NEW YORK -- "New Year's Rockin' Eve" producer Larry Klein stands beside the second-floor window of the studio overlooking Times Square on a miserably cold December 29th, gesturing to the outdoor stage at the intersection of Broadway and 43rd Street. It's windy and about 32 degrees, with a precipitation that's been veering between rain and soppy snow all day. Technicians swaddled in rain gear swarm over and around the elevated stage where Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy will host the ball drop in about 50 hours, preparing for rehearsal. Monday night's forecast calls for cloudy and less-cold weather, but that doesn't do the crew much good now.
Klein -- raised in Wisconsin -- isn't the least bit fazed as he prepares to head outside for rehearsal. He's weathered worse in his 35 years working on the show. "The performers perform outside with no tarp or roof or anything," he says. "Hey, the crowd has no awnings over them, and we are a part of them. We are all one. If it rains, it rains; if it snows, it snows. Guess what? The show goes on."
Producer Larry Klein (right) confers with co-executive producer Orly Adelson: "That's our money shot right there," he says, gesturing to Times Square (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
Since it began 41 years ago, the show -- this edition officially titled "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2013" -- has ballooned from a guerilla-style 90-minute broadcast to a nearly six-hour long live marathon, with the Times Square segments alternating with pretaped West Coast performances. Taylor Swift, Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen, Neon Trees and Train will perform in New York; the West Coast party features Justin Bieber, Jason Aldean, Brandy, Flo Rida, Karmin, One Republic, Pitbull, Greyson Chance, Ellie Goulding and The Wanted.
"I start working on talent during the summer," Klein -- who has worked extensively on the American Music Awards, as well as Live Aid, the MTV Video Music Awards and NBC's 2004 tsunami-relief special -- says. "New Year's Eve is a gigantic night for talent anywhere, so you've gotta start preparing months and months in advance. But what we try to reflect on the show and in Times Square is the top songs of the year, the year in music."
He points out the window. "The performers will be on a stage two blocks up, [below] is Ryan's stage; he and Jenny will be in the crowd as well, talking to people. And in here," he gestures around the studio, which has chairs set up besides the window amid party hats, confetti, champagne glasses and noisemakers, "I have this new little set -- it's gonna have some stuff added to it -- and Ryan will come in. He'll be outside for the ball drop, where there'll be a million-to-1.2 million people outside."
Neither rain nor wind nor snow can stop New Year's Rockin' Eve: The crew braves the elements on Saturday afternoon (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
And if last year's ratings are any indication, there will be around 20 times as many people as that watching on television. Last year's show brought ABC its largest audience in 11 years, according to Nielsen, averaging 22.6 million viewers and a 7.4 rating among adults 18-49 between 11:35 p.m. and 12:32 a.m. During primetime, the show -- which began at 8 p.m. and stretched to nearly six hours for the first time -- gave the network an average 9.8 million viewers and a 3.0 among adults 18-49, topping the other three networks combined.
"I've always felt as though our show is the party show," Klein continues as he walks unhurriedly through the mazelike hallways leading from the studio, which are normally occupied by "Good Morning America." Talent relations staffers are parked in one office; writers are hunched over laptops in another; we walk past Robin Roberts' dressing room, which has a star on the door and says "Robin's Nest" on the nameplate. "Everybody goes out and has parties and hangs out at people's homes -- tune us in. You might not be glued to the set, but you're gonna hear the greatest party music in the world, so use us as ambience at your parties, while you're seeing incredible things on the screen."
Klein above Times Square (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
Of course, even though it's the definitive party night of the year, Monday night's Rockin' Eve will be a bittersweet one, since Clark died of heart attack at 82 in April. The show is starting off with a two-hour tribute to him, beginning at 8 p.m. ET, hosted by Fergie and McCarthy, with a special appearance from Seacrest. Part of the tribute was being played back in the control room on Saturday afternoon: A segment where McCarthy storms around backstage seeing multiple women wearing the same sparkly blue dress that she is, culminating with Clark wearing it as well -- with white socks.
Inside a control room at Times Square Studios (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
Klein smiles as he watches the segment. "It's tough for me," he acknowledges. "I've never done the show without him and [Clark's wife] Kari. We paid tribute to him at the AMAs and that was tough, and I kept saying I didn't even want to think about New Year's Eve without him, and here it is."
Dick Clark with wife Kari, 2008 (Photo: Getty Images)
Gesturing to the video, he adds, "People don't realize what an average Joe he was. For this bit, people were asking [sheepishly], 'Do you think Dick might wear a dress?' I said 'Sure he would.' He was like that. In our first years doing this, we didn't have studios or a stage in Times Square -- we were up on roofs. Dick and I and Kari would climb out of a little Iranian restaurant's back window as use their roof. There was one camera and a mic and one light. There would be people eating in the restaurant having parties when we'd walk through. Dick stood on a ladder, his wife would hold cue cards, and when we were done we would go and get hamburgers. It's just grown and grown from there."
(Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
Of course, the show's promotion has grown enormously as well, and social media is playing a huge role in this year's show. "Since the AMAs, we've been focusing on getting people engaged with the show and excited about what's going to happen here," says Ariel Elezar, VP of digital for Dick Clark Productions. "We're doing a big partnership with Facebook, where they're giving us exclusive information like [total] relationship-status changes -- how many people went from single to 'in a relationship' or 'it's complicated' or engaged and married and back -- and we're going to use on the show. There's also a new Facebook 'poke' app, and the idea is to remind a person that you're thinking about them for the new year -- there's a callout in the show and we're going to try to see how many pokes we can generate simultaneously. And our hashtag is #happynewyear. We own New Year's Eve so it so it might as well be our official hashtag!"
Technical crew working during rehearsal in Times Square Studios (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
As we head back toward the studio with Klein, stage manager Bill Bello asks, "Do we want to use an extra for Jenny for this rehearsal? You know she popped a rib this morning."
"No, she's coming -- popped rib or not, she's coming," Klein says, adding, "I still wanna have somebody explain to me how you pop a rib."
"It's easier than you might think," Bello replies (and indeed, it's a common affliction during and after a pregnancy).
Ryan Seacrest with Klein and writing staff (Photo: Instagram)
In a corner of the studio, Seacrest is huddled around a teleprompter with writers Barry Adelman and Dave Boone, going over the script. "So what I should be saying here is, 'And now for one of the biggest hits of the year…' "
Clark and Seacrest, New Year's Rockin' Eve 2006 (Photo: Getty Images)
"Working with Ryan is like working with a young Dick Clark," Klein says. "When Ryan says, 'When I was 13 years old I wanted to be Dick Clark,' he wasn't joking. He's like him both behind and in front of the camera -- he always admired Dick because he knew Dick [founded] shows and ran companies, and that's what he does.
"It's amazing," he continues. "[On camera] he has that same timing, that same feel, he can just run with it -- if the prompter shuts off he just goes, I've never seen it in anyone else except Dick. Nothing fazes him. In our tribute to Dick, I have a little package of when things went wrong on the air and you see how Dick reacts. 'Ladies and gentlemen, here's so and so' -- and that person isn't onstage. Dick just rolls with it: 'That's live television, folks!'
"Another time a few years ago, 30 seconds before we were live we lost all the power. And like a miracle it came back a second before we were about to go on. Dick was frantic, and I'm sure people watching were like 'what just happened?,' but Dick hardly blinked. You never know what's gonna happen."
(Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
As if on cue, Jenny McCarthy bursts in, loudly and larger than life. "J-Mo!" Klein shouts, going over to hug her, and a few minutes later we all head outside to the stage, where it's snowing harder than ever. McCarthy shares many -- many -- details about her three popped ribs -- which had her in excruciating pain just hours before -- then immediately launches into her rehearsal: "There is no other place I'd rather be than right here with a million of my closest friends," she says as the wet snow falls and the wind blows.
Co-host Jenny McCarthy, ribs intact, prepares for rehearsal (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
The lights and cameras draw a crowd that cheers and waves on cue, presumably unaware that the only people seeing them on video are upstairs in the studio. She wraps and Seacrest follows, drawing an even bigger crowd. The crew and staff joke about the weather, but no one really seems to mind.
"No one has to work on New Year's Eve," Klein says. "They volunteer -- they get paid, of course -- but they all want to be here. They like being a part of it."
"NYPD, the fire department, Homeland Security, the transit authorities -- every organization in the state of New York, and most federal agencies, are involved in New Year's Eve in Times Square. They tell me what I can and can't do outside, and we just abide by the guidelines." -- Klein in Times Square (Photo: Jatnna Nunez)
"This has been my New Year's Eve for 35 years," he says. "I've been doing this for decades, and every New Year's Eve I'm in awe, I am blown away by the energy and the excitement. I never get tired of it -- it's something everybody should experience once in their lifetime. There's a million people here for one reason, and you forget about everything else. I could go all night long."
("Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" is produced by Dick Clark Productions, Inc. Guggenheim Partners, part of an investor group that acquired Dick Clark Productions in September of this year, is a co-owner of Prometheus Global Media, owner of Billboard.)
(Photo: Jatnna Nunez)