The Tomorrow Show
John Lennon talks with Tom Snyder in April 1975
|Also known as||The Tomorrow Show|
Tomorrow with Tom Snyder
Tomorrow Coast to Coast
|Presented by||Tom Snyder (1973–1981)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Production location(s)||Burbank (1973–1974, 1977–1979)|
New York City (1974–1977, 1979–1982)
|Running time||60 minutes|
(October 15, 1973–September 5, 1980)
(September 8, 1980–January 28, 1982)
|Original release||October 15, 1973 –|
December 17, 1981 (reruns continued until January 28, 1982)
|Followed by||Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993)|
NBC News Overnight(1982–1983)
|Related shows||The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder (CBS; 1995–1999)|
The Tomorrow Show (also known as Tomorrow and, after 1980, Tomorrow Coast to Coast) was an American late-night television talk show hosted by Tom Snyder. The show aired on NBC from 1973 to 1982 and featured many prominent guests, including John Lennon (in his last televised interview), Paul McCartney, "Weird Al" Yankovic (in his first televised appearance), Ayn Rand, Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, Public Image Ltd, Ken Kesey, Charles Manson, The Clash, KISS, Ramones, and U2 (in their first American television appearance). Los Angeles news anchor Kelly Lange, a good friend of Snyder, was the regular substitute guest host.
History and format overview
In fall 1973 NBC's decision to launch a nightly program after the Tonight Show was prompted by the 1970 Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act which banned tobacco advertising on television, resulting in a loss of revenue for the network. The thinking was that extending the broadcast day by one hour could help recover some of that income. NBC had begun programming the 1:00 a.m. time slot on early Saturdays (late Fridays) with The Midnight Special, which began regular airings (initially brokered) eight months before Tomorrow launched; the success of The Midnight Special was a likely factor in expanding programming in the time slot to five days a week.
Established as more of an intimate talk show, Tomorrow differed from Tonight and later late-night fare, with host Tom Snyder conducting one-on-one interviews sans audience, cigarette in hand, alternating between asking hard-hitting questions and offering personal observations that made the interview closer to a genuine conversation. Making the show work financially became a challenge for NBC due to extremely low prices for commercial spots that a program at 1 a.m. could command. Since, according to Snyder, a 30-second spot on the show brought in only US$3,000, the network's primary concern initially was cutting production and distribution costs. As satellite transmission was only used for rare special events at the time (the seminal Aloha from Hawaii had just unveiled the technology earlier in 1973), the show was sent from coast to coast over the terrestrial microwave facilities (also used for long-distance telephone calls as well as broadcast video & audio at the time) of AT&T Long Lines and it reportedly took NBC the entire first year of Tomorrow broadcasting before they succeeded in getting lower usage tariffs from AT&T.
Unique and often revealing one-on-one exchanges were the program's staple. As Johnny Carson had mostly abandoned the highbrow, intellectual guests that were common on The Tonight Show in its early years (especially during Jack Paar's hosting run), and during the show's run from New York, many of those types of guests ended up on Tomorrow. Notable interviews included those with author Harlan Ellison, actor and writer Sterling Hayden and novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. A one-on-one program with David Brenner as the sole guest revealed that Snyder and Brenner worked together on several documentaries. In a 1979 interview the author and activist James Baldwin explained why he first left the country to live in Europe.
The John Lennon interview
On 28 April 1975, Tomorrow aired what eventually became its most talked about and enduring moment: John Lennon appeared in what would turn out to be his final televised interview. Since at the time Lennon faced deportation proceedings from America over his 1968 misdemeanor conviction for cannabis possession in London, after the first part of the interview during which Snyder covered the regular topics, Lennon's legal representative - immigration attorney Leon Wildes - joined Lennon on the panel to discuss the details of the case, as the famous musician directed his message at the American public in an appeal of sorts to be allowed to remain in the United States.
Following Lennon's murder on 8 December 1980, the interview was replayed in its entirety the next night on Tomorrow, and soon even released on home video where it became a cult favorite. Introducing the five-year-old interview about to be replayed, Snyder referred to it as "not terrific, not terribly entertaining or enlightening, containing no historical information or anything new, but having little bits of stuff and substance of a man who was part of change, a revolution if you will, in popular music during the 1960s". Asked about the Lennon interview years later, Snyder reiterated that it was not a great one in his view and that it would have long since lapsed into obscurity had Lennon not been shot.
Saturday Night Live and Dan Aykroyd's impersonation of Snyder
NBC occasionally used Tomorrow to plug various holes in its late-night schedule. Snyder did a special Saturday show with Jerry Lewis as the only guest on 4 October 1975 because a new program meant to premiere that evening was not ready to launch. Lewis was interviewed for one hour and fifteen minutes, before Snyder brought out the "Not Ready for Primetime Players" (Gilda Radner, Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Garrett Morris, and John Belushi) for the last fifteen minutes of the show so that the national audience could meet the debut cast of the network's new sketch series Saturday Night (the Live would not be appended to the title until 1977).
When not grilling guests, Snyder would often joke around with off-stage crewmen, often breaking out in the distinctively hearty laugh that was the basis of Dan Aykroyd's impersonation of Snyder on Saturday Night Live, which the comedian first did in April 1976. Snyder's seemingly mismatched jet black eyebrows and grey hair were also lampooned on SNL. Being the subject of SNL satire greatly raised Snyder's profile; many viewers knew the impression before knowing the man's own work. (After Aykroyd's departure in 1979, Joe Piscopo took over the Snyder impersonation.) Snyder was, as well, the inspiration for the cartoon "Tom Morrow", which appeared in Playboy in the late 1970s.
Snyder would let his flamboyant side take over from time to time such as a 1978 show when he had on one of NBC's West Coast staff announcers, Donald Rickles, one day after interviewing the same-named comedian Don Rickles. During the course of their segment, Snyder and Rickles (the announcer) spent ten minutes playing the then-new electronic board game, Simon.
By the late 1970s, Tomorrow was already in danger of cancellation. Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels was in the process of developing a replacement — ironically named Yesterday — that would have roughly followed the format of SNL’s Weekend Update; it never made it to air.
Tomorrow's guests supplied the program with plenty of bizarre moments such as an August 1979 appearance by 24-year-old Chicago shock-jock Steve Dahl who gained a measure of national attention earlier that summer for taking part in the infamous Disco Demolition Night promotion at a White Sox game at Comiskey Park.
The same year on Halloween 1979, perhaps the most outrageous interview seen on Snyder's show occurred when the rock band Kiss appeared to promote their album, Dynasty. During that 25-minute interview, the conversation degenerated into a somewhat chaotic exchange between Snyder and a very drunk Ace Frehley who picked up Snyder's teddy bear, put the wristlets from his costume on the bear, and laughed, "the only Spacebear in captivity! I've got him — he's captured!" When Snyder asked Ace if his costume was that of some sort of spaceman, Frehley quipped, "No, actually I'm a plumber." Snyder shot back, "Well, I've got a piece of pipe backstage I'd like to have you work on." The inebriated Frehley replied "Tell me about it!", and clapped his hands and cackled hysterically at the exchange. Years later, Gene Simmons revealed on his website that he felt "betrayed" by the other band members during this interview. Shortly thereafter, drummer Peter Criss officially left the band and subsequently appeared on the show, making Snyder the first host to have a member of KISS appearing without makeup in public.
Another run-in Snyder had with petulant rock stars occurred on 27 June 1980 in a cigarette smoke-filled appearance of Public Image Ltd.'s John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) and Keith Levene, whose thoroughly uncooperative twelve-minute interview on the show acquired a long-term notoriety. Snyder called it "one dumb moment of television", but TV Guide listed it among the 10 greatest rock and roll moments in the history of television.
The title card on Snyder's show had dovetailed "Tom" and "Tomorrow", by highlighting "Tom" in a different color.
Retooling the format: Tomorrow Coast to Coast
By late summer 1980, as a consequence of Johnny Carson's legal battle with NBC over the terms of his contract that was settled out of court and led to the host finally succeeding in scaling The Tonight Show running time down to an hour (something that he petitioned NBC for years), Tomorrow's starting time was moved half an hour earlier to 12:30 a.m. while its running time expanded to 90 minutes. To fill the extra 30 minutes, NBC decided to turn Tomorrow into a more typical entertainment talk show by taping it in front of a live studio audience, including live musical performances, and announcing the addition of gossip reporter Rona Barrett as co-host. Snyder resented all three changes, repeating his often stated discomfort with doing "big television", instead preferring the intimate setting that allows real conversations as well as sincere and genuine personal moments to take place. He also felt live audiences turn up at TV shows for specific reasons such as winning prizes or getting uproarious laughs, and since Tomorrow provided neither, he thought them entirely unnecessary on his program.
The first episode in the new time slot aired on 8 September 1980 with Snyder interviewing Rona Barrett as guest and announcing her arrival on the show on 27 October 1980. The program alternated between Snyder who was in New York City interviewing general interest guests and Barrett who was in Hollywood, filing entertainment reports. In January 1981, the show's name was changed to Tomorrow Coast to Coast.
The network wanted the show to attract younger viewers and thus started booking younger musical and entertainment acts for interviews followed by performances. These would on occasion cross over into bizarre territory such as a March 1981 appearance by the punk band, the Plasmatics, during which lead singer Wendy O. Williams sledgehammered a TV in the studio. The explosion disrupted a live broadcast of NBC Nightly News with anchorman John Chancellor being produced in a studio two floors above. Snyder himself referred to this occurrence on a May 1981 follow-up appearance in which the Plasmatics blew up a car. "Weird Al" Yankovic's first television appearance was on the 21 April 1981 installment of the show, where he performed "Another One Rides the Bus". A few months later, in June 1981, Irish rock band U2's first American television appearance also took place on Tomorrow Coast to Coast.
In an effort to attract more viewers, NBC turned to spectacle television. On 12 June 1981, Snyder's prison interview with mass murderer Charles Manson aired. Manson was by turns quietly mesmerizing and disturbingly manic, suddenly getting a wild look in his eyes and spouting wild notions at Snyder before temporarily returning to a calm demeanor. Though it brought the show a huge ratings number, Snyder was never comfortable with the interview, feeling that it "established absolutely nothing, other than what was already well known — that Manson is a nutcase".
Behind the scenes, and sometimes even in front of them, Snyder and Barrett never got along and a feud between the two erupted. Barrett would leave the series not long before it ended.
The show lasted for barely over a year in its new format. Among the terms of Carson's agreement to stay with NBC was that he would gain control of the time slot following The Tonight Show. On November 9, 1981, NBC and Carson's production company Carson Productions announced the creation of Late Night with David Letterman, a program set to premiere in early 1982 in the 12:30 a.m. time slot Monday through Thursday. NBC offered Snyder the 1:30 a.m. time slot following Letterman, but he refused and the show was canceled.
The last first-run Tomorrow Coast to Coast show aired on December 17, 1981 with Snyder's old favorite Chevy Chase as the final guest; Chase famously criticized the network during the broadcast for cancelling the show. Chase's segment was followed by one of earlier guest Peter Allen performing his song "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love." Reruns subsequently aired until January 28, 1982. The slot Snyder had been offered had he agreed to continue the show was given to NBC News Overnight in July 1982.
David Letterman and Snyder already had a history together: a 1978 Tomorrow episode hosted by Snyder was almost exclusively devoted to a long interview with up-and-coming new comedy talents Letterman, Billy Crystal and Merrill Markoe. Two years later on September 22, 1980, Letterman (now the host of a morning program on NBC) appeared once more on Tomorrow (now in the new Coast to Coast format).
The two remained on good terms even after Letterman took over Snyder's 12:30 a.m. slot on NBC. Letterman often expressed his admiration for Snyder's style and would occasionally call-in to Snyder's radio show on ABC Radio/NBC Talknet and his television CNBC talk show during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1995, Letterman handpicked Snyder to host a late night talk show following his Late Show on CBS - The Late Late Show, produced by Letterman's Worldwide Pants Incorporated, aired until 1999.
The show was scheduled at 1:00 AM in the Eastern and Pacific time zones (Midnight Central and Mountain time), immediately following The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The program aired only four nights a week, Monday through Thursday, in order to accommodate the weekly shows The Midnight Special (1973–81) and SCTV Network 90 (1981–82) in that time slot on Fridays. It was originally broadcast from the NBC studios in Burbank, California, but relocated to New York in December 1974 when Snyder took on additional anchor duties for NBC News and the network's flagship station, WNBC-TV. In June 1977, the show returned to Burbank until 1979, when Snyder once again began originating from 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
On September 8, 1980, when The Tonight Show was shortened to 60 minutes, Tomorrow was scheduled at 12:30 AM/11:30 PM and lengthened to 90 minutes, a format that lasted until its cancellation 16 months later. NBC affiliates began dropping the show, most notably Group W-owned sister stations KYW-TV in Philadelphia (where Snyder had worked as a popular local news anchor and talk show host earlier) and WBZ-TV in Boston, both of which replaced the program with reruns of Hawaii Five-O.
Awards and nominations
The show was nominated for three Emmy Awards: one in 1976 for Outstanding Achievement in Technical Direction and Electronic Camerawork and two in 1981 for Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement.
Three DVD compilations of footage of The Tomorrow Show have been released by Shout! Factory to date:
The Tomorrow Show – Tom Snyder's Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show
A compilation featuring interviews with 1960s counterculture figures.
The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder – Punk & New Wave
The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder – John, Paul, Tom & Ringo
- Part 1
- Part 2 (Wings)
- Part 3
- Tom Snyder on Later, 1994
- Tomorrow Coast to Coast;9 December 1980
- Snyder on Later with Bob Costas
- Hill, Doug; Weingrad, Jeff (2011). "32". Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. Untreed Reads. ISBN 9781611872187. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
- Snyder vs. Lydon
- Tomorrow;8 September 1980
- Bushkin, Henry. How Johnny Carson Nearly Quit 'Tonight' and Scored TV's Richest Deal Ever. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 4, 2014.