THE ONLY thing George Schlatter regrets about his years producing "Laugh-In" is that he may have elected Richard Nixon in 1968. Schlatter, who is preparing six new "Laugh-In" specials for NBC next fall, was sitting in his award-decorated office in Los Angeles. He recalled the results of persuading Nixon to come on "Laugh-In" and say, "Stock it to me."
"It was wild that day we taped him in the summer of 1968. It took six takes to get him to say 'Sock it to me' so he didn't look angry. I mean, somewhere that tape exists. he turned to that camera and would say angrily, "Sock it to me!' 'No sir,' I said, 'could you just say sock it to me kind of happy?'
"We then followed Hubert Humphrey around the country for two months had taping set up in every city he visited, trying to get him to say something like "I hope in November to sock it to you, Richard,' or whatever. And he wouldn't do it. I had a very positive effect for Nixon.
"It was the first time he had been within any kind of youth-oriented vehicle or place. A lot of people said, 'Hey, wait a minute, maybe Nixon is kind of with-it and aware of today, and together.' And we didn't realize what we had done."
Politicians and politics will still be the targets of humor on the new "Laugh-In" shows. Schlatter would like to get Henry Kissinger to host one of them. "I think he would be terrific. He's a funny son-of-a-gun. I mean, look at the deal he made with Egypt."
But Schlatter thinks the funnist material around these days is to be found in the news. "It's the source of much humor," he said, "Even when it's done straight." He was asked what was the funniest thing on the news.
"Well," he answered, "Babara Walters and Harry Reasoner. Their relationship is terrific."
What, he was asked, did he think that relationship was? He replied, "They don't go out to lunch a lot. On election night, they got into arguments about history that were just sensational.
"News has contributed enormously to our lives. Where would we be without the slogan 'Film at 11'? Everything is 'Film at 11' The earth ended today. Film at 11.' They billboard the news like they used to do with carnivals. 'Come on in and see Joe-Joe, the Dog-Faced Boy, Film at 11'.
"The facts is, we gave serious consideration to covering Gary Gilmore's execution to live television. The National Rifle Association would have been a good sponsor. The Heart Association would have been somewhat amusing. A clothing firm, right?" 'Sure, nut you can mend those holes. Look, it didn't ravel.'
"I think Ronald Readan having a news show that's terrific, that's amusing." Would Schlatter have Reagon on "Laugh'In"? "Oh sure," he said, "but you'd have to balance it with someone of this century. He's terrific. He was as good a governor as he was an actor."
Schlatter was asked if he was worried that "Laugh-In", even with new faces and new sources of humor, might prove to be a failure the second time around. "I think," he said, "that as a country and as a time in history we are ready to laugh again. We are going to do a show that is Laugh-In. It will be what Laugh-In would have been if it had stayed on the air."
Schlatter does ask himself from time to time whether it will be possible to recapture the old magic. But he does not dwell on the possibility of failure. He said, "If we in television who have been lucky enough to achieve some success were more concerned with the hope for success than we are with the fear of failure, we would improve the quality of television. I'm not concerned with whether I'm going to fall on my face. I'm concerned with whether I'm going to do something of which I can be proud."
Some of the old faces will be back from time to time - people such as Lily Tomlin and Goldie Hawn. But Rowan and Martin will not host the new version of "Laugh-In." In addition to Kissinger, Schlatter wants odd couples as co-hosts: Sophia Loren with Mel Brooks, and Julie ANdrews with Don Rickles.
But, above all, Schlatter wants new, unknown talent. He will travel soon to Chicago, New York and London in search of it. Bring on the new talent, George. Here comes the judge. Sock it to us!