Wednesday, August 01, 2007

6 Feet, 4 Inches of Oracular Jocularity

Lost between the headlines of notable figures passing on this week - Bill Walsh, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni - was the death of Tom Snyder, late night talk show host, who died on Monday of leukemia.

Thanks to David Letterman, Snyder made a late night comeback in the late 1990s. But he will always be best known for hosting Tomorrow, which followed Johnny Carson for nearly a decade beginning in 1973. As a host, Snyder was unlike any of the late-night denizens of this era, in that he was not a comedian, and did not perform in sketches. He talked, having intelligent conversations with a remarkably diverse guest list. He was a bit of a blowhard, a bit full of himself, and was ripe for parody - in fact, he may have been as well known as much for Dan Aykroyd's cutting impersonation on Saturday Night Live as he was for his own body of work. But his show was almost always entertaining, thought provoking, or both.

Two shows stand out in my mind. One, the week before the premiere of Saturday Night Live in 1975, when he hosted a rare Saturday night show with guest Jerry Lewis, followed by the then unknown Not Ready For Prime Time Players. I remember Lewis being remarkably condescending to the youngsters, with Snyder laughing along, neither seeming to realize that they were ushering in a new era in television entertainment - one that would not include them, and in fact would make fun of them.

The second, on a Friday night in June 1981, with guests Charles Manson (interviewed on tape, in prison) and The Clash. Charles Manson and The Clash! It was finals week at Berkeley, and about a dozen of us managed to hold off on the heavy drinking long enough to catch that one.

He could be old fashioned, he could be hip, he probably acted too smart for his own good most of the time. But he deserves, at the very least, a footnote in television history. R.I.P.

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