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Talk-show pioneer Snyder dies at 71

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tom Snyder, who pioneered the late-late network TV talk show with a personal yet abrasive style, robust laugh and trademark cloud of cigarette smoke billowing around his head, has died from complications associated with leukemia. He was 71.

Mr. Snyder died Sunday in San Francisco, his longtime producer and friend Mike Horowicz said yesterday. "Tom was a fighter," Mr. Horowicz said. "I know he had tried many different treatments."

Prickly and ego-driven, Mr. Snyder conducted numerous memorable interviews as host of NBC's "Tomorrow" show, which followed Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" from 1973 to 1982.

Mr. Snyder's style, his show's set and the show itself marked an abrupt change at 1 a.m. from Mr. Carson's program. Mr. Snyder might joke with the crew in the sparsely appointed studio, but he was more likely to joust with guests such as the irascible science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

Mr. Snyder had John Lennon's final televised interview (April 1975) and U2's first U.S. television appearance in June 1981. One of his most riveting interviews was with Charles Manson, who went from a calm demeanor to acting like a wild-eyed, insanity-spouting mass murderer and back again.

Another wacky moment came when Plasmatics lead singer Wendy O. Williams blew up a TV in the studio; in another appearance, she demolished a car. Yet another time, Johnny Rotten decided he really wasn't in the mood to be on a talk show, leading to an excruciating 12 minutes of airtime.

In 1982, the show was canceled after a messy attempt to reformat it into a talk-variety show called "Tomorrow Coast to Coast." It added a live audience and co-hostess Rona Barrett — all of which Mr. Snyder disdained. The time slot was taken over by a hot young comedian named David Letterman.

Born in Milwaukee, Mr. Snyder began his career as a radio reporter in his hometown in the 1960s, then moved into local television news, anchoring newscasts in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles before moving to late night.

Al Primo, a former TV news director who gave Mr. Snyder one of his first TV jobs, said Mr. Snyder was the "ultimate communicator," able to look directly into a camera and tell viewers a story without looking at notes.

As an interviewer, Mr. Snyder "always used to tell me, I listen to what they're saying and I ask the questions that the average guy would want to ask, not a formulated question," Mr. Primo said.