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Remembering the Time Woody Allen Debated Billy Graham About God and Sex in Primetime

For five decades, filmmaker Woody Allen has been one of the most polarizing figures in Hollywood. While many of his films have been adored by film critics, his family life—and allegations of sexual abuse from his own step daughter—have made him a pop culture lightening rod.

Even the worldviews he often underscores in his films—that deal with purpose, non-traditional romance and hopelessness—have made him a much-debated, but ever-prolific, figure in culture.

That’s why what happened back in 1969 is so interesting. That fall, CBS gave Allen a primetime special that basically allowed him do whatever he wanted for an hour and broadcast it to America.

The Woody Allen Special contained familiar elements to anyone who watches shows like Saturday Night Live: a stand-up monologue (Allen has always been a talented joke-writer), a couple of comedy sketches and even a live performance from the band The 5th Dimension.

But then, sandwiched in it all, is an intimate sit down interview with evangelist Billy Graham.

At the time, the 50-year-old evangelist was arguably at the height of his fame, and was one of the most influential figures in the world. For more than a decade, he’d been conducting massive global evangelistic crusades and was a fixture of TV and radio. His Gospel message focused on sin, repentance, salvation and redemption through Christ, and brought countless people into the Church.

Allen however, was openly agnostic and was known for enveloping-pushing humor that challenge conservative social ideology.

But, for a few minutes of time on broadcast television in 1969, the two men sat across from each other and laughed, took questions from a studio audience and debated topics like sex, the nature and existence of God, personal vices and spirituality.

At one point, they even came to a deal: Billy Graham would go watch a Woody Allen movie and Woody Allen would go to a tent revival.

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Looking back, it’s a surreal moment in American pop-culture history, but one that’s worth revisiting.

Thankfully, the entire interview is on YouTube (it’s embedded below), so we can all remember that weird moment when Billy Graham hung out with Woody Allen on primetime TV.

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