Fox slates rival to ABC's New Year bash

This article was updated on Nov. 16, 2005.

The networks’ New Year’s Eve festivities have turned into one big game of revolving hosts.

Fox has closed a deal with ayem king Regis Philbin to host its New Year’s Eve fiesta, setting up a Times Square tussle with Dick Clark’s heir apparent Ryan Seacrest.

Earlier this year, “American Idol” host Seacrest — who has fronted Fox’s recent New Year’s shows — inked a long-term pact with ABC to essentially take over from Clark on “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Fox execs have now countered by signing Philbin, one of the Alphabet’s best-known personalities.

Clark, who’s recovering from a stroke suffered last year, is expected to appear on this year’s edition of his long-running ABC special. But with the baton clearly being passed, Fox exec VP of alternative programming Mike Darnell said there’s an opportunity for other nets to establish a New Year’s tradition.

“When Dick leaves, it will leave a hole in New Year’s Eve, and I’m hoping we can fill it with Regis,” Darnell said. “You need a sort of iconic name, and he’s a perfect fit.”

Indeed, Philbin pinch-hit for the ailing Clark on last year’s edition of “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Rather than bring back Philbin, however, ABC opted to tap Seacrest as Clark’s successor.

“I’m actually surprised ABC didn’t try to get Regis again this year,” Darnell added.

Phil Gurin, who produces Donald Trump’s Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants for NBC, is aboard to exec produce the Fox special, dubbed “New Year’s Eve Live!” The 90-minute event will air from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., with Philbin hosting from Times Square.

NBC is also beefing up its New Year’s plans this year. Earlier this fall, net said Carson Daly would host a live music-centric special from Times Square.

In an interview with Daily Variety, Philbin said he was “a little surprised” that Fox called him to host.

“But I was very happy that they did. I enjoyed the experience pinch-hitting for Dick,” he said.

And while Philbin has never missed the chance to tease ABC about the way it mishandled “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the veteran host said he doesn’t fault the Alphabet for putting Seacrest out in front of its show.

“It makes a lot of sense to hire Ryan Seacrest, who represents the next generation,” Philbin said. “Ryan’s ready to carry on into the future.”

Gurin said he and Philbin “want to put as much live content into the show as possible,” mixing live musical guests with “surprise” visits from celebs and friends of Philbin.

“I plan on getting out there and mixing with the crowd,” Philbin added. “I want to show everyone what happens in Times Square not from a distance, but from right there in the crowd.”

Nothing’s signed yet, but Gurin and Fox are hoping to originate the special from the marquee of the old Paramount Theater, now home to the Hard Rock Cafe. Fox, Gurin and Philbin have just started talking about potential guests.

“We have some enormous names in mind,” Gurin said. “We think there’s a future for the Fox franchise. I want us to plant our flag now” like all the other networks.

Clark and his ABC broadcast have had a stranglehold on New Year’s Eve for 34 years, despite challenges from other webs — including Fox.

“I’ve blown up a building, I dropped a guy in a car from a crane,” Darnell said. “While those things did OK, we were never able to crack ABC’s armor.”

While Philbin is a few years out of Fox’s key demo, Darnell said age doesn’t matter around the holidays.

“Dick Clark slaughters everyone in 18-49 and 18-34,” he said. “It’s a night of tradition.”

As long as Clark remains on the air, nobody at Fox seems to expect a ratings victory. But in the same way Clark’s ABC broadcast usurped Guy Lombardo’s mighty CBS New Year’s countdown, Darnell and Gurin think Philbin could help Fox establish a new tradition.

“He’s got an enormous fan base; he’s Mr. New York. Who doesn’t love Regis?” Gurin said.

Fox special was packaged by William Morris, which reps Philbin, Gurin — and Seacrest.

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