Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Snyder once helped fill a critic's late nights

Summary: Tom Snyder may not have been the best interviewer in television history or the greatest broadcaster, either, but before David Letterman began filling the late-night hours, Snyder gave semi-insomniacs something to watch.

Here's the deal: I used to stagger home from evening screenings, desperate for a little diversion before bed. As just about everyone who reviews movies knows, it's virtually impossible to arrive home from a multiplex promotional screening, hit the sack and immediately start the z-meter. Hey, you try to sleep after a couple of hours of Pauly Shore or Adam Sandler or the latest brainbuster from Michael Bay.

For a long time, Snyder was just about the only way (short of heavy drinking) to put some distance between a night of movie mayhem and the pillow. Snyder had decent guests, and a distinctive style, which meant he was easy to imitate. Dan Aykroyd did a good Snyder. I guess a lot of comics did.

I'm pretty sure I remember Snyder, who came out of local and then national news, smoking cigarettes on air (an absolute impossibility these days), and he often said things that amused himself -- if not the rest of the world. I read one obituary that said Snyder "chortled." I guess that's right.

Snyder, who had the quintessential '70s anchor man's haircut could get on your nerves, but he seemed to have fun interviewing guests, and when he liked someone, he wasn't afraid to show it. He also never felt the need to impress his audience with his erudition, unlike some Charlie Roses who shall go unnamed here.

These days I'll sometimes watch a little Letterman, who replaced Snyder's "Tomorrow Show" on NBC in 1982. I'll also drop in on Leno occasionally, usually with the enthusiasm I might have for paying an obligatory visit to a distant relative. I might stop for some Charlie Rose, but it depends on the guest. If Rose is doing a movie show, I almost always have to turn the show off within minutes. Too much fawning.

Snyder sometimes expressed his amusement at the ridiculousness of TV. He reportedly wasn't happy when he was asked to do his show in front of an audience, employing guest gossiper Rona Barrett as a regular. The show was pretty tame by today's standards.

Mostly, though, I remember Snyder sitting in an easy chair across from a guest, doing an interview, and not necessarily pumping up someone's latest book, movie or TV show.

Geez. I just realized that this is the third death story in a row.

Snyder died Monday of complications associated with leukemia, and although I hadn't really thought about him in years, news of his passing reminded me that there were nights when I'd arrive home too late to call anyone, too bleary-eyed to read and thankful that Snyder was there to ease the pain.

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