It was the best of Toms, it was the worst of Toms. It was the end, it was the beginning. It was breakfast, it was dinner. It was six of one, it was half a dozen of the other.
Things will never be exactly the same as they were 30 seconds ago, and we will all survive the departures of Tom Brokaw from the "Today" show and Tom Snyder from the "Tomorrow" show. But you had to get a little lumpy when they each said their farewells on NBC last week within a few hours of each other.
There was Snyder, riding his last herd over the lobster shift, his hair grayer and his chin wearing a bit more blubber than when he began 8 1/2 years ago, but as always, a comet, something to behold with awe and fear. And there was Brokaw, the lethal tot, still sporting a face of purest baby and baritoning his bye-byes to Jane and Willard and Gene and us, with whom he has spent 5 1/2 years of morning glory.
Not similar, not of the same stripe, not even employed by the same division at NBC (Brokaw is an NBC News man), Tom and Tom both bat in the same league. They are broadcasters. Snyder in particular epitomizes the difference between Real Broadcasting and mere television. It has to do with a way of thinking, and of knowing when not to think; it's a blind faith in the belief that communicating actually accomplishes something, and it might.
And if the world were to be divided between the boring and the never boring, there is no question that Snyder would be among the latter. And probably Brokaw, too.
"Good luck in the new work schedule," President Reagan said Friday to Brokaw during Brokaw's last hour as host of "Today." From the Ellipse, weatherman and philosopher-poet Willard Scott had led a serenade to the departing Brokaw by the University of Maryland chorus, to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas": "You're leaving 'Today,' and we've got the blues, but we'll see you nightly on NBC News."
In March, Brokaw becomes co-anchor, with Roger Mudd, of "NBC Nightly News." "Godspeed to Brokaw, one great guy," said Willard, who credited Brokaw with helping him join the "Today" show and said, "I expect to get on 'Nightly News' in about six months." Willard was in town to help light the national Christmas tree but of course in reality, Willard is the national Christmas tree.
While he was delivering his au revoir, Brokaw was interrupted on-camera by friend and skiing buddy Robert Redford (a famous actor) who joked, "Tom, Rona couldn't be here, so . . ." -- a reference to "Today" show gossip Rona Barrett, one of the show-bizzy things about the program that a newsy type like Brokaw is duty bound to deplore. Quietly, of course.
"Tab Hunter, ladies and gentlemen, making his first appearance on the 'Today' program," said Brokaw as Redford exited stage right. But Jane Pauley had the funniest line -- a reference to the unsuccessful attempts of a certain network news president to lure Brokaw away from NBC: "I'd like to say that, as bad as I do feel, I'm glad at least to know that Roone Arledge feels worse." Ho-ho!
The mood was not as festive much earlier that morning -- so early it was almost still Thursday -- when Tom Snyder signed off the "Tomorrow" show after, by his own estimate, 1,700 appearances. Snyder was never the glass of warm milk one might expect a late-night TV confidante to be, and his program was never, ever dull -- infuriating maybe, but it kept you at attention. There has not been quite so magnificent and exasperating a creature of television since, perhaps, Jack Paar, who nearly 20 years ago whispered his own "goodbye" as host of the "Tonight" show.
NBC took out full-page newspaper ads that day that said, "Hail, and farewell!" There were no hail-and-farewell ads for Snyder. NBC management had ruined his program, driven much of its audience away and infuriated Snyder, but he was playing it cool on the way out, even when guest Chevy Chase grumbled on the air about how "dumb" NBC was. Actually, Fred Silverman was the dumb one; he added Rona Barrett to Snyder's show (a disaster) and brought in rock stars and a studio audience, which shattered the splendid intimate rapport Snyder had built up with the proverbial folks at home.
The morning after the broadcast, Snyder said from his office in New York that he is not bitter at NBC, but also strongly suggested his contract, which has a year to go, may be renegotiated to permit him to go to another network. He said he would like to try "something a little quieter . . . something that doesn't go on the air every single day." He didn't suggest what that might be.
Of past skirmishes: "Fred Silverman forgot the first law of television, which is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I was never comfortable with all the ----ing glitz and bumpers and the rock stars and the studio audience, but Fred said let's try it and I did it and I finished it and -- I killed it! Hahahahahahaha!"
And Ms. Barrett: "Poor Rona. I mean it. Poor Rona."
Poor Tom? No. "I feel great today. I feel like I finished my novel. Hey, I'm not bitter. I've got too many friends here. We did 8 1/2 years almost -- with the exception of 'Today' and 'Tonight,' that's longer than almost anybody at NBC. I'm declaring victory! I really think now is the time. Television is changing; something is going on that is not making me very comfortable in television. When I hear them say now that they're going to 'fix' the 'CBS Morning News,' I get very nervous."
At least Snyder let his guests, most of them anyway (even Charles Manson, for which Snyder took critical brickbats and got his highest rating ever), have their says. "We're the last ones to give 'em time," he said. "Everything from now on is gonna be six minutes, and out the door."
There is another law of television that ought to be brought to the attention of those who thought Tom Snyder was just a loud and obnoxious ham: Whatever comes next will be MUCH MUCH WORSE. And will probably not have Snyder's affection for, and gift for, scintillating hurly-burly. On the air, Snyder said to his viewers, "I thank you for the good times and for the ride, and I'll be right around the corner." Then, to his director, George Paul: "George, a slow fade to black. Thank you all for watching and, good night, everybody."
On the air, Brokaw said to his viewers, "More than any other news program of which I'm aware, there's a personal bond between here and out there, and I have learned from all of you as well."
Not an occasion for unkempt sentiment, perhaps? No, but when these fixtures leave, when they disassemble and their roles in the daily rituals of broadcasting are assumed by others, it is a little like parting with a friend or even, maybe, a member of the electronically extended family. On the last episode of "Mary Tyler Moore," Mary Richards said to her co-workers, "After all, what is a family, but people who help you feel . . . a little less . . . alone?"
And that, after all, is why we have television.