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Roeper: For Dick Clark, countdown is over — and he’s No. 1



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Updated: May 21, 2012 8:41AM

He was Ryan Seacrest before Ryan Seacrest’s parents met.

In recent years when Dick Clark would appear on his “Rockin’ New Years Eve” on ABC-TV to count down to midnight with his protege Ryan Seacrest, there were some who felt Mr. Clark shouldn’t be on television any more, even for a brief moment. Slowed by a stroke he had suffered in 2004, Clark had great difficulty speaking and was sometimes almost unintelligible. “America’s Oldest Living Teenager” was now a frail old man, and some viewers felt uncomfortable with the juxtaposition of Mr. Clark’s appearance and the giddy, youthful, here’s-to-the-future vibe of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

To which I would always say: Get over it.

If anyone had earned the right to appear on TV once a year to lead us into the next year, it was Dick Clark. He was a true pioneer of both radio and television, best known for hosting the long-lasting “America’s Bandstand,” which for generations was THE arbiter of the most popular songs in America.

“Bandstand” wasn’t a concert show, nor was it intended for the hardcore pop fans or the musical purists. With few exceptions — such as the time Jim Croce insisted on playing and singing “Operator” live — whether it was Jerry Lee Lewis or Stevie Wonder or Run DMC, the acts featured on the show lip-synched their hits. The music would fade out, and the band would stop pretending to play their instruments, and the crowd would applaud. It was all about the dancing couples, the suspense of the countdown, the moment when we learned the No. 1 song in America. Mr. Clark sitting in the stands with the teenagers. Wearing his coat and tie, looking like the cool teacher who “gets” the kids but isn’t trying to be one of them.

In the movie “Grease,” a big dance show comes to town. They called it “National Bandstand.” We all knew what they were referencing.

“He was more fascinating than most people realize,” said Bob Sirott, who joined us on WLS-AM 890 on Wednesday to talk about Clark. Sirott, who interviewed Mr. Clark a number of times over the years on radio and on TV, said, “He was all about what type of candy was selling. When he was doing ‘Bandstand,’ he wasn’t really a fan of that music, he was too old for that. He was actually a fan of the Big Band music. But he was mostly a fan of what was selling. ... He was a ruthless businessman, but was able to turn the switch and become the affable TV host and salesman.”

Smooth, cool and competitive

Mr. Clark was a smooth and cool TV presence — but his real passion was producing, creating, acquiring and/or selling TV shows, from “Bandstand” to “The $10,000 Pyramid” to “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” He created the American Music Awards to take advantage of the fact that the Grammys had been notoriously slow to embrace hipper pop and rock acts.

In the early 2000s, Clark was a regular on a show called “The Other Half,” along with Mario Lopez and Danny Bonaduce. The idea was to create a male version of “The View,” with Mr. Clark in the Barbara Walters role. I participated on the panel on a couple of occasions. This was before Mr. Clark’s health problems. He was about 70, and he looked to be about 50. I’d be in the middle of pitching a book or talking about a movie, and I’d look over and think, “That’s DICK CLARK.” It was like being in the room with a childhood memory.

Behind the affable TV presence, Mr. Clark was a hungry competitor who was still producing shows, still pitching projects, long after he made more money than he could spend in a dozen lifetimes. As the saying goes, for him the money was just a way of keeping score.

And Dick Clark was determined to finish first.

We toss around the term far too much these days, but in his chosen field, Mr. Clark was a true icon.

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