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John, Paul, Tom & Ringo: The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder

(2008) *** Unrated
160 min. NBC/Shout Factory.

Before David Letterman, before Conan O'Brian, Tom Snyder hosted The Tomorrow Show (1973-1982) in the post-Tonight Show slot on NBC. Avuncular in the manner of an eccentric uncle, Snyder was a comfortingly familiar and warm TV personality—modern but never post-modern. He only seemed to improve with age, returning to late-night hosting a Letterman-produced post-Late Night show on CBS. And thanks to the good folks at Shout Factory, Snyder's old shows are resurgent in themed DVD editions. The latest is John, Paul, Tom & Ringo, comprising three episodes of The Tomorrow Show, each with an ex-Beatle interview.

The interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are interesting enough, but ordinary. It's the Lennon interview, originally aired on April 25, 1975, that's the liveliest, not only because of the subject's personality, but its circumstances. At the time, Lennon's immigration status was threatened, so the Brit now well-established in New York had good reason to make an appearance and try his case in public (joined in the final leg by his immmigration attorney Leon Wildes). As it turned out, it would be Lennon's last televised interview, a point underscored when the interview was rebroadcast on December 9, 1980, the day after Lennon's slaying at the hands of a madman.

It's that broadcast which is presented on Shout's new DVD, nestling the Lennon interview between Snyder's comments and new guests Lisa Robinson—a print journalist who had spent considerable time with Lennon and wife Yoko Ono in the intervening years since the Snyder interview—and Jack Douglas, the music producer who had been in the studio with the Lennons during that period (having produced their recent hit album Double Fantasy). In this context, the show has the raw force of history in the making, especially as Douglas recalls having left Lennon hours before his death and his experience of going to the hospital and reeling in the aftermath.

But it's the interview itself that occasions our principal interest. Though not epochal or groundbreaking—there's no "scoops"—the Snyder chat finds Lennon in a game mood and with his sense of humor at the ready. Snyder was never so precious as to suppress a fun anecdote if it came to mind, and he shares one in the middle of the interview, a reminder of Snyder's conversational style. Snyder broaches the question of whether the Beatles were political or apolitical, as well as asking about groupies during the Beatle years. The nature of music (cyclical or always developing) gets play, as do Lennon's "happenings" (the bed-in, the naked Two Virgins album cover) and the British drug-police run-in that precipitated his American immigration issues (at Snyder's prodding, Lennon also entertains the notion of doing an anti-drug PSA). The greatest detail comes in examining the immigration controversy, with Lennon summming up, "I'd like to live in the land of the free, Tom."

Snyder captures Paul McCartney and wife Linda (and later bandmates Denny Laine and Laurence Juber) by satellite from London, about an hour before they would take the stage for a holiday Wings concert on December 20, 1979. The satellite doesn't help the natural flow of conversation (though it allows for an amusing Snyder riff about Sony irradiating him), and Paul and Linda come off a bit punchy. Still, the show provides a good snapshot of a moment in Paul's career, when Wings had established itself quite nicely and he had the comfortable support of family and friends. The guests tell of debuting Wings, the Beatle "lifestyle" versus the "settled" one of 1979, the charitable and political gestures Paul has made ("Give Ireland Back to the Irish"), and enthusiasms for Buddy Holly and Little Richard. Most amusingly, the conversation comes around to the Wool Marketing Board, which would purchase wool from the McCartneys' Scottish farm. Preceding the interview is a Wings music video, for "Spin It On."

The third and final show in the set incorporates interviews with Ringo Starr (joined partway through by wife Barbara Bach) and Angie Dickinson on the road in Los Angeles, and aired on November 25, 1981. Starr comes off as a bit distracted (perhaps on autopilot from movie and music junketing?), though not defensive. Even while promoting Caveman, he kids about the utter failure of 1974's Son of Dracula. The main purpose of the interview is to promote his then-album Stop and Smell the Roses, but naturally Tom brings the discussion around to the Beatles (and the notion of a Beatles reunion, a point Snyder pursues with all three Beatles), John in particular, and "rip-off" Beatlemania. Ringo bemoans the movie-fueled perception that he was the "dummy" of the group (John's interview covers the same topic, in loving defense of Ringo), and asserts himself by embracing a self-description as "the greatest rock and roll drummer in the world." Bach also talks of their life together, and whether she's married to Ringo Starr or Richard Starkey.

Lastly, Angie Dickinson sits for a flirtateous chat (Tom being the flirter) to promote her new series Cassie & Co. (not destined for hit status). Police Woman gets a nod, but much of the interview covers her work on the then-recent Dressed to Kill for Brian De Palma. Tom's at his peppiest and most impish, winking his way through and pressing for information on Dickinson's heady days with the Kennedys. At his best, Snyder keeps his subjects on their toes, in part by heming and hawing in his "aw shucks" way that he doesn't want to belabor a touchy subject while still asking the question about which everyone's curious. In the Starr interview, Snyder busts out a typically left-field query: "If you were in a jam at three o'clock in the morning, and there was one person that you could call for help, who would it be?" For viewers, their go-to man at 1 a.m. was good ol' Tom.

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Aspect ratios: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Street date: 4/1/2008

Distributor: Shout Factory

The DVDs come housed in a two-hub Amaray case with an insert that gives the airdates and summaries of each episode. Disc One is devoted to the "John Lennon Tribute" show (1:06:11). The "Paul McCartney Interview" (45:12) and "Ringo Starr Interview" (48:28) share the second disc. Video quality is as good as can be expected for thirty-year-old source material, which is to say solid, with reasonable detail and accurate color. Beatlefans will be in hog heaven at the chance to add these archival treats to the shelf.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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