Back when I was as kid in New Jersey, the other kids thought you were cool if your parents let you stay up and watch Johnny Carson’s monologue on The Tonight Show. The true test of pre-teen insomnia, though, was if you could stay up late enough to watch Tom Snyder on The Tomorrow Show, without your parents knowing you were up at 1am, of course.
I didn’t watch the show very much, but Snyder always struck me as, well cool, on some level. Especially back in the politically incorrect 70’s when he’d be interviewing someone, cigarette in hand, and smoke all over the place. Later on, I listened to the radio show he had on ABC for awhile and stayed up in law school and watched The Late Late Show on CBS.
Snyder was just different, not your typical reporter, and certainly not your typical television host.
Which is why it was sad to hear that he’d passed away today:
SAN FRANCISCO — Tom Snyder, who pioneered the late-late network TV talk show with a personal yet abrasive style, robust laugh and trademark cloud of cigarette smoke billowing around his head, has died from complications associated with leukemia. He was 71.
Snyder died Sunday in San Francisco, his longtime producer and friend Mike Horowicz told The Associated Press on Monday.
“Tom was a fighter,” Horowicz said. “I know he had tried many different treatments.”
Prickly and ego-driven, Snyder conducted numerous memorable interviews as host of NBC’s “Tomorrow,” which followed Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show from 1973 to ‘82.
Snyder’s style, his show’s set and the show itself marked an abrupt change at 1 a.m. from Carson’s program. Snyder might joke with the crew in the sparsely appointed studio, but he was more likely to joust with guests such as the irascible science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.
Snyder had John Lennon’s final televised interview (April 1975) and U2’s first U.S. television appearance in June 1981.
One of his most riveting interviews was with Charles Manson, who would go from a calm demeanor to acting like a wild-eyed, insanity-spouting mass murderer and back again.
Another wacky moment came when Plasmatics lead singer Wendy O. Williams blew up a TV in the studio; in another appearance she demolished a car. Yet another time, Johnny Rotten decided he really wasn’t in the mood to be on a talk show, leading to an excruciating 12 minutes of airtime.
In 1982, the show was canceled after a messy attempt to reformat it into a talk-variety show called “Tomorrow Coast to Coast.” It added a live audience and co-hostess Rona Barrett _ all of which Snyder disdained.
Snyder and Barrett hated each other, and you would’ve thought that would have made the show entertaining, but it didn’t. They don’t make guys like him anymore.