Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Passings: Ingmar Bergman, Tom Snyder

One was a signature cinematic artist of the twentieth century. The other hosted some TV. Guess which one I’m going to talk about.

Far more intelligent people than me have eulogized Bergman’s passing. A thorough overview can be found at GreenCine Daily. More importantly, Bergman’s legacy will last as long as humanity does. You could sit down with any number of his films this evening in the comfort of your own home.

But Tom Snyder’s legacy is already fading. Here’s how I know: I’m completely unfamiliar with what Tom Snyder is most famous for. I never saw a minute of The Tomorrow Show. It was before my time. When I finally caught up with Dan Aykroyd’s send-ups of Snyder years later, I had no idea who he was mocking.

I got to know Snyder from his mid-‘90s CNBC show, which I became weirdly obsessed with. Specifically the opening segment, when Tom would talk about his day. Spending the afternoon with his mother, griping about some ad he’d seen on TV. It was a fleeting moment of humanity on television, the equivalent of chatting with your neighbor over the fence. At times he could be self-involved or overbearing, but so can we all. What came through was Snyder’s desire to use the medium to connect.

He was saddled with a lot of second- and third-tier guests on that show, but evinced a genuine curiosity about them that made the interviews more interesting than whatever was on the late night line-up. He maintained the same standard when he took over the slot after David Letterman.

That show is now ably hosted by Craig Ferguson. After author Ken Bruen’s recent appearance on the program, Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders bemoaned that there was no venue on television for serious conversation with writers. I came to Ferguson’s defense, but Peter’s point is well-taken. A Tom Snyder interview with Ken Bruen would have been something to see.

I did encounter Tom Snyder once before his CNBC stint. He wrote the foreword to An Edge in My Voice, a collection of essays by frequent Tomorrow Show guest Harlan Ellison. It’s a book I read repeatedly in high school and college. Snyder writes:

“For years, I have written for television news programs. I think much of it has been pretty good, but if I set it down right here in front of you, few would remember a word of it. That’s because television news writing disappears rapidly. It comes on, it goes off, and it disappears. It doesn’t lie around gathering shelf dust for years and then one rainy night beckon your curiosity from the booktable ... The good pieces I wrote for television would always be a private satisfaction to me. The dumb ones – the really horrid crap I had dashed out with no thought and less preparation – those were gone and forgotten and nobody would ever know of them and thank God for that.”

There you go. A bit of Tom Snyder’s writing that wasn’t forgotten, at least not by me.

Edward Champion wrote a post about Snyder last week that features several Tomorrow Show clips. Other tributes come from Mark Evanier, Ken Levine, and Ed Gorman. And watch a Bergman film at your convenience.