TV veteran relies on discipline, loyalty for his slick productions
To most of the television-viewing public, Dick Clark is the perennially youthful emcee of his 30-year-old annual “New Years Rockin’ Eve” special, or perhaps the first among equals on his four-man daily yakker, “The Other Half,” or even more likely, the face of “American Bandstand” for, well, forever.
But during award season, Clark and his eponymous Dick Clark Prods. are known in Hollywood as the go-to crew when it absolutely, positively has to be done right — and right on time. It’s a reputation earned through decades of showrunning kudocasts from groups such as the Golden Globes, the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music and more than a dozen others.
So how do Clark and his producers get a handle on it all, managing such tasks as keeping a bunch of prize-drunk showbiz people from gleefully thanking agents, managers, husbands, wives, hairstylists and high school drama teachers all the way into the middle of the 11 o’clock news?
“It’s discipline,” says Clark simply. “Frankly, I’m flabbergasted that people don’t bring in shows on time — that’s the obligation of the producer.”
All well and good, but a non-answer, nevertheless. Fortunately, tireless research has uncovered the real story. So here it is, revealed for the first time in print. Ready? They’ve done it a lot and now they’re good at it.
In a town of freelancers, where terms of employment rarely extend beyond a single project, Dick Clark Prods. is an island of stability. The company expands its ranks considerably during its busy winter season, but the core of approximately 100 employees stays year-round.
Clark’s top producers — Barry Adelman, Al Schwartz and Larry Klein — have all worked with him upwards of 20 years, as did the late Gene Weed, a key figure in the Academy of Country Music Awards and other productions until his death in 1999. They’ve worked together in some combination on every award telecast the company has produced since the 1970s.
“Over the years we’ve developed a way of working together — we all do everything — you can interchange any one of us,” says Clark. “The show is really happening back at the production table, we’re constantly nipping and tucking.”
One of Clark’s most important techniques: engaging the audience. “I talk constantly to the audience during commercial breaks, not a lot of producers do that,” says Clark. “I’ll ask for their help, tell them where we are, if we’re a few minutes behind schedule.”
Clark’s control of the proceedings might be too good, sometimes. Critics have in the past called some of his award shows mechanical and awkward — not the unpredictable and laid-back party atmosphere that Clark and producers tout.
There are some trade secrets, perhaps, that Clark isn’t revealing. “You want me to write a handbook for my competition?” he says, cagily. After all, he didn’t get this far in the TV business by being a pushover.
The one award telecast Clark won’t criticize or second-guess is the Oscars. “There’s nothing like the Academy Awards,” Clark says. It’s the one show that bends television to its own schedule, not the other way around, he explains.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has managed to turn its 56-year-old Golden Globes into the second-most-wanted award in town. Clark has produced the tuxedocast for the last 19 years, enabling its all-important jump from cable to NBC six years ago.
The Clark-produced Globes have become a huge — and dependable — hit for NBC, growing its viewership by 500% during the six years it’s been on the Peacock. Last year, the fizzy combination of movie stars, beloved television thesps and competitive anticipation drew an estimated 47.3 million viewers. (No surprise then that the Globes has become one of the Peacock’s most profitable award programs, or that it renewed its broadcast rights for another 10 years.)
The American Music Awards, to air Jan. 9, is entirely Clark’s baby. He created it for ABC 29 years ago, after the Alphabet web lost the Grammys and asked Clark if he could craft a replacement. Clark had always thought there should be a music awards that was voted on by the public — instead of by the recording industry — and created the AMA as a fan-driven salute.
(Longtime rivalry with the Grammys boiled over late last month when Clark filed a $10 million lawsuit against Grammy head Michael Greene. Clark charges that Greene has for years been illegally banning musicians from the Grammys if they appear on the AMA telecast, which typically airs about a month before the Grammys. The suit was prompted when Michael Jackson and Britney Spears backed out of earlier commitments to perform on the AMAs. Grammy reps have said they’re simply competing properly to arrange exclusive acts for their show.)
If Clark knows his employers pay him to provide glitch-free telecasts, he’s also aware that the magic that often makes his shows such morning-after water cooler discussion topics isn’t always under his control.
So while he says, “You pray that the first winner is succinct. It’s of immeasurable help if the first couple of recipients do their job and don’t thank the telephone book,” he knows the audience prefers the anarchy of the truly surprising moments.
Perhaps the most discussed Golden Globes telecast ever was the 1998 awards. First there was TV movie actor winner Ving Rhames declining his award and instead insisting it be given to a stunned Jack Lemmon. Then TV drama actress winner Christine Lahti was late arriving on stage to collect her award, telling the audience that she’d been in the ladies room.
You might think this would be difficult for the producer who scripts his adlibs, and who tells his team to warn him beforehand about any surprises they may have planned for him, so that he can be sure to appear properly surprised. But Clark knows to step out of the way when showbiz lightning strikes.
“When Christine Lahti didn’t show, you had Robin Williams get up onstage and perform extemporaneously for three or four mintues,” recalls Clark. “You can’t write that stuff — you just get lucky.”