Answer Man

Bye-bye, John McLaughlin and TV’s McLaughlin Group

John McLaughlin, who died Aug. 16, was the moderator for 34 years of “The McLaughlin Group,” a popular TV public affairs program.
John McLaughlin, who died Aug. 16, was the moderator for 34 years of “The McLaughlin Group,” a popular TV public affairs program.

Q: Now that John McLaughlin has died, will the Public Broadcasting System continue airing “The McLaughlin Group”?

Frank Greathouse, of Madison

A: Sad to say, but you’ll have to find something new to watch at 10 a.m. on Sundays. After 34 years of providing lively debate on current events, “The McLaughlin Group” as a show said bye-bye for good after the credits rolled Aug. 21.

McLaughlin built the show into one of TV’s most popular and longest-running public-affairs programs after it debuted on New Year’s Day 1982. In all that time, the former speechwriter to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford missed only one show, although his participation in the discussions declined recently as his health began to fail.

With his distinctive voice and take-no-prisoners style, McLaughlin served as an influential prototype for the spread of similar shows such as “Crossfire” and “The Capital Gang” once cable TV took over American living rooms. President Ronald Reagan once famously described the show as “the most tasteful programming alternative to professional wrestling.”

With the show firmly entrenched on 300 PBS stations, it probably would have been easy to continue with a different moderator — just as longtime panelist Pat Buchanan stepped in for the one episode McLaughlin missed just before he died Aug. 16. But Variety reported that McLaughlin himself decided five years ago that the show should end when the final curtain came down on him.

According to John Roberts, the show’s senior producer, the Anschutz Media Group offered to buy the franchise. The proposed deal had McLaughlin retiring within two years of grooming a successor to take the helm of the four-person panel. In the end, McLaughlin declined, noting that fellow conservative commentator William F. Buckley ended “Firing Line” after retiring in 1999.

“We talked about it at some length,” Roberts told Variety. “John finally said, ‘What would be so wrong if when I finish up I just turn the lights out?’”

So that’s just what happened (if you don’t count that final post-mortem show). Variety reports there are plans for an hourlong retrospective, but details have yet to be worked out.

Roberts said McLaughlin wound up as the longest-serving single host of a talk show in TV history, beating out Buckley’s own 34 years by a few months. KETC Channel 9.1 will replace the show with repeat airings of “Stay Tuned,” a public-affairs discussion program that examines local and regional issues.

Q: My wife and our administrative assistant recently were wondering why rich people are described as being the “upper crust.” How did that term originate?

D.J.S., of Belleville

A: If you’ve ever taken a tour of an old British country home or did a cursory Internet search, you might think that answering this question should be as easy as pie.

As many English guides love to explain, bread was baked in ovens that had been heated by burning wooden limbs and twigs. After the ashes were removed, the dough was placed on the floor of the oven to bake, but a few stray ashes usually managed to attach themselves to the bottom while the “upper crust” was clean. Not surprisingly, the lord and lady of the house were served this top half.

“Two crusts are to be met with in a loaf, who knows it not must be an errant oaf,” Friedrich Dedekind wrote in his 16th century poem, “Grobianus, or The Complete Booby.” “Clean, crisp, and pleasant is the upper crust. The under full of ashes, brown, a-dust.”

Many suppose that over the centuries this preferred part of the bread became a synonym for the upper class. There’s just one problem with this explanation, word experts say. It wasn’t until the 1800s that “upper crust” began to be commonly used to describe the rich and snooty. That’s about 400 years after John Russell wrote “Cut ye upper crust for your sovereign” in his “The Book of Nurture.”

Instead, by the 1800s, “upper crust” was being used to describe the outer layer of the Earth’s surface. By then, it also was used as a synonym for head or hat as exemplified in this entry from the 1823 edition of Francis Grose’s “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”: “ ... but to hear it from the chaffer (mouth) of a rough and ready costard-monger (a person who sells produce on the street), ogling his poll (girlfriend) from her walker (feet) to her upper crust (head).” In fact, some say it was the same year when John Badcock may have first defined “upper crust” as a synonym for “hoity-toity” in his “Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf”: “Upper-crust — one who lords it over others is Mister Upper-crust.”

So it turns out the bread story is pretty crumby. Instead, it is simply an extension of the idea that “upper crust” is the top part of something, whether it be planet, body or the elite of society.

Today’s trivia

What was unusual about the hand-carved Great Seal of the United States that the Soviet Union gave U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman as a gift in 1945?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: On June 13, 1917, Lee and Frank Phillips of Bartlesville, Okla., founded Phillips Petroleum. Then, in the 1920s, the company began making gasoline to meet the ever-growing demand for the fuel. But what to call their new product? Easy. While testing their gas, they swear they were on U.S. Highway 66 in Oklahoma in a car going 66 mph. So of course they called it Phillips 66 and opened their first Phillips 66 station at 805 E. Central in Wichita, Kansas, on Nov. 18, 1927.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer