30 July 2007

A Colortini For Tom (Tom Snyder 1936-2007)

Sad news for longtime late-night TV followers: Tom Snyder, the veteran TV host/interviewer who will likely be immortalized by Dan Aykroyd's "Saturday Night Live" parody, died yesterday of leukemia at the age of 71. His fractured, rambling, and off-the-cuff demeanour infuriated many and charmed others--count me in the latter camp. Snyder was fascinating to watch no matter who was on the show--an hour with him was one part fireside chat, one part curmudgeonly rant, and one-part celebrity shill session (the latter part often the least important of the evening).

I was just old enough to catch Snyder for the first time on the tail end of his "Tomorrow" run on NBC (before he was cancelled to make way for "Late Night With David Letterman"). He'd occassionally throw to Rona Barrett for some Hollywood dish, but mostly, it was all Tom for the hour. Chainsmoking against a dark set, dressed like a high school math teacher, and sporting a flappy comb-over that he was able to maintain for decades, Snyder could be counted on to digress into some marathon account of his "Mother Snyder"s various situations, his favourite LA steakhouse, or the fact that he couldn't get "The Great Escape" on home video, and to laugh heartily at his own frequently perplexing jokes and non sequitors.

Mind you, he could serious and insightful when the mood, or the subject, suited him (he began his career as a journalist in Philadelphia). Witness his still-historic confrontation/interview with Charles Manson, conducted from Manson's cell at over two evenings in 1981 (Manson would profess a desire to become a "welder" upon his release from prison).

Music and movie junkies in an era pre-MTV, pre-Entertainment Tonight, and pre-internet could regularly find the likes of John Lydon, John Lennon, Steven Spielberg, Roger Corman, and Harlan Ellison joining Snyder on his spartan set. "U2" made their U.S. debut on his show. In fact, for many punk/New Wave devotees, Snyder's program--other than Canada's essential "The New Music"--was the only North American broadcast forum that paid any attention to the burgeoning scene at all (Wendy O. Williams' appearance was perfectly parodied on SCTV's "Fishin' Musician").

(Snyder will appear in the upcoming Harlan Ellison documentary "Dreams With Sharp Teeth", currently in production).

So in the words of Mr. Snyder, tonight let's "fire up a colortini, sit back, relax and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air..." and check out these great clips:

Conan O'Brien hosts a terrific overview of Snyder's NBC years (featuring Lydon, Hitchcock, Ali, Bono, Manson). Click here.

Snyder clashes with Lydon circa PIL here.

"The Clash" and Snyder get along here.

Iggy Pop in top form with Snyder here.

Snyder talks with the some of the original "Star Trek" cast and Harlan Ellison rails against Roddenberry and everyone here (Snyder is utterly baffled by the concept of a "Star Trek" convention, and check out James "Scotty" Doohan's funky duds!)

Man, do I miss this show...