Wednesday, April 6, 2011
"Snow on the thatch..."
An interesting hair-related exchange from Bill Shatner's 1993 interview with Tom Snyder on his eponymous 1992-1995 CNBC show. The interview is part of a publicity blitz promoting the actor's then newly-released book Star Trek Memories.
Bill Shatner begins talking about how the Star Trek cast are getting old and how the "clock is ticking."
Snyder interjects: "Wait a minute, Bill. Don't say that!"
"Well, Tom, the gray hair is...is a sign...there's snow on the, on the thatch - what do they say? There's snow on the roof?"
Snyder gets the quote more or less right: "Just because there's snow on the roof, doesn't mean there isn't fire in the heart."
"Well, the fire that you're feeling is pneumonia" [Bill Shatner is poking fun at Snyder, who is conducting the interview while battling a cold].
Snyder doesn't take the bait/diversion: "If you want to start comments on hair..." The interviewer laughs and gives a knowing glance. He then points at Bill Shatner "If you want to start hair comments."
"No, no! No comment! You're tough!"
Here's the full clip:
The exchange is unusual, primarily because it is an example of a tough, well-researched, and even combative interview - but one also conducted in a truly professional, courteous and non-aggressive manner. A lesser interviewer may have been intimidated to "go there"- not Snyder. Here Bill Shatner's passive-aggressive toupological deflector is rendered entirely useless - a very rare thing to see - he is putty in the interviewer's hand!
But what is Snyder alluding to? Maybe he doesn't know about the toupee and it's just an innocent "Don't talk to me about hair as I'm thinning and combing over, while you've still got plenty" kind of a dig. Or maybe it's more. Maybe it's "I'm a talented interviewer and know full well about your toup, and as an interviewer it's a very juicy subject for me to try and explore, so be warned with your 'snow' comments, if you want to start a hair discussion, I'm ready!"
How far could this all have gone? It all brings to mind a famous 1997 exchange between British Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and the then recently resigned former Home Secretary Michael Howard:
We often wish "tough interviews" upon those we disagree with or even dislike, but the above exchanges perhaps serve as a reminder that the art of the tough interview is more like fencing than a blood sport. Noble, respectful, yet probing and relentless. The interviewer can poke holes in his subject's arguments, while the interviewee must strive to prove his or her logic can withstand even the toughest scrutiny. And watching those we like face tough questions is certainly part of the game too.
The whole three-part exchange between Tom Snyder and Bill Shatner is up at YouTube, with the actor truly facing a well-prepared Snyder, who asks quite a few interesting and probing questions - just as he should.