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Dick Clark: Rockin' it on New Year's since 1972

11:52 AM, Dec 28, 2011   |    comments
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There have been many memorable moments," says Clark, 82, whose annual televised celebration marks its 40th anniversary this year.

"The year of the Iran hostage crisis, the ball almost didn't drop," he says; in 1980, the owner of One Times Square wanted to cancel to protest Iran's detention of 52 Americans. "Then, of course, there was the millennium," Clark says. "The most nerve-racking would have to be the first New Year's Eve after the 9/11 tragedy."

Musical moment? "It would be difficult to pick my favorite. One of the most memorable has been Barry Manilow, who has performed his song It's Just Another New Year's Eve several times."

It began on a 'Bandstand'

In an e-mail interview with USA TODAY (Clark was slowed by a stroke in 2004 that impaired his speech), he reminisced about NYRE's longevity and colorful history. "Strangely enough, New Year's Rockin' Eve probably began on Dec. 31, 1959, when we broadcast a New Year's Eve version of (the music/variety show) American Bandstand from WFIL in Philadelphia on ABC," Clark says. "The actual first formal telecast was on NBC Dec. 31, 1972. It was hosted by Three Dog Night, with performances by Helen Reddy, Al Green, and Blood, Sweat and Tears."

The whole idea, he says, was to offer younger viewers an alternative to CBS' annual telecast of bandleader Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, whose audience skewed somewhat older.

It's now known as Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest, and Clark has handed off the heavy lifting to the American Idol host. This year, the show has been expanded to include its anniversary party, a bicoastal two-hour special beginning Saturday at 8 ET/PT on ABC. The East Coast host is Jenny McCarthy; in the West, it's Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas. And Clark and Seacrest will host the traditional broadcast from Times Square beginning at 10, with performances by Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Hot Chelle Rae and Justin Bieber with Carlos Santana. The celebration includes a special performance by Beyoncé from the London leg of her tour.

"It's fun to join in this festive occasion and become a part of such a massive event," says Clark, who, despite his health problems, has no plans to retire. "I enjoy the annual appearance, though I wish my delivery was as easy as it used to be. I'm encouraged by the many people who tell me I'm an inspiration to them." He says he tries to keep a positive attitude "and attack every day with the thought things are going to get better."

'A pinch-myself moment'

Seacrest, who joined the show Dec. 31, 2005, says he was a fan growing up in Atlanta. "I remember being in awe of the big event in Times Square and dreaming big and thinking someday I want to go to New York and see the ball drop. I don't think at the time that I thought I'd be doing that standing there with him in Times Square. To this day, it's a pinch-myself moment."

A TV wunderkind in his own right –Ryan Seacrest Productions produces hit shows including Keeping Up With the Kardashians– Seacrest says he has modeled his career in part on the example Clark set and considers him a visionary. "He was always a great host, but he always had his eye on the business as well, and I admired that.

"What I've learned about this show is that the beauty of it, the tradition and the simplicity are the reasons it's so successful," Seacrest says. He and Clark plan to continue bringing in exceptional live performances in years to come – past years have included Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift– while keeping in mind the crucial midnight moment.

"The magic of that ball drop is always going to be the main event," Seacrest says. "To dress it up and embellish it with some of the biggest stars in music would be my goal."

(Copyright © 2011 USA TODAY)

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