What was the Watergate Scandal? Nixon’s downfall explained - how to watch new Starz TV series Gaslit in the UK

On the scandal’s 50th anniversary, a new political drama looks to tell its ‘various unknown stories’

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the most well-known political scandal in American history: Watergate.

The scandal, which involved wiretapping, hush money and surreptitiously recorded White House tapes, resulted in the biggest constitutional crisis in the United States since the Civil War.

Nixon’s resignation two years later irrevocably changed US politics and the country’s international status.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Watergate comes a new eight-part TV series: Gaslit.

But what exactly happened at Watergate, and what can we expect from the upcoming political drama?

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What was Watergate?

During and after the 1972 US presidential election, the Watergate scandal was a major political scandal.

Richard Nixon, the Republican President of the United States, was fighting for re-election against Democrat George McGovern.

Former FBI and CIA officers snuck into the Democratic Party and George McGovern’s headquarters months before the election, listening in on phone lines and stealing confidential documents.

When these men were discovered, it was discovered that Nixon was involved, and that he had helped them cover it up, possibly even hiring the men.

The Washington Post, particularly reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, played a key role in revealing the wrongdoings.

Richard Nixon at the White House with his family after his resignation as President in 1974 (Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Nixon later elected to resign from the presidency in order to avoid being impeached, which may have led him being charged with crimes.

His resignation meant that the US Congress would be unable to impeach him.

Nixon’s vice-president, Gerald Ford, became President by default, and Nixon’s wrongdoings were later pardoned by Ford.

Where does the name ‘Watergate’ come from?

The name Watergate is derived from the Washington, D.C. hotel of the same name where the first crime and break-in occurred.

The Watergate incident left such an imprint on the national and worldwide awareness that the suffix ‘gate’ has since been frequently connected with scandals, both of a political nature and otherwise.

Recent uses of the ‘gate’ suffix include ‘Slapgate’ - to refer to the incident in which Will Smith walked onstage and slapped Chris Rock across the face at the Oscars - and ‘Partygate’ - the ongoing Conservative Party scandal around Downing Street parties attended during coronavirus lockdowns.

What is Gaslit?

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Watergate comes a new eight-part TV series.

Gaslit focuses on various unknown stories (we never see the president on screen), including those of Richard Nixon’s subordinates, deranged zealots, and the whistleblowers who would eventually bring the entire operation crashing down.

Martha Mitchell, a prominent Arkansan socialite and wife of Nixon’s loyal Attorney General, John N. Mitchell, is the focus of the show.

Sean Penn and Julia Roberts star in Gaslit (Photo: Lionsgate Television)

She was the first to publicly raise concerns about Nixon’s role in Watergate, which destabilised both the presidency and her personal life.

As Attorney General, John is forced to choose between his wife and the president.

Created by Mr. Robot writer Robbie Pickering, Gaslit is based on Slate’s Slow Burn Watergate podcast from 2018, and stars Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell, and Sean Penn as her husband, John.

When can I watch it?

Gaslit will premiere on Starz in the United States, and STARZPLAY in the United Kingdom on Sunday 24 April.

The eight-part series will then air a new episode every Sunday until June, when it will conclude.

To watch Gaslit, sign up for Starz US or use Amazon Prime Video in the UK to access STARZPLAY.