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July 30, 2007

Late Night Innovator Tom Snyder Dies at 71

Endured battle with leukemia from 2005


San Francisco,CA — Tom Snyder, the veteran broadcast journalist and newsman who made an indelible mark on the late-late night TV talk show with a loose, sometimes confrontational style punctuated by a hearty laugh, died Sunday in San Francisco. Snyder, who had been battling complications of leukemia since 2005, was 71.

Unconventional Host Makes
Art of Digression

Best known for his nine years as host of NBC's The Tomorrow Show, which aired at 1:00 a.m. following Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Snyder earned his reputation as an interviewer whose unconventional approach to the process was a refreshing alternative to the standard approach seen on so many other programs.

With the smoke from his ever-present cigarette swirling overhead and a tendency to lean forward in his chair when engaged in discussion, Snyder could lend a somewhat theatrical element to his interviews that only heightened their appeal to many viewers.

His unique approach often resulted in digressive discussions more akin to conversations, with all of their unexpected twists and turns, than a traditional TV interview.

He had an equally left-of-center catch phrase: “Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.”

Charles Manson on Murder, Elton John
on His Sexuality and More

Perhaps his most notorious interview was a rambling San Quentin colloquy with Charles Manson, but many of Snyder’s most memorable guests were musicians—among them the last television interview with John Lennon, and the first American television interview with U2.

He also engaged in a frank discussion with Elton John about the singer’s sexuality and an antagonistic back-and-forth with former Sex Pistols singer John Lydon, a.k.a Johnny Rotten. Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics exploded a television on set during one appearance, and demolished an automobile during another.

Snyder also spoke memorably with the members of Kiss (in full makeup and stage regalia), the Clash, the Grateful Dead and many others.

During his Tomorrow heyday, Snyder gained additional fame when Dan Aykroyd spoofed him on Saturday Night Live. Aykroyd’s comical send-up of Snyder included the cigarette and airy laugh, as well as a parody of Snyder’s loose conversational style and clipped speech patterns.

Road to Late Night TV Begins in Radio

Snyder was born May 12, 1936 in Milwaukee, where attended Marquette University and eventually began his career as a radio reporter in the 1960s. He later moved into local television news, and anchored newscasts in Philadelphia and Los Angeles before moving to a national platform in late night.

His lengthy tenure in the Los Angeles market included several years with the Channel 5 News on KTLA, as well as KNBC’s NewsCenter 4 and The Sunday Show, followed by Eyewitness News on KABC.

During his Tomorrow run, Snyder also appeared on the NBC Nightly News, Sunday Edition and the network’s Primetime Sunday.

Tomorrow was canceled in 1982 following an attempt to transform it into a talk-variety show called Tomorrow Coast to Coast. The producers added a live audience and West Coast host, Rona Barrett, but the format adjustment did not appeal to audiences—or to Snyder, who resisted it.

When Tomorrow left the air it was replaced by David Letterman’s talk show. Letterman, a longtime admirer of Snyder, often featured Snyder as a guest. He returned to local anchoring in New York and hosted an ABC radio talk show before returning to television on CNBC.

Letterman Brings Synder Back
to Late Night

After Letterman moved from NBC to CBS, he brought Snyder back to network television when he created The Late Late Show to follow his own program.

Snyder hosted the show from 1995 to 1999. Since then, the format and hosts have changed, with Craig Kilborn succeeding Snyder, followed current host Craig Ferguson.

In 2005 Snyder announced on his website, colortini.com, that he had contracted chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Later that year he shuttered the website, stating that the novelty of communicating online had worn off. He later sold his longtime Los Angeles home and moved to northern California, where he had another property.

Snyder is survived by his daughter, two grandchildren and a longtime girlfriend.

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