What I wouldn’t give for another Tom Snyder to come along. Somebody with the smarts and articulation and savvy to carry a talk show without all the Hollywood hype. Somebody who just sits down and talks to a guest in a calm, intelligent, informed fashion, without breathlessly rushing forward in an effort to turn everything into a joke.
If you’re too young to remember, Tom Snyder had no fancy set, just some chairs spotlighted in an otherwise blacked-out studio. It was all he needed. Anything else would have been unnecessary. A distraction. The show was about featuring Tom Snyder, not the set or the music or non-stop technical gimmickry or feedback from a live audience. It was not rushed. It was relaxed and thoughtful. And entertaining as well. It was there, on Tom’s “Tomorrow” show that America was introduced to the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” The original cast of SNL.
I didn’t know Tom Snyder well, but I did know him. We both worked for KABC in Los Angeles for a time and I remember “Old Tom’s” theory about why talk shows failed. It was, he said, because the networks settled on a format for a show first and tried to plug a personality into it later. In Synder’s opinion, they should have found the personality first, and then built the show around that person, what the personality needed and wanted to make him or her comfortable. I think he was probably right. I think that’s why Snyder succeeded. And there were others.
For whatever Charlie Rose’s personal faults may have been, he was also a great talker around that big round table on PBS. Dick Cavett, also did a talk show with the conversation and not a lot of hype carrying the show.
Not coincidentally, all three of them knew how to interview by way of actually having a conversation. Unlike most of today’s comedian first and interviewer second personalities, Snyder, Cavett and Rose, actually listened to what their guests said, as opposed to ignoring what they were saying because they needed the time to formulate their next wisecrack, leaving us with a gaggle of personalities all doing the same thing – trying to recreate something Steve Allen created without Steve Allen.
It was Steve’s feeling, that the one and only reason any of the tv talk shows succeeded was because they were on tv with the captive audience television provided. He may have been right.
What we have now feels not so much like an intellectual vacuum as a lack of sophistication on the part of those who manage the tv and cable outlets. It feels like some or maybe all of them, haven’t been around long enough to develop a frame of reference for what’s possible. That keeping it simple, in the fashion of Tom Snyder, might still work. Provided they could find another Tom Snyder and were then willing to get out of the way and let him do his thing, whatever that thing might be.