New Year’s Eve is the biggest party night of the year, and television is among the most youth-obsessed media, so guess who will be the top hosts this weekend when the ball drops in New York City’s Times Square?
A couple of guys in their 70s, that’s who.
Dick Clark and Regis Philbin have long cultivated a sort of ageless appeal and that will be put to the test during New Year’s Eve specials on ABC and Fox, respectively. Clark partner Ryan Seacrest and NBC’s Carson Daly are also on duty.
The septuagenarian send-off to 2005, one of a handful of interesting television subplots for the night, is particularly rich in irony. ABC and Fox are among those TV networks that usually pretend people over 50 don’t exist.
"Regis can do anything these young punks can do," says Philbin, 74. "I fit right in there with my Fox people. They want Regis to dance, Regis will dance. They want Regis to lift weights with them, Regis will lift weights with them. Whatever they want!"
Good thing he’s bringing a fighting spirit, because the lineup of performers Fox has given him, including Nick Cannon, Tyler Hilton and John O’Hurley, is awfully thin.
That Clark, 76, is now the father figure of New Year’s Eve is a vivid example of how time flies. Some revelers, the ones with gray hairs, can remember when he started "New Year’s Rockin’ Eve" in 1972 as a hipper alternative to Guy Lombardo.
Ryan Seacrest will be with Clark in New York, while Hilary Duff will anchor and perform at a Hollywood segment. ABC nailed the night’s biggest booking with the year’s dominant singer, Mariah Carey, set to perform in Times Square.
The Bangles, Chris Brown, Sean Paul, the Pussycat Dolls, Sugarland, 3 Doors Down and 311 will also be part of ABC’s party.
Seacrest, 31, spent the last few years competing against Clark on Fox. But this year he signed a deal with Clark and ABC to co-produce the show and essentially become Clark’s heir apparent. The hope is that Seacrest will seamlessly take over when Clark decides he doesn’t want to do it anymore.
In one sense, that’s already a big victory for Seacrest over NBC’s Carson Daly, 32, another Clark acolyte. Daly takes pains to avoid being seen as a competitor to Clark. Even though there’s a clear opportunity to paint himself as the youthful alternative on New Year’s Eve, he almost needs to be coaxed into it.
"There will be something for everyone," Daly says. "We’re all going to have the ball drop and we’re all going to have a good time."
He’s been watching old tapes of Clark to help prepare.
Comic Wanda Sykes joins Blige as Daly’s featured performers.
Prime-time champ CBS is sitting out New Year’s Eve.
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Viewers certainly have other choices. MTV’s annual soiree features Kanye West, Shakira and Adam Levine. ESPN is also getting into the New Year’s business, with Stuart Scott as host of a party on ESPN2 with guest Little Steven Van Zandt, mixing sports highlights with a roster of garage rockers.
ESPN sensed that more and more of its young male viewers were interested in inviting friends over rather than going out on New Year’s Eve, Scott said.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper will also be prowling Times Square for a special on the news network.
While he’s there, he may spot Philbin leading the crowd in a verse of "New York, New York" from his perch outside Planet Hollywood. Philbin caught the New Year’s bug last year when he filled in for Clark; now he’s a competitor.
"They could have had Regis back this year if they wanted," Philbin says, with a rare edge. "Ratings were pretty high."
But he says he understood Clark’s desire to set up the "New Year’s Rockin’ Eve" franchise for the future.