As I was looking around for something to watch on TV the other night, I came upon a rerun of “The $10,000 Pyramid” on the Game Show Network. It had just begun, and since I had always enjoyed the show, I watched it to the end. In doing so, two thoughts occurred to me.
First, I couldn’t believe I was actually rooting for the contestant playing with “celebrity partner” Teresa Ganzel, whose only other minor claims to fame –- as far as I can tell -– were being on the TV series “The Duck Factory” with Jack Gilford and Jim Carrey, and replacing Carol Wayne as the busty female sidekick whenever Johnny Carson did his Art Fern bit.
Secondly, I realized that “Pyramid” was the only thing I ever liked Dick Clark for.
I know, it’s considered un-American to dislike Dick Clark, but the guy just bugs me. No, it’s not the “Oldest Teenager” routine. It’s the fact that he’s so blatantly phony.
His best-known ongoing product is “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve,” which for a couple of decades has been the highest rated conduit to the ball drop in Times Square. I give him credit for still being there every year, sure, but the show is terrible. Maybe it just seems under-ambitious to me, or maybe it’s just that I like broadcasts with a little more edge, a little more risk-taking. I’m not suggesting that Johnny Knoxville ride the ball down the pole, but the simple fact that everything on that show is pre-recorded other than Dick’s segments is indicative of his play-it-safe modus operandi. Worse, he pretends that the other segments weren’t actually taped in Hollywood days or weeks ahead of time — the Hollywood crew of People Desperate To Be On Television is faking it, badly — as if everyone were simultaneously ringing in the New Year (let’s not even get into the Time Zone difference).
That’s the phoniness I’m talking about, and it extends to all of his projects.
Take Dick’s other Most Celebrated Show, “American Bandstand.” ABC just aired his 50th Anniversary extravaganza, which did nothing but prove that “Bandstand” was always about as hip as Donny Osmond (an argument reinforced by the fact that Barry Manilow sang the theme song).
Worse, all the performers on “Bandstand” lip-synced their songs! Sometimes you could see that the guitars weren’t plugged in – this was before wireless instruments were invented – and the drummers looked like they had been told “don’t let your drumstick actually touch the drum head.” I would burst out laughing whenever a song faded out, because it wasn’t live, it was the record!
Perhaps the reason that “Pyramid” still looked good to me is that it came from Bob Stewart Productions, not dick clark productions (that’s not a typo – he pretentiously insists that the company name be in all small letters, as if he’s the e.e. cummings of television).
The most vital job at “dcp” must be that of the videotape editor, because that’s the person who has to take all of Dick’s pieces and put them together into a coherent show. Take a look at the “Bloopers” series he produced. Remember how a bloopers clip montage would end, and Dick and Ed McMahon would be sitting on their stools pointing and laughing as if they were watching along with the audience? They weren’t! All Dick and Ed had to do was record their parts, get them right in a couple of takes, and then the editor would splice it all together in post-production. Since the speaking parts rarely took more than ten minutes, that meant that Dick could pre-tape his parts for five or six shows in a single hour. Forget that it looked bogus to the home viewers!
Shows that have the “dcp” stamp on them aren’t just phony, they also have the appearance of shameless ripoffs. Speaking of Ed McMahon, his show “Star Search” was cloned by Dick to become “Your Big Break.” Long after The Grammys were established, Dick started The American Music Awards, which are nothing more than a popularity contest — like The People’s Choice Awards, the results are based on polling, rather than merit.
After “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” became a phenomenon a couple of years ago, it was Clark who rushed his ripoff onto the air. Remember the first time you saw “Greed”? Chuck Woolery wasn’t the problem, but the set, the lighting, and the pounding music were flagrantly counterfeited from the instant classic original that Regis was hosting.
Earlier this year, Dick did it again, allegedly taking the concept of ABC’s “The Chair” and pumping it full of hot air to create “The Chamber.” There’s debate about who copied whom, but the truth is that, although neither one deserved to be on the air, the Dick Clark version was much lamer and more excessive.
Clark is also the one who elevated The Golden Globes to the exalted status they now unduly receive — winning one is about as important as winning the MTV Rock ‘n’ Jock softball game, and yet the hype is unbelievable.
Ever hear of another show Dick’s involved in, entitled “The Other Half”? Here’s how the show is promoted on its website: “The Other Half is unique among daytime TV talk shows for women. This new, one-hour show features an engaging and revealing look at a variety of topics important to women including relationships, finance, health and fitness, sex and parenting.”
Unique, huh? A unique copy, maybe, since it’s the exact same concept Barbara Walters developed for “The View,” but with four guys! Dick is one of the foursome, along with Danny Bonaduce — the man who never met a camera he didn’t mug for — and two other guys you’ve never heard of (it doesn’t matter, because they’re horrible). In St. Louis, “The Other Half” truly is unique among daytime TV shows, in that it runs in the middle of the night.
Speaking of Bonaduce, he brings us to Dick’s latest foray into revolutionary primetime brilliance: “Celebrity Boxing.” You may recall the debut special, in which Bonaduce pounded Barry “Greg Brady” Williams, Tonya Harding smacked Paula Jones all over the ring, and Todd Bridges knocked the word out of Vanilla Ice. That Parade Of Has-Beens was a big enough hit that Fox asked Dick to dig deeper into the barrel of tabloid vermin for another round, which airs this Wednesday night. This time, the quality will really show when Joey Buttafuoco fights Joanie Laurer, who used to wrestle as Chyna and stepped into this muck pile when original combatant John Wayne Bobbitt had to be replaced because he faces new abuse charges after using his wife as a punching bag. Clark and the sleaze-mongerers at Fox didn’t seem to mind that Bobbitt was convicted twice before on abuse charges.
Also on the bill, extra-tall Manute Bol fights extra-wide William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the guy who played TV’s Screech fights the guy who played TV’s Horshack, and -– wait for it -– Olga Korbut (yes, the 1972 Soviet Olympic Pixie has crawled out from under some rock to embarrass herself on television) takes on Darva Conger.
You remember Darva, the blond from “Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire.” She’s the one who desperately wanted fame and fortune, right up until the moment that fame and fortune meant spending more than three seconds with Rick Rockwell. Then she claimed she never did it for publicity and just wanted to be left alone. The way she proved her Garbo-esque desire was by making repeated appearances on “Larry King Live” and then doing a nude layout and publicity tour for Playboy. Apparently that wasn’t enough privacy for Darva, so she’s going to be on “Celebrity Boxing.”
The irony is that if Dick Clark were to begin a new version of “The Pyramid” today, all of his celebrity boxers would be answers in the category “People You Wouldn’t Want As Your Partner If You Were Playing The Pyramid.”
Somewhere, Andy Warhol’s watch has stopped. And we have Dick Clark to thank for it.