Monday, July 30, 2007

The Last Colortini

I have to mention the late Tom Snyder tonight. Snyder, who died yesterday of leukemia at the age of 71, was a truly great broadcasting personality, first as a local news anchor in markets like Savannah, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, but most notably as host of NBC's TOMORROW, a scintillating talk show that followed Johnny Carson's TONIGHT SHOW at 12:30am Eastern.

I was quite young when TOMORROW was on the air, and knew him mostly from Dan Aykroyd's spot-on parody of him on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (an impersonation that Snyder despised, by the way). However, I grew to appreciate Snyder when he broadcast a nightly talk show on radio during the early '90s, and then as the host of intelligent talk shows on CNBC and then CBS, where his LATE LATE SHOW was created to follow David Letterman (Craig Ferguson hosts it now, as it has become interchangeable with every other damn late-night show). One of the most human television personalities of his era, Snyder was unpredictable, emotional, sometimes acerbic, good-humored, smart, confrontational. TV misses him and so do we.

If you do a YouTube search, you'll find a lot of interesting stuff, including full shows with cast members of STAR TREK and THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. A search for "NBC News" or something similar will bring up some old NBC News Updates: 60-second casts that ran during prime time (although one of my favorites featuring Snyder I now notice has been removed by YouTube). Also, a portion of Snyder's electrifying interview with Howard Stern, done when Snyder subbed for Bob Costas on NBC's LATER, is there.

Several of Snyder's TOMORROW interviews with punk rockers like Wendy O. Williams and John Lydon are now available on DVD. Hopefully, more TOMORROW episodes will see the light of day once again, as they have never been rebroadcast or released on home video to the best of my knowledge, nor have any LATE LATE SHOWs. I certainly have great memories of recording the latter show during my time as an overnight radio disc jockey, then coming home early in the morning and watching T.S. before going to bed. It was a true "talk" show, in which guests would come on, often with nothing to plug, but just to be entertaining. I remember Ned Beatty and Snyder, flustered like old guys, trying to figure out why PULP FICTION was so popular. Raconteurs like James Woods and Malcolm McDowell would tell marvelously candid Hollywood stories (McDowell's raucous tales of working with Sir John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole in the "porno movie" CALIGULA are immortal). Alec Baldwin once acted out a marvelously funny story about playing baseball as a kid. Newt Gingrich's parents came on after calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" on TV and were fascinatingly boring. Old stars that nobody in Hollywood gave a damn about, like Robert Blake and Orson Bean, would come on and be entertaining. It was great stuff...and it was only the second best network TV series that Snyder ever did.

Here's a TOMORROW highlight reel hosted by Conan O'Brien that should give you some idea of what Snyder was like:

On the movie front, it's interesting the way some films come and go and are quickly forgotten. CONTINENTAL DIVIDE was written by Lawrence Kasdan, executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Michael Apted, stars John Belushi, and you probably never heard of it. It was likely a bold attempt by Belushi to play "not John Belushi" as a follow-up to 1941 and THE BLUES BROTHERS. It's a meandering romantic comedy in which Belushi plays a man-about-town Chicago newspaperman (think Mike Royko) who pursues a human-interest story about an ornithologist (Blair Brown, a good actress who never again got a feature role this big) living alone away from civilization in a cabin in the Rockies. The concept of pudgy, chain-smoking Belushi mountain-climbing is a good one, feeding the standard romcom formula of a mismatched couple with nothing in common that end up falling in love. Kasdan, who had written RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and whose directorial debut, BODY HEAT, also came out in 1981, adds a distracting subplot about Belushi using his column to bring down a corrupt Chicago alderman (Val Avery) that ends up not really going anywhere and could have used another polish. Aside from the presence of Belushi, who, after all, only really appeared in a mere seven films, CONTINENTAL DIVIDE is indeed forgettable. But Belushi is in it, and he is charming. It's hard to believe that, only a few months after CONTINENTAL DIVIDE was in theaters, Belushi was dead.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

Nice tribute to Tom...I have been putting a few on as well. I really loved the guy and had actually just been thinking about him over the weekend hoping he was doing okay.
I wish I would have had taped his "Late Late Show" in the nineties...some of my best memories from that period are staying up late with it...he will be missed.

Anonymous said...

I remember watching the Robert Blake interview. It was way more interesting than I thought it would've been. It also clued me in to just how old Blake was. The story I remember most from the interview was about him sitting in one of the film studio cafeterias with, I think, Spencer Tracy. Blake said Tracy told him he had a shot with any actress in the place because, basically, they were the only straight guys at the studio.