Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest, New Year's Rockin' Eve 2006 (Photo: Getty Images)
(Fred Bronson is a long-time Billboard contributor who has written for Dick Clark Productions for an even longer time. He writes for the American Music Awards, an annual Academy of Country Music special and tonight's "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 2013 with Ryan Seacrest.")
Tonight, millions of Americans will celebrate New Year's Eve the same way they have for years (if not decades), watching "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest" on ABC. But there will be something very different about the 2013 edition. Clark, the man who created the show in 1972 and became synonymous with New Year's Eve, will not be with us. He passed away on April 18 from a heart attack at the age of 82.
Tonight's celebration in Times Square will be a fresh reminder that an American icon is gone. The loss will be felt by viewers but also, in a very personal way, by the people who worked side-by-side with Dick for decades. Amidst the festivities, it could be a very emotional evening.
Like the production staffers I work with on "New Year's Rockin' Eve," I've been experiencing a range of emotions for the last few weeks as we have put the live broadcast together. There's been some laughter, watching the clips of Dick's long and varied career that will be seen during the 8-10 p.m. show, "New Year's Rockin' Eve Celebrates Dick Clark" -- particularly the hilarious clip with Dick and Oprah Winfrey. And the video of Dick becoming emotional as he reacts to an acknowledgment from his peers may leave you, as it left me, in tears. You'll also see a countdown of video clips of recording artists that Dick introduced to the country by featuring them on television, from the Supremes to the Go-Go's, from Michael Jackson to Madonna. You'll be reminded of how very different the course of rock and roll might have been had there never been a Dick Clark.
This is my eighth year as one of the writers on "New Year's Rockin' Eve." I was first asked to work on the show the year Dick returned after suffering a stroke in 2004, and Ryan Seacrest came on board. The producers realized they would need one writer to be with Dick during the live broadcast and one writer to be with Ryan, so I was asked to be that second writer, working with Barry Adelman.
Barry is executive vice president of television for Dick Clark Productions, and executive producer of many shows, including the Golden Globes and "So You Think You Can Dance." For over 20 years he was the sole writer on "New Year's Rockin' Eve," and after I joined the production staff, he continued to write Dick's script.
"It's a very bittersweet experience" working on the show without Clark, Barry told me Sunday morning shortly after we arrived at the production office, "because part of my job was to be with him when he would do his segments for the 11:30 show. The experience of being with a man who was absolutely the best at being able to think something and then say it in a smooth, articulate way that completely communicated to anybody who was listening -- to watch a guy like that struggle every year to do the simplest sentence, was an experience I'll never forget."
In his first post-stroke appearance on the show, Dick had very high expectations for himself and, after the broadcast, seemed disappointed. Barry recalls, "I went up to him and sincerely said that it was one of the most heroic things I'd ever seen. I think he was extremely heroic and inspirational and I think we were absolutely right to keep him a part of the show -- because he was the show."
Dick Clark, with wife Kari, weeping after being honored by Seacrest at the 2010 Daytime Emmy Awards (Photo: Getty Images)
Needless to say, setting the tone of this year's show has been a challenge for Barry and producer Larry Klein. "We started by picturing what Dick himself would have wanted," Barry said. "And knowing him as well as we do and for as long as we have, we knew that he would have probably wanted to just move on. That was his style. Since we had no intention of doing that, we tried to find a tone that would take time to remember him but would allow us to move on and celebrate the New Year."
I first met Larry Klein in the late 1970s, when I was a publicist at NBC and handled press for "Dick Clark's Live Wednesday," a variety series that was Dick's dream show but only lasted 13 weeks. When I started working at Dick Clark Productions a few years later, it was Larry who asked me to write my first primetime network show, ABC's three-hour coverage of "Live Aid," hosted by Dick.
Larry hasn't been just a producer at Dick Clark Productions: He and Dick were personal friends, and best friends at that. In fact, Dick once called him "the most unique person on the planet." So producing this year's show could be more difficult emotionally for Larry than anyone.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever done and something I hoped I never would have to do," he said. "Due to Dick's rich legacy, finding clips was easy. Paring them down to fit into a two-hour tribute was hard. I hope we've shown his many facets -- celebrating his life with joy, respect and a sense of humor. In life, I respected him for all his accomplishments and his work ethic. In my heart and soul, I loved him as much as anyone could ever love someone. For the past many years, I've been damn lucky to call him my friend."
Not everyone who works on the show worked with Dick for decades, but they soon discovered what made him so special. Although Dick Clark Productions bears his name, Dick had not been a part of the company for several years when Orly Adelson became its president in 2008.
"When I got the job, we went to pay homage to him and shake the man's hand," she told me. "It was the greatest thing to meet him for the first time. He embraced me from the moment he met me. He called me a few times with pieces of advice. He would read something, pick up the phone and say, 'Orly, I just want you to know this, this and this,' or, 'You should think about this, this and this.' He called several times with advice. Then I would see him during the year. I'd have dinner with him and his wife Kari and he'd always give me just one little tidbit that I should know."
Dick Clark with Kari, 2008 (Photo: Getty Images)
For the last seven years, Ryan Seacrest has spent his New Year's Eves outside, in Times Square, hosting the ABC show while Dick Clark counted down to midnight from inside the "Good Morning America" studios. In his lifetime, Dick saw many people referred to as "the next Dick Clark," but the only person Dick ever said was "the next Dick Clark" was Ryan. Last night, after rehearsal was over for the day, I asked Ryan how that made him feel. "Unworthy," he said candidly. "There will never be another Dick Clark. There is and was only one."
Tonight, Ryan will be out in Times Square as usual but he will add a new responsibility: counting down to midnight to welcome the New Year. How does it feel to take on a duty that was handled by Dick for 40 years? "You know what?" he replied. "I am both anxious and excited. I'm just a conduit to a worldwide celebration of hope and everything else the New Year brings. I feel the gravity of the privilege I have to serve this role but also just want to make Dick proud as I carry out the role of timekeeper on this special night."
The "New Year's Rockin' Eve" celebration begins at 8 p.m. ET and ends just after 2 a.m. In that wee hour of the first morning of 2013, there'll be an empty table at the hamburger joint where Dick, Kari, Larry and eventually a growing yet select ensemble of friends would gather every year, our months of hard work and long hours finally over.
"Dick invited me to join this little group that had been doing it for 30 or 40 years and I was flattered to be included in that unique experience," Orly says. "But every year just as I finished my last bite Dick would look at me and say, 'Now it's time for you to go to Ryan's party.' It was so touching that he was still 'producing,' and that he cared about Ryan too. He cared about all of us, that we should all be together and do the right thing."
Tonight we will all be together and we will do the right thing. We'll be happy to do our jobs producing a television institution, helping America usher in 2013. And you'll understand if our tears on this particular night won't be tears of joy.