Santa Monica, Los Angeles, USA, 3pm
Last year, as the song goes, I took a trip to see LA. The city appealed to my sensibilities, despite the traffic and heaving breasts in every direction. It was a city of hidden things.
Behind the high walls and concrete that characterises its façade, LA exuded energy and possibility. I found niche eateries, a lively art scene, rocking bands and more creative souls than you could pack into Fitzroy in a whole year.
So as we turned up our heaters in Melbourne this week, I couldn’t help but think back to those bleached days cruising downtown. I dusted off the Hidden Documentary archives and found an interview from my afternoon with Barry Adelman, executive producer at Dick Clark Productions (DCP) in LA.
DCP was started by media mogul Dick Clark in 1957 and has one of the longest television legacies in the US.
The company makes the Golden Globe Awards, American Music Awards, So You Think You Can Dance, Bloopers and the iconic American Bandstand, which launched the careers of musicians such as Madonna and Prince.
Even if Barry’s name doesn’t ring a bell, the programming trail he has left across your TV set makes it seem like he is your long-lost invisible childhood friend.
On a balmy afternoon in his office, I asked the man who wrote Elvis’ eulogy what it was like to create the magic of Hollywood.
In the beginning…
I started in Chicago as a comedy writer and I was working at night. I would approach every celebrity in Chicago unsolicited and ask to write for them.
In the late 70s, I was invited by John Davidson to be in a show in Hollywood, which was produced by Dick Clark. It was the first time I had met him and I had to read my material. It was very intimidating at the time.
Five or six years later, I got a call from Dick because he couldn’t make one of his shows work. It was 1984 and Bloopers had just come to air partnered with Johnny Carson, so it was around that time Dick Clark made me a staff producer.
Now I am a part of every show in the company, as a writer and a consultant. We also bring in freelance producers such as Larry Klein who work on specific shows like the American Music Awards.
You have to love entertainment to work in the profession. I want to make each show better than the last and that’s my motivation. You won’t find any other company like us in the US because we’ve had hit shows for so long. For example, New Years Rockin’ Eve has been on for over forty years and American Bandstand was on from 1957-89.
The reason we have been so successful is because all the shows stay young. They reflect the latest trends from the genre and we are always showing people in the prime of their career. At the American Music Awards we have the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga and on So You Think You Can dance we have the best dancers from all across the country.
In my leisure time, I have to sacrifice listening and watching the things I might be really drawn to in order to keep up with the youth market. You have to know who means something to young people and that is the challenge.
In the older generation people say the music isn’t as good, but for young people these are the things they care about and will look back on with fondness. I think adults cut themselves off from contemporary culture. I don’t often go to the media screenings of our films because the media will often laugh at the dialogue if it is full of clichés – but that same film will make 200 million dollars.
Changes in the entertainment business
The younger generation are accessing TV on very different platforms and we are aware of it. Our digital department is continuing to grow at a bigger rate that anything else.
Right now, we are keeping our shows fuelled with a digital component. We used to see the net as a rival but now we see the net as an enhancement to our shows.
Dick Clark Productions has a future because we do events and you want to see those types of shows live. I think TiVo and DVR are changing the business more than the internet, but there is still a desire for the communal viewing experience. Take Michael Jackson’s funeral for example, it is watched communally and that makes the difference. People can experience the process of loss together.
I don’t know how long So You Think You Can Dance will last in its new format, but the reality TV genre is still vital and strong. We are a big company so we need big hit shows. In the 80s and 90s we had Bloopers and American Bandstand, so in every era we’ve always had big hits on the air.
The name Dick Clark still carries a lot of weight. All the owners of Dick Clark Productions understand you don’t take the company in a totally new direction but you enhance it. For example, we now have cross promotions like our Six Flags Theme Park, Johnny Rockets and the national football team. This is a bigger reach than we could do previously and it has improved the company and made us stronger.
So you think you can be in television?
Star power and charisma are more important than talent unfortunately. If you just have charisma you will do great, but if you have lots of talent and no charisma you can’t expect to be successful.
There are a few things I would recommend for young people trying to break into the industry.
1) You have to love this business because you will give up sleep, leisure time, family and relationships. Most of your life is spent working for the industry.
2) You have to think about what you specifically want to do in the industry, especially in a youth orientated business. Its fine to say, “I want to be a director,” but don’t say, “I’ll do anything,” because it’s too broad an ambition. Isolate the reason you want to be in the business and what motivates you.
3) You have to be around the people who can teach you the business.
4) People who have a sense of history have a better perspective of contemporary trends in the industry. Trends always recycle so you should know about the past and what has come before.
I am happy with my career choice because I have met a lot of amazing people. I wrote Elvis’ eulogy and I have written for presidents of the US. In the best moments it is nice to know you have given people some joy.
I didn’t take a photo of Barry Adelman at our interview, but here is a link to a photo here (in the interests of copyright I decided not to post one on the blog).