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In with the new for 2004 countdown

Newbies do little to knock the 'Rock'

A lot has changed since the last time Dick Clark spent New Year’s Eve at home.

When Clark launched his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” franchise in 1972, Guy Lombardo was still ushering in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.” And Carson Daly and Ryan Seacrest hadn’t even been born.

Three decades later, the competition has changed — including new attempts by Daly and Seacrest to cement their own franchises. But even as Clark takes a break to recover from a minor stroke, “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” is still king.

It’s a brand that has endured a good deal of ribbing through the years — including a famous “Friends” episode, which mocked the fact the show’s studio performances are taped weeks in advance (complete with a fake countdown to midnight).

Still, the special has been one of ABC’s most stable performers through the years, as a whole generation of viewers grew up watching Dick Clark bundled up in Times Square, building up to the ball drop.

ABC finally expanded the show five years ago, adding a primetime hour and extending the latenight edition.

“This is our second-highest rated special, behind the Oscars,” says ABC alternative/specials/latenight chief Andrea Wong. “It’s a huge franchise for us — a tradition. There’s a comfort level knowing every year Dick Clark will be there with you.”

Except this year, as Regis Philbin steps in for Clark. (Singer Ashlee Simpson is hosting the pre-recorded West Coast portions.)

“It’s the greatest ‘temp’ job in the world,” Philbin says.

Meanwhile, NBC hopes to launch a tradition of its own this year with “NBC’s New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly,” airing Dec. 31 from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Daly’s no stranger to the night, having hosted MTV’s live New Year’s specials for several years. The new special, live from NBC’s Rockefeller Plaza digs, doesn’t countdown to midnight, however — those duties still fall on “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.

Fox, meanwhile, will air the third annual Seacrest-hosted “New Year’s Eve: Live,” this year from Times Square.

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