Monday, July 30, 2007

Tom Snyder

I saw Tom Snyder the day he got the offer to host the TOMORROW SHOW on NBC. It was 1972, Tom had been a local news anchor on KNBC in Los Angeles (with his weatherman Pat Sajek) and the big brass at the network wanted to seal the deal over a power lunch. Tom selected the place.

And that’s where I saw him – standing in line with me at Cassell’s hamburgers in Koreatown. Now granted, they’re the best burgers in Los Angeles, but still, it ain’t the Palm or Spagos.

It was a riot seeing the top executives of the National Broadcasting Company, all in their expensive suits, holding trays, being chided by the counter guys for not yelling out their orders loud enough.

But that was Tom Snyder. Never taking himself or anything too seriously – even his “big break”.

In many ways, Tom was the Jack Paar of the boomer generation. An eccentric personality who wasn’t afraid to show his emotions on national television, he was a master of the conversational in-depth interview. And he did his homework. Unlike Larry King recently, he would never get his Beatles mixed-up.

You would tune into the TOMORROW SHOW one night and Julie Andrews would be his guest. The next night it was Charles Manson. And again, unlike Larry King, he didn’t ask them both the same questions.

There was a touch of Edward R. Murrow in Tom Snyder. He would sit back in a chair, cigarette dangling in one hand, and very formally inform the audience that his guest that night was “Mr. Johnny Rotten”.

Dan Ackroyd enhanced his popularity with a dead-on impression on SNL, exaggerating all of Tom’s quirks, his boisterous laugh, and comb-over that seemed to wrap around his head twice. Tom apparently loved it. Imagine if it were Bill O'Reilly.

In the mid 90’s Tom had a late night talk show on CBS as well as a syndicated radio program. I was his guest once on the radio show, pimping my book. To my amazement he had actually read it (thus making him one of five). The interview was relaxed and fun. No wonder Charles Manson felt so at ease. Off the air I reminded him of the Cassell’s incident and heard that loud boisterous laugh for real. He said he had all his best meetings there.

Tom Synder will be long remembered, especially in Los Angeles, where his back-up news anchor from the KNBC days, Paul Moyer, has been imitating him for thirty years.

35 comments:

The Crutnacker said...

Until Tom showed up on my TV with the late late show, I remembered him primarily from Dan Akroyd's impersonation.

There are so few decent interviewers these days, it's a shame that he's gone.

Ingmar Bergman too. Someone at work said, "Is that Ingrid Bergman's dad?"

"Yes, I said. Candice Bergman too."

D. McEwan said...

It was, of course, those omnipresent cigarettes I never saw him without that killed him at 71.

I heard a news promo on KNBC this afternoon that actually said: "Tom Snyder dies today at 5." I was aware he was already dead, so what terrible false advertising. Think of the all disappointed people tuning in to see his execution.

It's up there with the boneheaded critic (I don't know his name) filling in for Roger Ebert last week on "Ebert & The Dork," who, in reviewing GOYA'S GHOSTS, actually said "Natalie Portman plays a woman wrongly tortured." This guy could work for the Bush administration.

I was never a fan of Snyder, but you are right, compared to Larry King, he WAS Edward R. Morrow.

Mark P said...

Snyder, Ingmar Begman and Bill Walsh, too. Bad things come in threes. RIP to all.

Richard Jensen said...

I always loved watching Snyder. Espically when he had Harlan Ellison on.
The two of them together created their own no bullshit zone.

Allen L. said...

Hey, Ken, where is this legendary burger joint? I live close to Koreatown and would love to eat at the same joint as you and the estimable king of the late nigh interview.
I used to stay up to watch him. What a genius.

The Crutnacker said...

I found this quote interesting:

CNN talk-show host Larry King said in a statement to The Times: "Tom Snyder was one of a kind; he had a unique personality. He changed anchoring in television news; his approach was like no one else. Charlotte from Champaigne, Illinois, you're next on the air to talk about the death of Rob Schneider."

DrBear said...

I don't know how Snyder felt about Aykroyd's imitation (which I think was one of the best ever done of a media figure). Fairly recently, I read that he thought he got on the bad side of the New York NBC brass because they never saw him, they only saw Dan's imitation, and thought he was really like that.

Still, I loved it when he came back, first on CNBC and on CBS...and I was reminded by a friend of Snyder's radio show, which was the only way said friend had ever heard him. He came over the same way on radio, too...imagine that.

DodgerGirl said...

Tom Snyder actually listened to his guests, thus was able to engage in a conversation. He never made it all about himself, yet was informed and more importantly, *interested* in what his guest was saying. That made him worth his weight in gold.

I'm not intellectual enough to understand Ingmar Bergman.

Bill Walsh was an upstanding man and coach.

Anonymous said...

Tom Snyder was a talented broadcaster colorful character who basically did radio on television. Even the sets on both of his late night shows were designed for a one on one experience.
He had style & a great sense of humor. Neither Larry King, Bill O'Reilly or whomever is the latest smug host of the Late Late Show could ever be as interesting or entertaining. We'll miss you Tom.

R.J. Marcej said...

"Snyder, Ingmar Begman and Bill Walsh, too. Bad things come in threes. RIP to all."

Actually four. Don't forget Bill Robinson (I'm sure Ken as a baseball announcer remembers Bill).

Anonymous said...

allen l

Cassell's
3266 W. Sixth St.
Mid-Wilshire, CA 90020

Anonymous said...

David Letterman was obviously a major fan, and put Snyder on after his own show when he moved to CBS. My second favorite moment from Snyder's Late Late Show was an interview he did with Robert Blake (prior to Blake's, uh, troubles), when Blake told a story about shooting a movie in New Orleans --- one night he spies a guy running full speed away from a number of pursuers. As the guy gets closer, he sees it's Steve McQueen, who yells "Run Bobby!" Blake starts running with McQueen, who eventually takes off on his own, leaving the angry guys chasing Blake --- they corner Blake and seem about to pound him when out of nowhere McQueen reappears on a fire escape, with a shotgun, and chases the mob off with a warning shot. Snyder loved it (he had Blake on a number of times and seemed to really get a kick out of his stories)

My favorite moment on the Late Late Show came about a week or two later, when TS had Letterman on. Dave started off with, "I was in New Orleans with Steve McQueen..."

Anonymous said...

I loved Tom Snyder. My mother got me interested in him. And when I worked as an inviewer, without realising it, I was conducting them like a conversation much like Tom years later. It would fall to me at the small studio I worked at as an associate producer of an arts show to train new junior journalists wannabes on how to ask questions and what type of questions. I always told them to think of stuff to ask they would want someone to ask if they were sitting at home watching the interview air, and I also told them to relax and talk to the person like you were equals and having a friendly chat. That seemed to put a lot of them at ease enough to ask total strangers all kinds of things about their esoterical works of art. I like to think Tom Snyder had a very subtle influence on a lot of broadcasters over the years without even trying. Goodnight, Tom. Enough your well deserved rest.

Stacey

Mr. Hollywood said...

Had the joy of spending a day with Tom many years ago...Sheraton Universal Hotel...NBC press tour...we had rooms and patios next to one another by the pool. Between interviewing NBC TV stars (Tom was then anchor at WNBC in NY) he shared many stories with me...was interested in what I had to say, and we both had a lot of laughs. A mensch...a pro...and a personality, three things sadly missing in today's world of Ryan Seacrest and Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric.

tb said...

Tom had on a guy and his wife, the guy had a penis implant, a new thing at the time. When Tom asks "How does it work?" his wife jumps in with "GREAT!!" Too funny, I always remember that. Tom just busted out laughing.

Anonymous said...

I want to second the props given to Snyder's great interviews with Harlan Ellison.
Even for a master interviewer like Snyder, those were especially fine.
He will be missed.

Joey H said...

Loved his nightly lock-out:

"From all of us who work the late shift here in the heart of New York City, good night everyone."

Here's raising a Colortini to you, Tom.

jbryant said...

Always loved Snyder, though I had to miss years of his show thanks to the NBC affiliate in Evansville, IN, which at that time decided they could make more bucks with Rockford Files reruns (nothing against Rockford, but sheesh). Even after Letterman took over the slot, they kept showing Rockford. As a fan of Letterman's morning show, that irked me, too. They also used to bump first-run episodes of St. Elswehere for local basketball games, without rescheduling. Luckily, I got to see Snyder more regularly after Dave got him the CBS gig. How great it was to hear and see long conversations with interesting people who weren't necessarily plugging anything.

Anonymous said...

Another memory of The Tomorrow Show - The extreme close-ups. This was in the days before big screen TV. Another way to connect us up close to the personalities.

His opening ramblings really made you feel like he was talking to you.

Larry King is so obviously peppered with pre-written questions by his staff. "What do you make of... fill in the blank" ... Or rejoinders like... "Well said."

But Tom gave the distinct impression he was hooked into the subject matter at hand.

When I started out in standup, one of my impressions that resonated the most with audiences was Snyder. I felt as if I was channeling him. (I even did it once on an impromptu visit to the SNL offices, during which Aykroyd, himself, gave his seal of approval.)

Impressions aside, Snyder was an original. An ego big enough for TV, but small enough to make you feel like he was one of us.

estiv said...

My favorite Tom Snyder memory: one night around 1978 his guest list was Ed "Too Tall" Jones and the Dalai Lama.
That's it, that's the point, just that pairing of guests. The spiritual leader of millions of devout souls, and a pro football player turned pro boxer (didn't last as a boxer, went back to the Cowboys) with a hokey nickname. Only someone both incredibly omnivorous in his interests and with a touch of ditziness would have that particular combo. Which, I guess, was our Tom.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Is Larry King's real name Larry Seltzer? And whatever it is, how did he ever get a show? He has to be the worst interviewer since Jane Pauley (Pauly?) during her first five years on Daddy's Network.

Tom was great. I lost a lot of precious sleep staying up watching him.

Diogo said...

Hi Ken,

I was just dusting off my Cheers DVD and I came across the extras for season 3 DVD, which included a very sweet, but rather short memoriam to Nick Colasanto, who played the coach. I was wondering if you could tell us how was Nick in real life, and what it was like to work with him.for me, he always sold his absent mindedness better than Woody, I guess because of his age, but I would love to find out more about that acomplished actor and, from what I understand a well regarded director as well

Jenius said...

If I ever own a bar, our signature drink will be the Colortini.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the Tomorrow Show the first two years it was on the air because I was working the morning shift at a small 1000 watt radio station in Bay City Michigan. I had to go to bed at 9 o’clock at each night, and I only heard about the show. This was before VCR’s.

The thing I liked the most about Snyder was that he listened to his guests and he always asked great questions, the kind of questions people wanted answered.

By the way, Larry King was a great interviewer and storyteller on his late 70’s, early 80’s Mutual radio show. The first hour and a half of the program were simply King and a guest, the second hour and a half were phone calls to the guest, and the final two hours were open lines. It was great program.

Ken Levine said...

Re the Coach. Check my archives. I have several posts on him.

Kevin said...

Excellent post. I have many fine memories of watching and listening to Tom over the years. He came on the air when I was a sophomore in high school, but his choice of guests -- and how he queried them -- truly provided me with some of the best education I ever received.

Paul Duca said...

cobI discovered some interesting perspectives on Tom Snyder, in fact, in a biography of Jessica Savtich I read. Before Los Angeles, Tom was co-anchor at the NBC station in Philadelphia, where Savitch would work after he left. Even then, he was colorful--known for pranks and escapades (riding a bicycle around the news studio, dumping a plate of spaghetti on one co-worker's head, sticking a sweaty sneaker under the nose of another reporter) that earned him the nickname "Snidely Whiplash". Later it discusses the deal that brought him to the network after his success in L.A. While many felt this was part of a route that would lead to his taking over the anchor chair at NBC NIGHTLY NEWS from John Chancellor, the big brass didn't see that happening. They felt that viewers would never give themselves to trust Snyder fully, and they felt he gave them reason. One executive was quoted as saying the brass felt "Tom would say 'Shit' on the air"

Tom Dougherty said...

Now's as good a time as any to remind folks who smoke that smoking is certainly the thing that killed both Snyder and Murrow.

Put down that cigarette, pal!

Rest in Peace, Tom. Loved that guy. The DVD collections that have been released (by Rhino?) are well worth a look. Tom and John Lydon alone should be enough to tempt you into renting or buying them.

Dwacon said...

He was a legend and shall be missed!

Anonymous said...

My mother and I both loved Tom.
I never thought about the comparison with Jack Parr, but there sure was one.
We loved him too. He is as early a late night TV host I can remember.
One of my favorite Snyder guests was the late Sterling Hayden.
A veteran of WWII and countless films (the crooked police captain in The Godfather) Hayden looked like an aged hippy on the Tomorrow show. He told Tom how much he enjoyed smoking weed and listening to the Beatles with headphones.
Tom did the Akroyd laugh throughout the interview.

Church Silverhammer said...

Of all the stuff on theTOM I've found yours is the best & I agree with the most.. Edward R. Murrows must have been is idol, he does him good service. Unique is his own right , a shining star. I miss him & I'm hurt by his leaving. Make no mistake about it He smoked a lot of cigarettes, he lived a fairly LONG time & he made the Best of his time. KUDOS Mr. Snyder. I righted a wrong by posting a mySPACE account to justify & ENdear the PEOPLES 2U just 2 days before U left. I'm pissed I didn't get in touch w/ U.


LOOKsee


myspace.com/colortini

Anonymous said...

His sterling hayden interview was my favorite. i wish they'd offer dvd's of the tomorrow show.

Donald said...

Uh--just so you people know, living in Beverly Hills as a have for the past 10 years, and seeing Tom on a semi-regular basis, I know that he gave up cigarettes several years ago.

Not that it mattered since he died of COMPLICATIONS FROM LEUKEMIA. Sure, it's a form of cancer, but plenty of people who get it never took a drag off a butt in their lives.

It wasn't supposed to kill him, but it did. There was a 95% chance of survival. What a shame. What a loss.

Jim--Arlington, MA said...

Tom Snyder was one of a kind, for sure. I watched "Tomorrow," his CNBC program & his "Late Late Show," will always be grateful to David Letterman (however smug & relentlessly left-wing biased he has become) for bringing this great broadcaster back to network TV. As I understood it, Letterman had felt bad his first, late night gig at NBC resulted in Tom's show getting axed, so saw to it that Tom's status was restored when he (Letterman, by then wearing his World Wide Pants) had the chance to do something about it.

I agree with the poster who said the interviews with Robert Blake were among the most entertaining Tom did. Blake had a reputation for being a cut-up on Merv Griffin's show in his "Baretta" days, as well. Other TS faves were Bonnie Hunt and Dennis Miller, the latter who would end up his last guest.

I also recall a very nice Christmas show TS did with Rosemary Clooney, who sang on the program, something Tom only occasionally featured in his last incarnation, contrasted with his New York days with punk rockers.

I wish more of TS were available on video, but I have the Rhino "Tomorrow" collection with punk rock performers, the John Lennon show (re-broadcast on VH-1 in the mid-90's), and about a half dozen from the CBS program, including shows with Lauren Bacall, mystery author Sue Grafton, Little Richard, and his last show. Perhaps not as much as I'd like, but excellent ones to have if one has to have a small sampling.

I do regret not having a Robert Blake show, though. But there is a show with Bonnie Hunt on You Tube, along with the John Lennon and Charles Manson shows, and the complete "Tomorrow" show Tom did on railroads & model trains (from whence his use of the water tower originated), plus a nice tribute video.

As an unreformed night owl, I still find myself in the wee, small hours looking for those "pictures as they fly through the air." But the pictures just aren't as colorful, now matter how many colortinis, without Tom to share that nightcap, hearing his hearty laugh as he relayed stories about his weekend & a life that, save for dog "Oliver," was balanced "on a tiny little bubble of estrogen," centered as it was around "the companion," a daughter and visits at "the home" with "Mother Snyder."

Now the only place on TV to view that pitch-dark backdrop is in a "Rose" garden at PBS, but when compared with a comfortable visit to squarely-hip, old "Uncle Tom's" pad, all this tuner may say is "Sorry Charlie."

FastRBud said...

Watching Tom Snyder perform was an amazing experience. As his Tomorrow Show came on so late, I was forever trying to convince myself I needed to turn off the program. There was something about his style that was more than a character. He was real. He was a genuine person that dressed and acted like a mesmerizing ecentric uncle. Like another entry proclaimed, I loved his interveiw with Sterling Hayden. THAT was a classic that I would buy on DVD. This guy was special.