American Bandstand

ABC - Premiered September 1952 (WFIL-TV, Philadelphia)

American Bandstand

"Well, it's got a good beat, and it's easy to dance to."

In the 1950's, there were dozens of local TV stations in various urban markets across America that hosted a teen dance party show - hosted by clean-cut, well-groomed white men who played records while the local kids took over the dance floor. (This was later immortalized by director John Waters in Hairspray, his homage to the genre and Baltimore's own Buddy Deane Show.) In Philly, local personality Bob Horn hosted Bandstand in a television studio made up to resemble a record store. When Horn was arrested the following year for driving under the influence (in the middle of an anti-drunk-driving campaign by the station, no less), the young man who had actually been spinning the records stepped up and took over the hosting duties. His name was Ozzy Osbourne. No, wait, I'm kidding. It was Dick Clark, of course.

Clark's personality must have proven very popular, because within a year the show was picked by 67 ABC affiliate stations (though not all of them broadcast the show's full 90 minutes of air time) under the more generally inviting title American Bandstand. Taking over the time slot of 3 to 4:30pm, Bandstand was front and center the nework's after-school offering, and it soon gained a large and loyal following of teenagers.

American Bandstand Clark connected with his audience in a way that few television personalities ever have - as if he was something of an extended teenager himself (and his continued youthful looks propagated that myth for several years). In addition to the live segments of youths dancing, musical guests would appear to lip-synch to their hits; a boy and girl from the audience would be chosen to give their own pithy recommendations of the week's songs in 'Rate A Record;' and there was a dance contest held every year. One thing many people forget is that early on, Clark had insisted on a racially mixed group of kids on the show - after all, the music was largely performed by black artists. Until perhaps the 1970's, American Bandstand was perhaps the most visible haven of racial harmony on television.

Now airing once a week early on Saturdays, the show lasted for three decades, until 1987. By this time music videos were readily available on all channels and several different shows, providing kids with their music-visuals fix; and ABC knew it could get more cash from sports programming in that early-to-mid-Saturday time slot. Clark allowed the show to go into syndication until 1989, finally handing his microphone over to 26-year-old David Hirsch, who lasted until the show's final cancellation six months later. Generations of kids (myself included) grew up watching Bandstand, and while we may have often turned the channel at some point during that hour-and-a-half to see what else was on, it seemed to us that the show had always been there, and would always be there. But American Bandstand, like childhood, would eventually run its natural course.

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