Jul 30, 2007

Thanks For Catching Our Pictures As We Fly Them Through the Air... Remembering Tom Snyder



I was too young to have caught Tom Snyder's reign on "The Tomorrow Show" from 1975 to 1981, when this legendary late night program aired right after Johnny Carson. Instead, my exposure came with "The Late Late Show With Tom Snyder", which followed David Letterman from 1995 to 1999. The culture of late-night television had changed dramatically a few years prior. The institution of the late-night movie show had been given over to those rotten infomercials, and Johnny Carson had retired. Late-night TV had for me been just as comforting as a warm blanket, and as meaningful as a chat with a close friend. And in the mid-1990's with infomercials having replaced Barry Lillis, and Carson's legacy overthrown by bombast and stupidity, it was a breath of fresh air to see Tom Snyder back on the air, with a program considerably scaled down from the competition. No bullshit, no bombast, and no one came on to plug a movie or a record. Imagine this, people came on Snyder's show just to talk.



Although it was only last year, when they issued a Punk-New Wave DVD collection of "The Tomorrow Show", that I had a chance to see that program and learn for myself, that the "Late Late Show" had adopted some of its low-key, intimate nature from Snyder's earlier show, I had at the time compared its minimalist feel to that of Whoopi Goldberg's short-lived (and much underrated) late-night talk show. For the most part, the art direction consisted of Tom Snyder in medium-close in front of a city backdrop (or his guest in roughly the same framing), and the most extravagant it got was during the opening credits, with a pan shot of a generic city building, scored by a David Sanborn sax solo. So informal was the show, that one often heard the offscreen laughter of the camera crew-- just another thing to endear us more, to make this setting all the more human.

Usually, "The Late Late Show" would open with Tom Snyder relating some colourful anecdote to the camera, to us, as if he was telling a story to an old friend, often correlating a personal experience to something topical. And before he brought tonight's guest on, he would go to a commercial break with the trademark phrase, "Thanks for catching our pictures as we fly them through the air."

Whether Snyder was interviewing Quentin Tarantino, George Segal or an author no one had heard of, it was always interesting to see- that's how much of a class act he was. Everyone was on a level playing field- and summarily, everyone on the show felt like an old friend. And of course, the show was often permeated with Snyder's trademark hearty laugh. Perhaps my favourite "Tom Snyder story" was how after 35 years of being in one scene of a "Bonanza" TV episode, the powers that be had finally tracked him down to give him his long-overdue royalty cheque. The sum? Eighty-nine dollars and forty-two cents. (Ironically it cost them more to show the Tom Snyder "Bonanza" clip than what Snyder earned from it).

In 1998, I was cleaning out my mother's house, as I had put it up for sale. Now, the irony lover in me hadn't noticed at the time, but somehow it was fitting that as I had Snyder's show on the TV while I was up late packing, and on this particular night was when he was announcing his retirement. "I'm not mad at anyone, I just have more to look back on than to look forward to, and I need to spend time with my dog Oliver." Nine years later, I see the symmetry, as closing down the house reminded me of all those times spent late at night in front of the tube, seeking surrogate companions much like I was still doing that summer. And for the rest of the summer of 1998, when I was freelance (AKA- mostly unemployed), and often stayed up writing, Tom Snyder was still that intimate night light for that time. In other words, when I was closing down a chapter of my youth, that ideal surrogate late-night companionship that was important to a lot of my lonely years, was also coming to an end.

And then when he retired, he maintained a website www.colortini.com, which almost weekly was updated with his reflections on current events, peppered with his inimitable style and personal anecdotes. The site was suddenly yanked from Cyberspace in 2005 when Tom Snyder learned he had leukemia. His passing last week is a tragedy, not just for his legacy, but for the loss of the great human being he was.

Tom Snyder was indeed the last of the broadcasting giants, who unlike 99% of the airwaves today, instead shot for the highest common denominator in content, trusting the intellect and good taste of the viewer. Now, we must contend with talk shows snivelling towards the lowest SAT score in the bunch, where cheap sensationalism, superficial press junket soundbytes and tabloid talk pass for journalism. If CBS had a heart or a brain, they would realize the worth of this television institution, and re-release some of his shows as an education of how the talk-show format could really be intelligent. Before Tom Snyder signed off in 1999, I thankfully made a six-hour VHS tape of episodes from his show. I'll be watching and remembering... he was a true friend.

1 comment:

BARRY SMIGHT said...

Excellent writeup. I was never for 'late-night talkshows' but when I see Carson, for instance, I'm reminded how times have changed... into the garbage can. "What a difference!" is my line when I see something like (archived)Carson, or Brian Linehan, or Snyder...