40 Years Ago: Chevy Chase Rips NBC on Its Own Airwaves
On Dec. 17, 1981, Tom Snyder's late-night talk show, Tomorrow Coast to Coast, which had been broadcast by NBC since 1973, aired for the last time. His featured guest for the episode was Chevy Chase, one of Saturday Night Live's original cast members and a frequent guest on Snyder's program.
"I'm going to miss you personally, and I think everybody is," Chase said on the show. Several months before Chase's appearance, ratings for Tomorrow Coast to Coast had started to drop off – Snyder's brief co-host, Rona Barrett, with whom he held a professionally tense relationship, had quit the show in June 1981, stating that she and Snyder were "philosophically miles apart. I wish him all the luck in the world, but I won't play second fiddle to him or anybody else any longer."
The show continued, as it had earlier, with Snyder as the sole host, but the ratings continued to dwindle, so much so that by October 1981, several major NBC affiliates had stopped carrying the show. Within a few weeks NBC decided to reconfigure its nighttime programming entirely.
Snyder was offered a new time slot for his show, 1:30 to 2:30AM, which would follow the newly announced Late Night With David Letterman, which was helmed by Johnny Carson's production company. (Letterman followed The Tonight Show, starring Carson.) Snyder refused the offer — "Tom feels that 1:30 in the morning is just too late for the kind of broadcast he's interested in doing," Ed Hookstratten, Snyder's agent, told The New York Times — effectively canceling Tomorrow Coast to Coast for good.
Chase, meanwhile, had become a well-loved star on SNL, serving as the original anchor for the "Weekend Update" segment and often performing material he had written himself. He left the show in 1976 during its second season and ventured into comedy movies. When he appeared on Snyder's show for the final time, he was in a more serious mood.
"You've become an institution on this network," he told Snyder. "I think it's a dumb network for doing this." Snyder swiftly but politely interrupted Chase to say: "I get nervous about this, because people will think I put you up to it." Chase insisted that the idea of pushing Snyder's show back to 2:30AM was "the most obnoxious thought" on the part of the network — the same one that broadcasted SNL.
Watch Chevy Chase Criticize NBC on Tom Snyder's 'Tomorrow Coast to Coast'
Snyder appreciated Chase's honesty. "I thank you for the all the kindnesses you've had for me over the years," Snyder said before noting that he agreed with Chase to a certain extent. "I may share some of what you said, but the bottom line is [NBC] let me do it for a long, long time here — eight and a half years — and without their support over those eight and a half years, what is going off tonight never would have happened."
"You never burn the bridge," Snyder emphasized, leaning in to Chase, who replied: "Yeah, but you'll be back in another capacity with a bigger bridge – to burn."
Years later, Snyder did return in another capacity. In 1994, Letterman personally selected Snyder to host a late-night talk show that would follow his own Late Show on CBS: The Late Late Show. "Maybe it's just me. I'm 46. Maybe I'm the right audience for Tom," Letterman told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. "Maybe the network would say, 'Does Tom appeal to 16-year-old kids?' I don't know. I'm just telling you my personal taste. I think you could do a lot worse than Tom Snyder."
The Late Late Show, which was produced by Letterman's production company and premiered in 1995, stayed on the air until 1999.