Remembering Tom Snyder
The onetime host of ''The Late Late Show'' left an indelible mark on broadcasting
Tom Snyder, who died July 29 at age 71 in San Francisco of complications from leukemia, bridged the gap between the pre-ironic talk-show earnestness of Jack Paar and the absurdist wit of Conan O’Brien. As host of NBC’s Tomorrow show (1973-82) and CBS’ The Late Late Show (1995-99), Snyder — trained as a newsman and proudly a ”broadcaster,” a chain-smoker, a martini consumer — preferred to do without a studio audience, creating a unique intimacy with home viewers. Possessed of a booming voice and coarse laugh, he was parodied fondly on Saturday Night Live by Dan Aykroyd, who captured Snyder’s mercurial allure: genial goofiness and a quick temper.
It was a blessed relief to watch a middle-aged man who never tried to act like a cool twentysomething. Producer David Milch (Deadwood, John From Cincinnati), a regular guest during his NYPD Blue days, says, ”He never worked with an agenda; he took a deep pleasure in talking to you — the sign of a happy soul.” Snyder didn’t take any guff, either. When Tom Arnold, of all people, was rude to the host while promoting a lousy short-lived sitcom in 1993, Snyder shut down the interview by saying to the camera, ”Watch his new show or not, I don’t care.”
The 1994 night I interviewed Snyder for EW, he was pulling a cheerful stunt on his CNBC talk show, hosting a chili cookout with some firefighters. Hoping to land the post-Letterman spot, he said, ”Whoever does a show for CBS at 12:30 a.m. should be someone who can do chili cookouts, and interview, you know, Suzanne Somers. But if Jackie Kennedy dies at a quarter to one in the morning, it should also be someone who can do an interview with William Manchester or Edward Kennedy, and convey the gravity of the death of a great person. Maybe it’ll be me, because I’m that kind of broadcaster.”
He really was.