If I have to listen to one more famous person talk about fame, I'll scream.
"And now NBC presents 'Tom Snyder's Celebrity Spotlight.'"
Barry Manilow discusses his success. Gary Coleman contemplates his success. Clint Eastwood assays his success. And Bo Derek struggles with her success. Tom Snyder, not exactly overdoing on success himself, has made his first prime-time interview special -- tonight at 10 on Channel 4 -- a fatuous and frustrating seminar on famousness.
That Tom Snyder should come to this -- borrowing a Barbara Walters format (and failing to do it as well) and asking follow-up questions better suited to People magazine.
We expect more from Snyder, NBC's towering but often ill-used newsertainer, a man of stature and intelligence and a master communicator's moxie. He looks into TV cameras and they melt into helpless subservience. But "Celebrity Spotlight" doesn't offer much more than the chance to see a titan grovel: Snyder doesn't interview the celebrities so much as enlist in the cause of helping them look good.
Looking good should be their problem. Nothing on the first edition of this new program could give even mild heartburn to the press agents of those interviewed.
Perhaps a key mistake was in putting the Manilow interview at the top of the show -- after a strikingly well done opening tease raises one's expectations unduly. Manilow, a musician of no demonstrable originality or interest, says he views his success as something of a curse and that he "worked his buns off" to get where he is. And he makes such profound and confidential disclosures as, "I've gone through an incredible growth period this past year."
He must have been talking about either his stock portfolio or his ego.
Perhaps Snyder is planning interviews with similar dynamos like David Brenner, John Davidson and Bert Convy for future shows, but he ought to remember that 10 minutes with a nothing may very well produce less than nothing.
Eleven-year-old whiz kid Gary Coleman is a can't miss proposition on the other hand, and the second quarter of the show is considerable livelier. Also, Coleman -- puckishly introduced by Snyder as "the kid who saved NBC" -- shows considerable interest in subjects other than himself. His eyes are as big as the whole world.
Synder asks actor Eastwood about the voilence in his films but lets Eastwood off with a simple stock answer, with no follow-through about what the social and psychological effects of that voilence might be on audiences. Eastwood does have opinions about these things, but Snyder appears oddly wary of provoking anything other than the polite smiles of idle chitchat.
Bo Derek, interviewed last, is visually of course the no-contest winner of the hour, and Synder does a better job with her than with the male celebrities. He ticks off alleged rumors about her, and the third of them is that she's "pretty but not very bright."
Derek looks suddenly undone, lowers her eyes, and says in a sweet small voice: "Really? I haven't heard that." And though Snyder may look momentarily the heel for having been so bold, at least he has brought out an unguarded; unexpected response.
Television fills our lives with hours and yours of useless information, and one more hour of it isn't going to short-circuit our synapses or lower the nation's morals. But we deserve a better grade of useless information than this speical offers up, and Tom Synder deserves a more decorous platform for even this lowliest of his pursuits.
The man who has said he is a stranger to failure seems curiously determined to make its acquanintance.