SOME PEOPLE think Tom Snyder is the wave of the future. They are wrong. He is the wave of the present. There are those in television news who think he represents all the worst tendencies in broadcast journalism, they soon will get a chance to see if they are right about that. Tom Snyder is moving into the big time - the prime time - and an entire program has been dumped to make way for him.
Last week Tom Snyder, 42, and his hot-shot Hollywood agent, the mildly legendary Ed "The Hook" Hookstratten, got NBC where they wanted it. Snyder, who since 1973 has presided over the wee - small - audience, late - night "Tomorrow" talk show on the network, will move in June to a new Sunday night showcase for himself.
In addition, he will do three "celebrity - interview" specials for the entertainment division of NBC and will continue to host "Tomorrow." It's considered a given within the industry that for this he will be paid a Baba - Wawasian $1 million a year.
"I dropped out for two years and did some soul searching and I didn't like what I found," Snyder joked on the air the other night. In fact for two years he has declined interviews and been in a perpetual state of negotiation with NBC. He was once offered the "Weekend" show and refused it; now "Weekend" has been killed to make way for him. NBC President Fred Silverman denies, however, that the decision to give Snyder his own weekly hour was made as the result of a "use - him - or - lose - him" ultimatum.
"It is based on our belief that he will be very effective," Silverman says. "What he needs now is major national exposure for a period of time."
From Los Angeles, Snyder discusses in his trademark rat-tat-tat-and in virtually uninterruptable meandering sentences-this great big wonderful career of his and how NBC managed to keep him even while ABC was allegedly trying to lure him away.
"Certainly I have been approached by other people and certainly I have had conversations, but throughout this whole negotiating period with NBC, it was my desire if it was at all possible to stay there for a very simple reason: I've been there for almost 10 years and I know the people there who are involved-not so much the new executive echelon but the people that I have to deal with, the producers, the crews, the technicians, the secretaries, the production people, and so it makes my life a lot easier to stay here," Snyder says.
Whew! How that man can talk! And how he can expand a tiny thought to fill a great deal of time! Tom Snyder is perfection in a very television sort of way; he is an evangelist with a gospel according to no one but himself. He is bright-eyed and bushy eyebrowed; it's been said he has the most commanding eyebrows in the history of TV. Those eyebrows could launch 1,000 ships.
What nobody can take away from him, whether they laughingly call him "a tap dancer," as one prominient CBS News executive does, of "Tom Terrific," as he is known in other broadcasting circles, is that he is terrific . He is mesmerizing. He acts as if he were born on camera and never left. Sitting still and looking into the lens as confidingly as if he were on grandma's lap itself, Snyder is dervish, a dynamo, a midnight commando. He's the Mork of television news.
The question remains, though, is he of television news?" He started young in the TV news biz, at a station in his native Milwaukee, and then he bounced on as anchorman at KNBC-TV, the NBC-owned station in the huge Los Angeles market, in 1970, his scintillating and intimidating style won the news show top ratings. He repeated the feat when he moved to New York and that city's NBC-owned station. Nothing speaks louder than ratings in television, except profits, which depend on ratings. Tom Snyder did not make ratings by being Edward R. Murrow or Walter Lippmann or by breaking the Watergate story. He did it with zingy presence and jazzy pizzazz.
Tom Snyder thinks of himself as a newsman, but he brings out the tap shoes to justify his double-life as a showman.
"I have trouble with people who think there is something mortally sinful in working on programs that are produced by a television network rather than its news division," Snyder says. "I mean, good God Almighty! Walter Cronkite has no trouble cohosting with Mary Tyler Moore the 50th Anniversary of CBS, and Ton Snyder has no trouble doing the "Tomorrow" show and then doing a news program.
"The people who seem to have trouble with that are the people who don't do that, who work in television and confine themselves intellectually and k in television and confine themselves intellctually and ust think that the viewers of America, especially the viewers of New York and Los Angeles, have had no trouble identifying Tom Snyder as a person who appears on television and on the one hand reports news, or reads news, whichever phrase you like, at 6 o'clock, and then the morning. A lot of times, this attitude that if one works outside of the news division, one is less than pure, is generated only by people who have never worked outside of the news division and in some cases, lack the talent to work outside of the news division."
Of course, maybe those narrow-minded no-talents just have the crazy notion in their heads that there should remain in television an indelible line of separation between Morley Safer and Dinah Shore.
Meanwhile, a certified and inordinately awarded journalistic endeavor, "Weekend," has been scuttled to make way for whatever Tom Snyder wants to do. "Weekend" was singular and treasurable for its worldliness and witiness and the way it warded off the cliches they love so dearly on shows like "60 Minutes." Silverman gets a little testy when trying to justify dumping a show he initially praised when he took over NBC.
"It [pause] just [pause] deteriorated," he says. "And there are an awful lot of people who agree with me, starting with [NBC News President] Les Crystal. Quite honestly, this show has been under constant attack. There was a major uproar among our affiliates, and there was dissatisfaction within the news division itself. I think we can do a magazine show that will magnify and illuminate the events of the past week and avoid doing major pieces about pigeon-racing in Brooklyn. There are better, more serious subjects we can devote our time to."
Silverman calls the new Snyderama a magazine show; Snyder does not."It is not to my way of thinking a news magazine," he says. "It will be called that by people of the press, but to those of us who are involved in its preparation now, it is a television program, it's not a magazine."
Naturally there will be a new title. How about, "Tom Snyder Show"?
"I don't think so," Tom Snyder says. But-"I do think that the name Tom Snyder might well be a part of the title. Just as the title 'Bill Moyers' Journal' contains the name Bill Moyers, and one of the most successful television news programs in history was called 'The Huntley-Brinkley Report,' and just as it's called 'The CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite.' I mean, this idea that you put your name in a title and all of a sudden you're an egomaniac! I don't consider Robert MacNeil and Bill Lehrer of PBS to be egomaniacs, but it's called 'The MacNeil-Lehrer Report'."
[It's Jim Lehrer, not Bill, but we get the point].
For sonmeone who has been glimpsed by only a tiny, tiny part of the entire television population, it does seem that a lot of fuss is being made over, and a sizeable fortune being sunk into, Tom Snyder. More people have probably seen Dan Aykroyd's hilarious impersonation of Snyder on the high-rated "Saturday Night-Live" than have seen Snyder himself [Synder claims to adore the impression; "I would absolutely love to be interviewed by Dan Aykroyd doing me on "Saturday Night Live'"].
So why is so much energy and money being invested in Snyder? The main reason is that NBC News, like NBC itself, is in big trouble. Les Crystal is a dull man. Richard Salant, outgoing CBS News president, has been hired to help shape things up. ABC'S WORLD NEWS TONIGHT KEEPS CRAWING CLOSER AND CLOSER TO THENBC Nightly News in ratings, and network executives don't know what to do with the John Chancellor-David Brinkley combo to liven it up.
Tom Snyder is one of the few golden boys in peacock alley. NBC would have been crazy to let ABC get him, and he has a much better chance of standing out at NBC, where there are fewer prima donnas and superstars.
It has been a measure of Snyder's celebrity that his name has leaped from one gossip column to another over the months and years. There was talk of Freddie hating Snyder and Snyder hating Freddie; of Johnny Carson hating Snyder and of Snyder hating Carson. Well look we said it and there you have it and let's just get it out in tne open right now and clear the whole thing up.
"The fact of the matter is that Freddie Silverman and I don't hate each other," says Snyder very straight from the very broad shoulder. "We didn't have a screaming, knockdown, drag-out fight in Chasen's Restaurant last August, we didn't throw food at each other, we haven't had any serious disagreements. We just don't hate each other.
"As a matter of fact, the man who turned this whole thing round last week, if you really want to know? Fred Silverman, who one morning last week picked up the telephone and called here very early in the morning in Los Angeles and said, 'Hey-please stay. Don't go. I want to make this work, and you to make it work. Let's make it work.'
"That certainly doesn't indicate there is any kind of feud going on between Fred Silverman and Tom Snyder.
"Secondly, Johnny Carson. Are we good personal friends? Of course we're not. Johnny Carson operates in the stratosphere that I do not operate in. Do we hate each other? Absolutely not."
Yet in the hyperspace of network television, thse stratospheres keep intermingling; for a long while, the big question about Snyder was whether he would be the next John Chancellor or the next Johnny Carson. Does it say something at least a tiny bit terrifying about television news that such alternatives are considered? Yes. There are those at NBC News who are wondering if they want to be "in a news division that includes Tom Snyder and Phil Donahue," just hired to do pieces for "The Today Show."
Silverman insists that the new Tom Snyder show will be a news show and not a funhouse of the airwaves. "It isn't like we're taking an hour of news division product and replacing it with 'B.J. and The Bear'" he says from New York. "That hour will be in the schedule as long as I'm here. We're going to do another very intelligent news magazine with a lot more substance to the show than there was to the old one."
Both Snyder and Silverman, it should be noted, though critical of "Weekend," have lavish praise for its producer, Reuven Frank, a former president of NBC News. "Probably the most creative person, certainly among the top two or three, in tne entire news division," says Silverman. "A giant in television!" says Snyder, as part of a sentence you don't need to read all of.
One terribly admirable thing about Snyder-and it's easy to be an aficionado, because he's pure TV, for good and ill-is his sense of broadcasting as a business with traditions, not all of them deplorable. Some of his more memorable "Tomorrow" shows, and those most likely to find his bullying impulse in momentary repose, have featured broadcasting pioneers and old-timers, whether from radio of television. Encouragingly, he says of his new program, "We will not be doing '60 Minutes,' but we will in some cases be doing, instead, 'Person to Person,' and we will in some cases be doing not '60 Minutes' but rather 'Wide, Wide World' and 'Omnibus9'
"We're just gonna do a television program, is the only thing I can say to you about it at this time."
And it will be A Television Program starring A Television Personality, that is for sure. If it represents further cross-pollination between news and entertainment on TV, so be it-who can fight it? The immediate future may belong to Tom Snyder. The real future belongs to the Tom Snyder clones who will come after him.
The other night on "Tomorrow, Tom Snyder was talking about the Oscar show. He marvelled at the ovations given oldsters like Oliver, Cary Grant and Ruby Keeler, but he said he personally didn't want to wait so long for his moment in the spotlight, for the glory and the fame and the roar of the crowd. "I want it NOW," Tom Snyder said.
Then he laughed: "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha." Ha ha ha ha ha. CAPTION: Picture 1, What nobody can take away from Tom Snyder, whether they laughingly call him "a tap dancer," as one prominent CBS News executive does, or Tom Terrific," as he is known in other broadcasting circles, is that he is terrific. He is mesmerizing. He acts as if he were born on camera and never left. Sitting still and looking into the lens as confidingly as if he were on grandma's lap itself, Snyder is dervish, a dynamo, a midnight commando. He's like Mork of television news.; Picture 2, no caption, Teleroid by Tom Shales