan and Morton Kondracke, who would go on to become regulars.
- Fake Brit: Invoked but ultimately averted by Tom Rogan, an American who was born and raised in London. He lampshades this fact in one of his first episodes.Tom: I'm a U.S. citizen. I don't like this teasing abuse because of my accent. We're a country of immigrants.
John: OK, pal, you can vote.
- Foregone Conclusion: Whether or not any in-series prediction is true now that the series is airing in reruns.
- Four Is Death: Even though it wasn't exactly uncommon to have four issues while John McLaughlin was around, the revival, which started a year and a half after his passing, has consistently had four issues per episode.
- Funny Background Event: At the end of the 05/20/16 edition, there's some background action during the credits regarding the poodle that inexplicably appeared in John McLaughlin's arms. It got to the point where a crewmember made a rare on-camera appearance to play with the poodle some.
- Insane Troll Logic: The predictions, particularly early on, often veered into this territory. One of the more infamous gems came in 1989:John: Within weeks, Delaware will authorize public flogging for drug trafficking.
- Insult Backfire: One time behind the scenes, Morton Kondracke called John McLaughlin an "evil genius". John took it in stride.Morton: We were talking about what an evil genius you are.
John: Sinister genius.
Fred: Mort was disputing the "genius" part.
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": John enjoyed putting the accent on Morton Kondracke's name on the second syllable (i.e. "Mor-TOHN!").
- Long-Runners: "For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk."
- Mad Libs Catchphrase: John had one whenever he shilled the show's website: "Could anything be easier? mclaughlin.com. Or more [INSERT ADJECTIVE HERE]?"
- Pun: John had one for any time both Morton Kondracke and Mortimer Zuckerman appeared together in an episode.John: Mort to the left of me, Mort to the right of me—why, I'm mort-ified!
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Sometimes discussed when things got too heated even by the show's notoriously rowdy standards.Jack: If you want to tell this guy to go fuck himself and walk, I'm with you.
- The Show Must Go On:
- Invoked by Pat Buchanan at the start of the 08/12/16 episode:Pat: This is the first time in 34 years that our distinguished leader Dr. McLaughlin is not in his chair, and we miss him. But let's get on with the show.
- Averted with the series itself, as John McLaughlin had planned to end it in the event that he should retire or die. Ultimately, the only two episodes where he didn't appear were the Sick Episode (see below for more on that) and the Series Finale. However, the series still looks to continue airing in reruns.
- May ultimately be played straight following a revival pilot with Tom Rogan having ascended to the role of moderator. Tom even lampshaded it by telling John that he hopes he liked the show before signing off with the traditional "Bye-bye!"
- Invoked by Pat Buchanan at the start of the 08/12/16 episode:
- Sick Episode: After a few weeks without new episodes in 2016 due to John McLaughlin's illness, the 08/12/16 episode ended up being the first to have the panel debate without McLaughlin's moderation, again due to McLaughlin's illness. A note written by McLaughlin opens the episode, the first time in the show's 34-year history that McLaughlin ever missed a taping, after the title sequence plays by itself without the traditional wide shot of the whole panel, followed immediately by Pat Buchanan explaining the situation in a nutshell before things kick off. McLaughlin himself only appears doing voiceovers to introduce each issue. His voice sounds noticeably frail during the narrations, and a few days later, he passed away at the age of 89.
- The Smurfette Principle: In episodes with just one woman on the panel, chances are it'll be Eleanor Clift, who's also the panel's only female regular.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Robert Novak slowly became this during his run, much to John McLaughlin's ever-increasing chagrin. Novak pressing a bunch of McLaughlin's Berserk Buttons during this period, particularly late in his run, didn't help matters.
- Standard Snippet: "Entrance of the Gladiators" plays at the start and end of each two-part year-end episode.
- Think of the Censors!: In only the second episode of the revival, Tom admonishes Pat that they're not allowed to say "shithole" when referring to certain profane remarks about Haiti and African countries made by Donald Trump.
- Understatement: The final original episode, which was taped during John McLaughlin's final decline, opened with a note from him stating that he was "under the weather".
- The Unfavorite: Morton Kondracke, if John McLaughlin generally preferring to direct his insults towards him is anything to go by.John: Mort, who are you, and why are you here?
- Up to Eleven: In the fourth episode of the revival, panelist of the week Siraj Hashmi gave the answer to Tom's exit question an 11 out of 10.
- Vanity Plate: The Oliver Productions logo at the end of each episode of the original series shows a caricature of John's pet dog Oliver, framed by the company name in green, barking.