Appreciation: Dick Clark and the TV-ization of rock 'n' roll
By By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun|
Apr 19, 2012 | 7:34 AM
Dick Clark, who died Wednesday at the age of 82, is rightfully being hailed as a pioneer of popular culture. And that's fair enough.
In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the reach of his daily"American Bandstand"show and his myriad prime-time special productions was enormous. He was one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, particularly in terms of his perceived ability to deliver a white, suburban, teenage audience to advertisers.
His power was all the more valued on Madison Avenue because he was one of TV's first personalities associated with teen viewers at the very time that advertisers first started conceiving of teens as a lucrative audience with disposable income in its own right.
He was called "America's oldest teenager" in part because he kept his youthful good looks well past retirement age. But only in part. The other part of the title referred to his link to the teenage audience that Wall Street only started to package and sell to advertisers after World War II.
Clark is credited with playing African-American artists rather than only the white performers who routinely covered their songs in the 1950s. That meant appearances for Little Richard as well as Pat Boone, or Chuck Berry as well as the Beach Boys.
And that is something for which Clark's family, friends and fans can be righteously proud.
But Clark also played a key role in helping TV try to tame rock -- that is, make it more corporate and less subversive by not showcasing the more political artists.
His "Bandstand," which showed the power of the fledgling medium of television to extend the sock-hop dance floor into every corner of the country weekday afternoons once the school bell sounded, also helped homogenize rock and R&B into a playlist of only the songs that fit the lowest common denominator model of TV programming. That's where Top 40 came from to some extent. And that should be remembered, too, as the eulogies of Clark's life are sounded.
The obits and apprecaitions that are out there right now are surprisingly limited. But the one below is solid, at least. Not surprisingly, it comes from ABC where Clark spent so much of his long and productive career.