In 2005, when it was announced that Ryan Seacrest would join Dick Clark as the host of the long-running “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” telecast, most viewed the move as a ceremonial passing of the torch — probably because it was.
Sure, a stroke suffered the previous year had left Clark debilitated — he had missed the 2004 New Year’s broadcast, replaced by Regis Philbin — and his role heading into the 2005 NYE show was anything but certain, meaning Seacrest’s live-TV acumen would be heavily relied on. But, really, there were plenty of folks ABC could have chosen to assist in the broadcast, and still, they went with the man who was building a broadcast empire as a radio and television personality, a producer and a pitchman.
Turns out, it was the perfect choice, and not just because the ’05 “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” telecast posted a ratings jump of nearly 2 million viewers from the previous broadcast. For years, Seacrest had been seen as the heir apparent to Clark, the iconic personality who had spent the better part of eight decades establishing himself as America’s pre-eminent multimedia powerhouse, until that NYE broadcast, when he gradually began to cede the throne: Seacrest would return the following year, with Clark’s role diminishing, and in 2009, the show was officially re-named “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.”
Make no mistake about it: There will never be another Dick Clark. But with Clark’s death Wednesday at the age of 82, Seacrest now stands alone. Granted, his entire career has been influenced in every possible way by Clark, who blazed trails — both in front of the camera and behind the scenes — and whose impact on television and radio is nearly impossible to fathom.
With his work on iconic shows like “American Bandstand” and his various syndicated radio programs, Clark brought music into millions of homes, and by being one of the first mainstream hosts to embrace disco, R&B and hip-hop acts — the descendants of which probably make up 75 percent of your Spotify playlist today — he helped shape the tastes of the American public. Through “Bandstand,” he also helped fundamentally change the way music was presented on television, and his on-camera mannerisms belied the fact that live TV was (and is) a high-wire act.
The parallels between that show and “American Idol” — on which Seacrest rose to national prominence — are obvious, and one could make the argument that the two men are quite possibly the best live-TV hosts of any generation. But Seacrest also followed in Clark’s footsteps on radio, where he hosts two syndicated programs (“On Air With Ryan Seacrest” and “American Top 40″), both of which continue to influence the nation’s musical tastes. And just as it was in Clark’s day, the debate rages over whether or not that’s a good thing.
Clark also served as the longtime host of the “Pyramid” game show and the “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes” series, the latter of which was an early forerunner of reality television, something Seacrest knows a thing or two about, given his role as producer on shows like the massively successful “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” In his role as a producer, Seacrest really seems to have been taking notes from Clark. After all, there were few as formidable as him: For more than 50 years, Clark’s self-titled production company has been one of the most successful in TV history, backing a string of hits like “Bandstand,” “So You Think You Can Dance” and the “American Music Awards.”
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Seacrest will have the longevity Clark enjoyed or if his impact on television will be as sizeable. Both of those things seem tall tasks, indeed — there have been few, if any, who have been as influential as Clark, in any number of ways. He was one of a kind, to be certain, and in Seacrest, we have the heir to his throne. Or at least his understudy.
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