Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve: Ringing In The New Year Since '73

Entertainment | December 31, 2019

Publicity photo of Dick Clark for Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 1974. Source: NBCU Photo Bank

For millions of people without plans and traditionalists alike, Dick Clark’s New Year's Rockin' Eve has been a holiday tradition since 1973. Even before then, Dick Clark was holding court for the young folks on American Bandstand, but the highlight of his year since the early '70s came on New Year's Eve.

Clark’s New Year’s Eve show brought a semblance of normalcy to a crazy night. The show featured various talking heads, musical performances, and the ball drop in Times Square that everyone loves. Even after Clark passed away in 2012 the show continued on without him, What began as a way to draw some eyes from another show on New Year’s Eve ended up turning into an annual tradition that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. 

Dick Clark Wasn't The First New Year's Eve Host

source: ABC

Before Dick Clark helped Americans ring in the new year, the job belonged to Guy Lombardo, a bandleader in charge of a band called the Royal Canadians. Since 1928, Lombardo had hosted a New Year’s Eve broadcast on CBS radio from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. It was completely old school. Lombardo’s show moved to television on 1956, and offered the country a look into the elite world of New York’s upper crust -- people on screen wore tuxedos and gowns; they were polite and separated from the rest of the city.

Every year, Lombardo’s show featured a performance of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight, which helped the song become synonymous with the holiday. As comforting as this program was to viewers, it wasn’t exactly cool. Dick Clark was cool. He hosted American Bandstand and hung out with rock 'n roll performers who'd never get the call to appear on Lombardo’s show. Dick Clark knew that he held the key to capturing a younger audience for New Year's Eve, he just needed someone to give him a shot. 

Dick Clark Didn't Host His Own Show At First

source: parade

Dick Clark pitched New Year’s Rockin’ Eve as the antithesis to guy Lombardo’s show. He wanted it to be raw and fun. It needed to lack the control that Lombardo had over the program. On Clark’s show anything could happen, anything could go wrong. Premiering on NBC the night of December 31, 1972 and continuing past midnight into 1973, Clark’s first show was called Three Dog Night's New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and was hosted by the band, with Clark reporting from the ball-drop madness of Times Square. 

The first show was headlined by Three Dog Night, followed by George Carlin hosted the second show, in 1973-74. In 1974-75, the show moved to ABC, and to spotlight the headliner Chicago was titled Chicago's New Year's Rockin' Eve 1975, although Clark was the main host. The rest of the lineup made for one of the smoothest shindigs of the decade: The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Olivia Newton-John.

Dick Clark Didn't Win The Ratings Until Guy Lombardo Passed Away

source: parade

As cool as Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve show was in the early ‘70s, it wasn’t the ratings juggernaut that he expected. While his show did well enough it never managed to eclipse Guy Lombardo’s program until the bandleader’s death in 1977. Lombardo’s show carried on without him for another year, but it lacked a certain appeal, and the Royal Canadians were sent packing in 1979.

Clark knew that he Lombardo was the main draw for his show, and that while people were comfortable watching his program from the Waldorf-Astoria, all he needed to do was convince the American audience that he could be trusted. After his first win he said, “Lombardo would always win [in New York] because of the Waldorf and 35 years of tradition, but we finally got it wrested.”

When Clark’s show finally surpassed Lombardo’s program in the ratings, it remained the top dog among New Year’s Eve programs, regardless of the waxing and waning of viewers; it even attracted its own cult audience, making it a must-see for those who'd grown up watching it.

Guest Co-Hosts Maintained The Show's Appeal To Younger Viewers

source: parade

Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve has seen its fair share of guests hosts. More often than not, ABC placed cast members from its primetime programs as guest hosts for the show, which gave Clark someone new to play off of year after year. In the 1970s actors like Erin Moran of Happy Days and John Schneider of The Dukes of Hazzard appeared on the show along with performances from hot artists like Blondie, Chic, and The Village People.

As the annual special transitioned into the ‘90s, Dick Clark was joined multiple times by Kiss, the cast of Clueless, and “Weird Al” Yankovich. In the late ‘90s the fun continued longer into the night with After New Year's Eve, including performances from more alternative performers like Lou Reed and Naughty By Nature. Never let it be said that Dick Clark wasn’t open to trying new things.

While Clark could have hosted the show by himself he wasn't exactly a ratings draw. It's not that people didn't want to tune in to see him, but viewers expect a spectacle on New Year's Eve and the best way to do that is to pull in a spectacle like Kiss or a Tori Spelling of the hot show Beverly Hills, 90210. It's a tried and true method that's been working since the first sweeps weeks ushered in the concept of prime time crossovers.

After Clark Passed Away The Show Soldiered On

source: LA Times

Despite his legacy as an ageless teen, Dick Clark had to step away from the show in the 2000s due to his failing health. In 2004 he suffered a minor stroke on December 8, 2004, that kept him off of the air. Regis Philbin stepped in for the broadcast and Clark was back the next year with co-host Ryan Seacrest. During the show Seacrest did most of the heavy lifting but a fragile-voiced Clark still performed the final countdown into the new year. The public’s morbid curiosity about Clark’s post-stroke condition brought in approximately 20 million viewers to the show.

Clark continued to appear on the show even as Seacrest slowly transitioned into the role of host. On the 40th anniversary episode that aired in 2011 Clark made his final appearance on the show, and months later he passed away after suffering a heart attack while having surgery to take care of an enlarged prostate.

While there was some debate over how the show would continue, Ryan Seacrest has carried on in Clark’s stead, holding things down while the show spreads out from New York to New Orleans in order to capture the central time zone’s new year with a drop of the fleur-de-lis. Since its inception Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve has bee about having fun and welcoming the new year with loved ones, regardless of whether its filmed in the Big Apple of the Big Easy it’s never going to stop capturing that energy.

Tags: Dick Clark | New Years Rockin Eve | New Years Eve

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.