It’s a family tradition that we don’t go out on New Year’s Eve. There are a few really simple reasons for this. First, I usually work. Second, we don’t drink.
Years ago, the last time we really went out for New Year’s, a drunk guy started making a pass at my wife. In fact (though we laugh about it now) we almost broke up on our first pre-marriage New Year’s Eve together.
This year, we stayed home with Steffie and watched some of the goings on in Times Square. Helaine said she wasn’t, but I was very worried that some masterstroke terrorist act would take place in Times Square while the World watched.
Though we moved back and forth between Fox, MTV and ABC, we mostly stayed with ABC. Sure, I work for an affiliate, but there is also a tradition with Dick Clark. Again this year, for at least the second year in a row, Dick was inside a warm studio above Times Square. I’m sorry. He needs to be outside. And last night, the weather wasn’t all that bad.
I was also upset at the use of Steve Doocey – who represents Fox News Channel’s morning show – as ‘talent.’ This is not to say Steve isn’t good… he is. But, this is another case of cutting your nose to spite your face. Why would ABC want to shine such a bright spotlight on someone who is trying to eat their lunch? Doesn’t anyone in the company realize that using talent from other networks is the equivalent of dumping the Disneyland live shots for Six Flags or Universal?
There was a pretty tough article on Dick Clark in Newsday recently. I’ve attached it to this link.
Maybe because I knew most of this before, or maybe just because it’s becoming more obvious now, I have trouble finding Dick warm and likable. His interaction with others, especially on ‘tosses’ from live shots, or look live taped pieces, is forced and a little too staged.
On the other hand, I’m not ready to cede New Year’s Eve to Ryan Seacrest or the stable of hosts on MTV (none of whom stick out in my mind).
What You Don’t Know About Dick Clark
By Jeff Pearlman
December 30 2003
Think of everything you know about the rich and famous. Paris Hilton wears thong underwear. Michael Jackson has lots of toys. Justin Timberlake hates Britney Spears. Britney Spears hates Justin Timberlake. Madonna studies yoga. Eddie Murphy gave a transvestite prostitute a ride in his Toyota Land Cruiser. Jessica Simpson finds canned tuna perplexing. You cannot escape it. Wherever one looks these days – supermarket tabloids, TV shows, the Internet – there is the unavoidable news on this star doing that and that star doing this, each tidbit more inane than the last.
Environmental deregulation? No thanks.
John Kerry? Big whoop.
Ben and Jennifer’s latest spat? Gimme the juice!
This being the case, how do we explain one Richard Wagstaff Clark, “The World’s Oldest Teenager” to some and “The World’s Most Annoying Cryogenically Preserved 278-Year-Old” to others? Ever since his TV show “American Bandstand” went national 46 years ago, Dick Clark has been a fixture, as much a part of our lives as bingo and microwave ovens. At first, it was simply Clark introducing the latest dance crazes on “Bandstand.” Then, it became more. And more. And more. Throughout a half century in the spotlight, Clark has hosted, produced and appeared in everything from “Live Aid” and “Farm Aid” to “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.”
His multimillion-dollar corporation, Dick Clark Productions, is behind thousands of hours of entertainment programming, including the American Music Awards, NBC’s “Bandstand”-based series “American Dreams” and “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” (this year’s edition kicks off tomorrow at 10 p.m. on ABC).
Considering his unparalleled ubiquity, how is it that we know so little about the man who, upon graduating from Mount Vernon’s A.B. Davis High School in 1947, was voted “Most Likely to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge”? The seemingly ageless Clark is a mystery wrapped in an enigma: difficult boss, faithful friend, relentless self-promoter, shrewd businessman. He is a story waiting to be told, but purposefully concealed behind a made-for-TV, pearly white smile.
He has tasted the bitterness of inquisition before, and it is not a flavor Dick Clark cares for. Therefore, most of our questions go unanswered. Why isn’t the 74-year-old kicking back on an island in the West Indies, drinking margaritas in blissful retirement? Why does he still aspire to bring back “American Bandstand,” a show only slightly less dated than Elizabeth Taylor’s hairdo? And why, oh why, does he want to spend another New Year’s Eve freezing his butt off in Times Square?
Dick Clark is on the phone being, simply, Dick Clark. “Why do I keep hosting ‘Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’?” he says, a familiar half-chuckle masking the fatigue of an early weekday morning. “Because if there’s one place to be, it’s in the heart of New York City, watching the ball drop and ringing in the New Year with … ”
Enough … enough. This is Clark in evasive mode, making a Brooklyn Bridge-sized sales pitch for a show that, somehow, is about to be televised for the 32nd straight year. A New Year’s without Clark is like the Yankees without pinstripes. When he first hosted the event back in 1972, it was a rebuttal to the annual New Year’s specials of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, whose galas featured grating versions of “Auld Lang Syne” from the Waldorf-Astoria. “It was terribly boring to me,” says Clark. “I wanted to make New Year’s Eve a little more contemporary and exciting.”
Whether Clark has accomplished this is debatable. His prime competition this year comes from two live concerts: MTV will feature Hilary Duff, Ludacris and Simple Plan; the Fox lineup includes Metallica and Ashanti. While Clark’s New Year’s productions have always featured modern music (this year’s show includes clips from concerts by the Black Eyed Peas, Bow Wow and Jagged Edge) and hip lingo, a large chunk of the broadcast is taped ahead of time – the New Year’s Eve equivalent of learning Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Those people tossing confetti and drinking bubbly? Recorded earlier in a California studio.
Clark, however, is live, engulfed by drunk tourists and, some years, 20-degree wind chills. Repeatedly, he deflects the “Why?” questions, insisting that – honest to God – it’s all about putting on a great show and embracing the joy of the holiday and keeping tradition alive and so on.
But to those who know Clark, the secret of his longevity is no secret at all. “I’ve been around this business enough to realize that you never tire of the spotlight and the recognition and the perks,” says Ken Ehrlich, who has produced 21 Grammy Awards telecasts, which rival the American Music Awards.
“When you reach the heights that Dick Clark has, there’s tremendous ego involved. Is he going to go on an island and count his money? No. He’s going to fight to make more. It’s the nature of the game.”
Raised in Mount Vernon, Clark became interested in a media career as a teenager, when he slugged in the mailroom of WRUN, the AM radio station operated by his uncle Bradley Barnard. Clark studied advertising and radio at Syracuse University, and landed his first TV gig as the host of a country music program, “Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders,” in Utica. In 1952, he was hired at Philadelphia’s WFIL, which televised a regional teen dance program entitled “Bandstand.” As he worked as a broadcaster for WFIL’s radio station, Clark watched with envy as “Bandstand’s” host, a man named Bob Horn, enjoyed the fruits of a hit TV show. According to John A. Jackson’s book “American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Empire,” Clark had designs on Horn’s position from the beginning. “I’m gonna have that show and that’s all there is to it,” Clark reportedly told a peer. “That [show] will be mine.”
He was right. When Horn was arrested for drunk driving in 1956, the station handed over the reins to the 26-year-old wonderboy. Clark was a few years older than his target audience, but his Boy Scout looks and aw-shucks vocabulary made him a natural fit. “American Bandstand” went national on ABC one year later, and Clark became an instant phenomenon, grinning brilliantly into the camera while introducing the nation to a community of teenage dancers and pop singers. It was an innocent age of slick-haired pretty boys like Fabian and Frankie Avalon, and Clark capitalized on the times. Did he care about bringing tunes to the forefront? Not especially – Clark’s musical knowledge has always been surprisingly unimpressive. (In 1963, according to Jackson’s book, he told a friend that a popular new band would “never fly.” The Beatles made history.)
To be fair, Clark never tried to mask his intentions. “I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I did this solely to keep music alive,” he once told Rolling Stone. His purpose? “To perpetuate my own career, first and foremost,” said Clark, “and secondly the music.”
In short, Clark is – and always has been – a shrewd businessman. As the host of “Bandstand” in the early years, he took full advantage of the perks of the position, making millions of dollars by investing in music. He owned partial rights to some 150 songs, and had ties to 33 related businesses, including pressing plants and recording companies. It was a remarkable conflict of interest. During the late 1950s, Clark played songs on “Bandstand” that he directly profited from. “I have very few faults with Dick,” says Ehrlich. “But it’s hard to argue that he didn’t make money the wrong way.”
In 1960, Clark testified before the congressional committee in its investigation on payola, the practice of music industry companies compensating radio personalities to play new records. He came away relatively unscathed, an incredible feat considering he admitted to accepting a fur stole and expensive jewelry from a record executive. While legendary DJ Alan Freed was indicted and consequently fired by WABC radio, Clark was simply ordered by ABC to either quit “Bandstand” or surrender his music-related holdings (which were worth a fortune). He kept the show. “Alan Freed died alone in a hotel room, and did he really do anything that different than Dick?” asks Ehrlich. “It didn’t seem completely right.”
Over time, Clark turned the payola issue into a distant memory, primarily by rarely discussing the subject while simultaneously earning a reputation as one of the hardest-working men in show business. Along with “American Bandstand,” he took on an array of projects throughout the years, hosting “The $10,000 Pyramid,” producing a slew of made-for-TV movies, inventing and hosting the American Music Awards and “Bloopers and Practical Jokes.”
To the public, his happy-go-lucky demeanor went over well. Behind the scenes, he was often difficult. According to several former employees of Dick Clark Productions (none of whom wanted their names used), there was never any doubt as to what was driving their boss. As one said: Clark “is all about the money, and only the money. He won’t hesitate to yell at anyone who doesn’t go along with that.”
Once, every so often, when Clark’s guard is down and he isn’t hyping the latest gig, someone finds a way to break through and show a glimpse of his darker side. Such an occurrence took place last year, when director Michael Moore included Clark in his Academy Award-winning documentary, “Bowling For Columbine.” Late in the film, Moore arrives unannounced outside Clark’s Burbank offices, anxious to ask Clark about his restaurant’s (Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill) participation in a government welfare-to-work program. The program, which Moore considers exploitative, offers tax breaks to businesses that employ welfare recipients, often at menial wages. Clark comes off crude and cold-hearted in the film, ordering his driver to shut the car door on Moore. Shortly after the footage was shot, Moore received a letter from Clark, threatening legal action. “I was ambushed, and it was inappropriate,” says Clark, who insists he never saw the film. “He puts a camera in my face and asks me about something I have nothing to do with. I don’t work in the restaurant.”
Moore, who says he considers Clark to be “a legend,” defends the scene.
“It’s his name on the restaurant, and he’s a shareholder,” Moore says. “He didn’t shoot anybody, but he was certainly trying to benefit from a program that exploits poverty. He wasn’t motivated by altruistic reasons, like, ‘Let’s employ as many poor people as we can to raise their standard of living.’ No, it was greed.”
Indeed, Clark has displayed an uncanny agreeability to attach his name to products. At the turn of the century, he was the spokesman for Millenios, the “Official Cereal of the Millenium.” Now there’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” slot machine, which can be purchased online from IGT-Worldwide. And in 1980, he “authored” the book “Looking Great, Staying Young.” On the cover, the reader is promised Clark’s “own personal secrets of looking young … and how you can do the same, now or at any age.” Inside, Clark even goes so far as to detail his after-hours life in the chapter “Sex and the Younger Mate.”
Clark says he had little to do with the content. “Oh, that was completely ghost-written,” he says. “I didn’t even read it.”
Though Clark is loath to address issues of taste or judgment, he is defended by a small-yet-trusted group of friends. In 1959, when the payola scandal was beginning, ABC hired a young up-and-comer named Chuck Barris to keep an eye on Clark’s day-to-day business activities. Barris, one of the best-known game show producers of all time, as well as host of “The Gong Show,” calls Clark “my best friend in the world” and “a caring, decent man.”
Equally effusive in praise is Ed McMahon, Clark’s co-host on the “Bloopers” shows and a fellow spokesman for American Family Publishers sweepstakes.
McMahon first met Clark in the mid-1950s, when the two were neighbors on Revere Road in Philadelphia. McMahon’s daughter baby-sat Clark’s kids. (The father of three children, Clark is now married to his third wife, Karen.) Clark was responsible for McMahon meeting Johnny Carson.
“Look, he’s a businessman, just like I am,” says McMahon. “And the fact is, he’s very efficient and very well-organized when he does something. But anyone who misinterprets that negatively doesn’t know Dick. He’s a wonderful guy who will do anything for a friend.” Several years ago, when one of his former bosses at ABC fell upon hard times, Clark left weekly envelopes filled with $100 bills for the man at the front desk of his office. “He won’t do that for just anybody,” says Nick Verbitsky, a longtime business partner. “But if you’re a friend, you’re a friend of Dick’s for life.”
Perhaps this, better than anything, explains why Clark is in negotiations with several stations to bring back his oldest pal of all. Though he has been involved in hundreds of shows since “American Bandstand” went off the air in 1989, the program still holds a special place in Clark’s heart.
It’s what started his run and what, he hopes, will conclude it. “In a way, it was the first reality TV show,” he says. “People would tune in to see their favorite characters week after week. Why can’t that work today?” The answers (outdated format, MTV, 400 competing channels) are numerous.
But would you really bet against the ultimate TV survivor? Would you really bet against Dick Clark?
A Life on the Bandstand
Nov. 30, 1929 – Richard Wagstaff Clark born in Mount Vernon.
May 13, 1952 – Clark is hired as a radio announcer by WFIL in Philadelphia.
July 9, 1956 – Clark is named the new host of “Bandstand,” amid protests by the show’s regulars.
Aug. 5, 1957 – “American Bandstand” debuts nationally on ABC.
Nov. 19, 1959 – As congressional hearings target Clark in payola investigation, ABC demands he sell his music-related holdings or surrender his position on “American Bandstand.” He keeps the show.
April 23, 1960 – Clark testifies before Congress in the payola scandal but is never charged.
Feb. 8, 1964 – Clark moves “American Bandstand” from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.
Dec. 31, 1972 – Clark hosts his first New Year’s Eve show live from Times Square.
March 1973 – Clark hosts first broadcast of TV game show, “$10,000 Pyramid,” which evolves by 1985 into the “$100,000 Pyramid.”
January 9, 1984. First broadcast of “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes,” which Clark hosts with Ed McMahon.
April 1989 – Clark steps down as the host of “American Bandstand.” His replacement, David Hirsch, flops.
September 1989 – “American Bandstand” goes off the air.
2002 – Clark appears in “Bowling For Columbine” against his wishes.
Dec. 31, 2003 – Clark to appear in Times Square for New Year’s … yet again.