'American Bandstand' host was key figure in TV

From the start, Dick Clark’s career was distinguished by his skill at working both sides of the camera.

As a genial host, he was known to generations as the frontman of “American Bandstand” and countless other programs. As businessman and entrepreneur, he leveraged his expertise and connections in a range of showbiz sectors to build a formidable production company and other ventures that afforded him great independence as a producer. At his peak in the 1980s and ’90s, Dick Clark Prods. helped set the template for contempo TV kudocasts, gameshows and clip specials. His net worth was valued at more than $100 million.

Clark died Wednesday of a heart attack at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, which he entered Tuesday night for an outpatient procedure. He was 82.

During more than half a century in TV, Clark won five Emmy awards, including one for “American Bandstand.”

Clark was known for his wholesome good looks and maintained a youthful appearance and interest in pop culture even in his later years, elements that prompted him to often refer to himself as “the world’s oldest living teenager.”

Richard Wagstaff Clark was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y. While studying at Syracuse U., where he majored in advertising and minored in radio, Clark was a DJ for the campus radio station and for WOLF, a commercial radio station in town. During his summers he worked at WRUN in Utica, where his father was manager. He often did weather forecasts and station breaks.

In his first TV job, as a newscaster at Utica’s WKTV, Clark learned the trick of recording his delivery on tape and then listening to it via hidden earphone and synchronizing his lips with the recording. His delivery was, thus, always smooth and flawless.

In 1952 he moved on to WFIL radio in Philadelphia and soon thereafter joined the station’s television affiliate. His youthful appearance worked against him as a news commentator and announcer. However, the radio station gave him is own weekday show, “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Music,” later changed to “Bandstand,” though it had little to do with the show on the station’s TV affiliate.

In 1955 he was substitute host on the TV “Bandstand” and, when its regular host was arrested for drunken driving and other infractions, Clark inherited the job. Two years later “Bandstand” was the highest-rated daytime show in Philadelphia, boosting the careers of such local talent as Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon and Chubby Checker. That same year, ABC tested the show coast-to-coast and a few months later assigned it a permanent daytime slot, changing the name to “American Bandstand.”

Performers such as James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Supremes got their first major exposure on the program, which went on to become the longest-running musical variety show in television history (37 years) with a viewership of 8 million at its peak.

By 1958, ABC was airing a Saturday night version of the program, “The Dick Clark Saturday Night Show,” which remained on the air for the next 2 1/2 years and traveled to several different cities, including Atlanta, where Clark hosted the first racially integrated rock concert despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A year later ABC created another show for Clark called “Dick Clark’s World of Talent.”

With his earnings, Clark invested in the recording industry, including a management firm, music publishing, record pressing, distribution and merchandising. He bought a healthy interest in Jamie Records and Chips Distributing Co., established SRO Artists and formed publishing companies Sea Lark and January Music. He also helped found Swan Records.

By the age of 30 he was a millionaire. But in 1959 Clark found himself fending off accusations of payola, and while he was never indicted, he did admit that he had a financial interest in some of the records that aired on “American Bandstand.” To avoid any further semblance of impropriety, he agreed to divest himself of some business interests.

In 1960, Clark capitalized on his popularity, touring with a rock music show, “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars,” which grossed a then unheard-of $5 million per year. And when rock began to change with the advent of the British invasion in the mid-’60s, Clark moved “American Bandstand” to Los Angeles and founded Dick Clark Prods., branching out into other hipper music shows such as “Where the Action Is” and “Happening.”

He also began a satellite career as a gameshow host with “Missing Links” and “The Object Is.”

Beginning in 1960, he acted in youth-oriented movies including “Because They’re Young,” “The Young Doctors,” “Psych-Out,” “The Savage” and “Wild in the Streets,” several of which he also produced. But his career as an actor never took off.

Over the next decade he produced other music shows for ABC including “In Concert,” “Dick Clark Presents the Rock and Roll Years” and “Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday.” He was exec producer on “Easy Does It” on CBS in 1976 and produced the later episodes of “The Captain and Tennille” show.

Clark was host of “The $10,000 Pyramid” (which graduated into “$100,000 Pyramid”) for a total of 15 years. He later hosted, with Ed McMahon, “TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes” with similar success.

A 1980 Variety article on Clark declared, “The self-styled ‘voracious appetite’ of Dick Clark for activity has the indie producer moving into every TV daypart.”

He increasingly concentrated on TV specials and movies, everything from “Supercars and Classic Cars,” “Hollywood’s Private Home Movies,” “The Janis Joplin Story,” “Elvis,” “Murder in Texas” and “Copacabana.”

He also produced the feature film “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” starring Fred Ward, in hopes of spawning a series. But the film was one of his rare failures.

Another Clark tradition was his “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show from Times Square, which he began hosting on ABC in 1972. He also created another long-standing annual special, “The American Music Awards,” and Dick Clark Prods. began producing “The Golden Globe Awards” in 1983.

DCP also produced “The Academy of Country Music Awards” for decades.

By 1985, Dick Clark Prods. was churning out an average of 150-170 hours of TV programming per year. The company was boasting revenue of $55 million with $12 million in profits by then.

Radio was equally lucrative for Clark, with “The Dick Clark National Music Survey” running on 600 stations to an audience of almost 9 million at one point. Three times as popular was “Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll and Remember,” syndicated on Unistar Communications, one of the nation’s largest radio networks, which was co-founded by Clark. In 1993, it was merged with Infinity Broadcasting. In 1994 he founded Click Records.

In 1985 Dick Clark Prods. went public, with Clark as president and chief operating officer, controlling 80% of the voting stock.

Attempts at creating long-term series, however, were spotty and Clark excelled mostly at specials.

He hosted the “Miss USA” telecast from 1989-93 and “Miss Universe” from 1990-93.

From 2001-03, Clark hosted syndicated daytime talkshow “The Other Half” together with Mario Lopez, Danny Bonaduce and Dorian Gregory; the show was intended as a male response to “The View.” Clark also produced the NBC series “American Dreams,” about a family in early 1960s Philadelphia whose daughter is an “American Bandstand” regular. The series ran 2002-05.

In 2005, DCP and others launched the successful Fox dance competition series “So You Think You Can Dance.”

In 2002 the publicly traded Dick Clark Prods. was acquired for $140 million by an investment group led by Mosaic, CDP Capital Entertainment and former MGM exec Jules Haimovitz, with Clark remaining chairman and CEO, but thereafter the old guard and the new owners clashed internally over the direction of the company.

CDP Capital decided to pull out of Hollywood in 2004. Mosaic recruited Mandalay to buy out the investment fund’s share of Dick Clark Prods.

Dick Clark Prods. and the HFPA divide profits from the kudocast’s NBC license fee and other sources — netting the company $4 million a year as of 2006.

Clark suffered a stroke in late 2004, several months after going public with the fact that he had type 2 diabetes. He was initially paralyzed on his right side and rendered unable to speak, and he did not play an active leadership role in the company thereafter.

In 2007 Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins owner and chairman of the board for the Six Flags amusement park chain, purchased DCP via his Red Zone Capital Fund investment for $175 million.

When Clark wasn’t able to host “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” in 2004 because of the stroke, Regis Philbin filled in.

When Clark returned for his New Year’s Eve gig after missing that year, the ratings for the show on Dec. 31, 2005, shot up despite his impaired speech. On the show, he frankly told viewers, “I had to teach myself how to walk and talk all over again. It was a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect, but I’m getting there.”

Returning to the annual gig was enormously important to Clark, who made it quite clear to a New York Times interviewer in March 2011 that he was not happy to be retired. “I would much rather be working,” Clark said.

Hilary Duff and Ryan Seacrest joined Clark on the telecast as co-hosts (Seacrest has been with the program ever since and will now take over as sole host).

Subsequently, Clark appeared on August 27, 2006, at the Emmy Awards, where he was honored with a career tribute, and every “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show through 2011, when the 40th anniversary edition of the show dominated in the ratings; viewers of the annual telecast could chart the gradual improvement in Clark’s speech and movement beginning with his return in 2005.

Clark and other producers were nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 1988 for “The 15th Annual American Music Awards” in the variety-music events programming category.

At the Daytime Emmys, Clark drew multiple nominations over the years for his work as host of “Pyramid” and won in 1979, 1985 and 1986.

He and other producers were nominated several times for “New American Bandstand” and won in 1988 and 1983, a year in which Clark also picked up a Daytime Emmy for producing “ABC Afterschool Special” episode “The Woman Who Willed a Miracle” (which also won a Peabody Award). He and others picked up several noms over the years for producing “The Soap Opera Awards.” And in 2000 and 2001 he and other producers drew Daytime Emmy noms for “The Donny and Marie Show.”

Clark won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1994.

Clark was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1993.

On his 80th birthday on Nov. 30, 2009, DJs throughout the U.S. paid tribute to Clark.

In 1976, he penned his autobiography, “Rock, Roll & Remember,” and later went on to write or collaborate on “Looking Great, Staying Young, Dick Clark’s Program for Success in Your Business and Personal Life,” “Dick Clark’s The First 25 Years of Rock & Roll” and The History of American Bandstand” among others.

Clark was married three times. He is survived by his third wife, Kari Wigton; two sons; and a daughter.

Related:
Variety remembers Dick Clark
Dick Clark Productions remains lucrative empire
Photos: Dick Clark through the years
BLTV: Remembering a major player
Biz reacts: “Remarkable host and businessman”

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