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Host Is Toast

With Tom Snyder saying yesterday that he wants to leave the “Late Late Show” before his contract expires in September 1999, the question becomes, Who should CBS get to replace him?

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Jon Stewart comes to mind. After all, the one-time talk show host (on MTV and his own syndicated show) had a 1996 deal with David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company, which controls Snyder’s time slot.

But Aaron Barnhart, writer of the independent “Late Show News” online newsletter, says Stewart — whose talents lie more in raucous comedy than in intimate conversations — would be all wrong for the notoriously mature Eye. “CBS would be idiotic to run him against Conan,” says Barnhart. “The network aims at an older demographic, so why would they want to bring on a comedian who appeals to a very young audience, when NBC already has that and has the promotional machine to get young viewers?”

CBS should instead set its sights on a host with the same relaxed, chatty style as the 61-year-old Snyder, Barnhart argues. He recommends such conversationalists as original “Late Night” head writer Merrill Markoe, radio talk show host Dennis Prager, or comedian-turned-director David Steinberg.

Whoever takes Snyder’s throne, the first challenge will be convincing more viewers to “fire up the colortini” (one of his favorite expressions). Snyder’s average Nielsen rating of 1.4 (some 1.37 million viewers) is the same as when he started in January1995. Meanwhile, that carrot-topped NBC upstart has seen his competing show’s Nielsens jump from 2.1 in 1995 to 2.4 (2.4 million viewers) today. “Tom was a throwback, an anachronism,” says Barnhart. “He stood for a kind of television that doesn’t exist anymore. But that type of TV is still viable if the right person comes along.”