|Talk show host Tom Snyder, left, gets ready to interview convicted murderer Charles Manson|
at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville in June 1981. © AP
On one fine spring afternoon in 1981, I chanced to sit in on a live audience taping of Tom Snyder's 'Tomorrow' show at the NBC studios in New York City during the year I was there schlepping as a photographer's assistant, and Tom's guests were none other than Ted Turner who spoke about his vision and hopes for CNN, the author Alexandra Penney, and the fusion jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr.
It was the time when his late night interview program immediately followed Johnny Carson's Tonight show with Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen's band, and the cool adult 'sedateness' of the classic moments of the personalities Tom interviewed like Charles Manson, Harlan Ellison, the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten and Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics were outright and simply the stuff of broadcast legend. It was the time before the rise and heyday of Letterman and Leno, before Larry King made talk TV a primetime staple, and where all any viewer would be interested in was the interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee. Tom went at his guests on a straight one-on-one basis, and you had the distinct feeling and mood that you were in some big city hotel lounge as he would strike up a tasty, soft-spoken conversation that only you were privy to with him and the guest. Such was the intimate, private aura of the late night talk shows of mid-70s and early 80s television before twenty-four hour cable and bigtime celebrities and the notorieties they carried along with them on camera began to consume broadcast media itself.
Lorne Michaels' Saturday Night Live on NBC had also long immortalized Tom's interview style, thanks to Dan Aykroyd.
It was an era I have often and will continue to miss (how could an incredulous Paris Hilton interview on Larry King Live today even dare compare) and now with the passing of Tom Snyder, an absence that speaks as loudly as the personas of Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Dick Cavett and all who had gone before. It was the common but bullseyed questions he asked of his guests in this dark, late-night cavernous background setting at 30 Rock which endeared many like me to stay up that extra hour on weeknights.
The talk show and the art of conversation in broadcasting has not been and never will be like that of the man from Tomorrow.