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HOWARD ROSENBERG

A Tepid 'Tom Snyder' Premieres On Kabc

February 10, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Once upon a time there was Tom.

There was Savannah Tom, and Atlanta Tom, and Philadelphia Tom.

Later, there was Los Angeles Tom--big, booming and blustery, fixing his laser glare on viewers, becoming the feast of the town as anchorman for the 6 p.m. KNBC news and hosting NBC's late-late-night interview show "Tomorrow."

Later, there was New York Tom, anchoring the 6 p.m. WNBC news and continuing to host "Tomorrow" with such Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha ham-and-bam that he was regularly lampooned on "Saturday Night Live."

Later, there was Los Angeles Tom, hosting "Tomorrow" after its return to Burbank and being mentioned as a possible successor to John Chancellor as anchor of the "NBC Nightly News."

Later, there was New York Tom, hosting NBC's weekly "Prime Time" series and continuing to host "Tomorrow" after its return East. The show was renamed "Tomorrow Coast to Coast" after being joined by Rona Barrett, whose bitter rift with New York Tom made big headlines. He fell upon uncharacteristically quiet times after the demise of "Tomorrow Coast to Coast" in 1982, which he followed with an unsatisfactory stint anchoring WABC's 11 p.m. news. So now, once more, there is. . . .

Los Angeles Tom.

"I went to get my teeth cleaned here recently and they wore rubber gloves," said an incredulous Tom Snyder last Monday on the premiere of his 3 p.m. KABC-TV talk/call-in show, appropriately titled "Tom Snyder." The hour's topic was "AIDS Hysteria."

The weekday "Tom Snyder" is KABC's answer to high-flying "Donahue" on KNBC and replaces "Three Three 0," which is said to be "on hiatus" for the month. In light of Snyder's initial scrawny ratings, though, it remains to be seen just how long that hiatus lasts.

There he sat, strangely unanimated, untypically more long-legged than long-winded, launching an hour that would set the tone for his tepid first week. There he was, questioning guests and taking calls on a topic that had been done again and again and again, but one that Snyder insisted needed reemphasizing because "somehow the message isn't getting through."

After the anti-hysteria message, it was time to hear from the public. That included a caller who had shown kindness to an AIDS victim and another who wondered if AIDS could be spread via long fingernails.

Tuesday found Snyder interviewing Los Angeles School Board President Rita Walters and Barbara Romey on proposed year-round schools. The Wednesday topic was female alcoholics, and Thursday, as if sensing his debut week wasn't working, Snyder spent the first half-hour on topical news before turning to latch-key kids.

And then on Friday, perhaps a hint of a more invigorating Snyder ahead, with interviews of two strippers and a gun control discussion sandwiching Snyder's chat with Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge) on the day she pleaded not guilty to violating a state election statute.

"To this day, I would not think of taking my clothes off; I'd be embarrassed and scared," Snyder revealed to Lisa (Gio) Suarez and Sara Costa, who appear in the new movie documentary "Stripper." Sitting beside Costa was her mother.

Later, in the same seat that minutes before had been occupied by Suarez, sat Fiedler, turning her brief segment into a self-serving political pitch that Snyder was unable to control.

Viewers were not exactly having the time of their Toms watching KABC.

Snyder's first-week ratings in both the A. C. Nielsen and Arbitron surveys were running behind those of "Three Three 0," the show he replaced. Not only that, he was being trounced by "Donahue" in the Nielsen figures and was also trailing in the Arbitron survey, which last month showed "Three Three 0" ahead of "Donahue." Thus, Snyder is starting off disastrously as a lead-in for KABC's "Eyewitness News," which follows at 4 p.m.

When it came to energy, moreover, Snyder also lagged far behind that whiz Phil Donahue, who spent the week in Miami exploring such topics as New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and the sexual practices of grandparents.

Comparing meat to fluff, though, the first week of Tom was more arresting than giddy "Three Three 0."

Snyder's memorabilia included a woman calling in during the alcohol segment and saying:

"My name is Martha. I'm in my bedroom because I don't want my children to know what I am talking about." Then she proceeded to tell Snyder and his recovered alcoholic guests that she came from a family of lushes and was "shaking all over" because she was tempted to start drinking herself. She was given a number to call for help.

Moreover, you can't get terribly mad at a TV show that is interested in AIDS victims, schools and kids. It's only that "Tom Snyder" comes across mostly as just another show that could be hosted by dozens of other people who aren't named Tom Snyder.

The "compelling and irrepressible" host that KABC advertised seems to have a case of the blahs. Tom Snyder was advertised; MacNeil/Lehrer showed up.

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