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New Year's Peeve



Published January 12, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

I have seen the future. And it lip-synchs. As anyone who spent New Year's Eve with a glass of bubbly in one hand and a TV remote in the other can tell you, 2004 went out in frightening, if historic, fashion. For the first time in 32 years, Dick Clark was missing in action, having suffered a stroke on December 6 and arranged for Regis Philbin to handle ball-dropping duties for him. As a result, what the airwaves carried our way looked less like "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" than a scene out of the horror classic Piranha.

It was a feeding frenzy. Rival broadcast entities reacted as though they could smell blood. Or at the very least, sense a change of dynasty. After having a lock on the big night for nearly a third of a century, the 75-year-old producer and host was confined to a hospital bed. Instead of sending get-well cards, NBC, Fox, MTV and even CNN sent youth-friendly talent out into the night in an effort to stake their claim.

Carson Daly led the charge for the peacock, emceeing the network's first-ever New Year's Eve prime-time special. "I am thrilled to be hosting and producing NBC's New Year's Eve show and starting a new and lasting tradition here," he prognosticated modestly in December. I wouldn't be so sure. As it turned out, the TV personality's holiday extravaganza was a snoozily routine affair -- short, I regret to report, on personality. Is it my imagination, or should this guy have asked Santa to bring him one for Christmas?
There were musical performances (Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5 and Duran Duran, etc.). There was shameless corporate cross-promotion (an appearance by "The Apprentice" star Donald Trump). And what would a New Year's Eve celebration be without a pop-in by "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams? Oh, I don't know. Fun, maybe?

"This is not about me trying to steal something from Dick Clark," Daly has assured reporters. Well, then, maybe it should be about him trying to learn something from him.

The visionaries at Fox had a wacky idea: What if we did a countdown to the new year that was also a countdown of 2004's most popular songs? And who better to preside over a festival of free music-industry publicity than Ryan Seacrest, host of television's "American Idol" and radio's "America's Top 40?" Actually, I could fill the rest of this space with names, but it's too late for that. Even as Daly dug in at Rockefeller Center, Seacrest set up operations a few blocks away in Times Square and made his bid to become his generation's Mr. New Year.

More musical performances (Hoobastank, Evanescence, etc.). An appearance by Tom "what ever happened to that nut, anyway" Green. And what would a New Year's Eve celebration be without a 20-minute-long world premiere video by Usher? Again, I'm going to go with fun.

"When you think of music in 2004," the Ryan-ator declared, "only one name comes to mind: Usher." If you're gifted with a mind like Seacrest's, perhaps. Here's another funny from him in response to a CNN interviewer: "When it's time to say, 'OK, here's the show and the guy that is going to be around on New Year's Eve for years to come,' I would definitely like to be the one that the baton gets passed to."
I just bet you would, you pioneering force in broadcasting, you. But, first, you'll have to get past Colin Powell.

That's right. The outgoing Secretary of State acted as second-in-command to Philbin on ABC's perennial ratings buster (the "Rockin' Eve" telecast has traditionally brought in numbers second only to Oscars night). With the assistance of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Powell activated the launch sequence that dropped the big one on nearly a million revelers, whose peculiar idea of reveling seemed limited to trying to recognize Carson Daly and Ryan Seacrest through goofy, 2005-shaped glasses.

"I could not imagine a better way to ring in the New Year," Powell effused, "than surrounded by the energy and enthusiasm of the American people and those watching on television together in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow." No? How about surrounded by the enthusiasm of American troops brought home from that doomed and ill-advised boondoggle you and your buddies got us into in Iraq?

Also keeping his eye on the ball as the New Year approached was CNN's Anderson Cooper. He wasn't a whole lot of fun, but, while Regis was forcing viewers to listen to Kenny G and Earth, Wind & Fire, Cooper at least treated his audience to Green Day. You know, I'm pretty sure I read that Ryan Seacrest was the inspiration for American Idiot.

Meanwhile, over at MTV, Usher was being named Hottest Star of 2004. Hardest to Avoid, anyway.

As is his tradition, Conan O'Brien ushered in the New Year for the central time zone on his show. The "Late Night" host himself commented on the sudden outbreak of countdown programs, observing to guest Darrell Hammond, "Everybody's getting in on it. Anderson Cooper's even doing one on CNN!" Rather than simply playing a tape of the Times Square ball falling, the show's crew erected a nightmarish device bearing gigantic Oprah and Jim Belushi heads, which, in the seconds leading up to 1 a.m., were lowered in such a way as to allow their tongues to lock with one another's.

Surprisingly, this was not the evening's most disturbing image. That would have been Ashlee Simpson's appearance as West Coast co-host for the ABC broadcast. Am I missing something? Wasn't it just weeks ago that the talent-challenged recording artist suffered public disgrace on "Saturday Night Live" when a technical glitch revealed that she was lip-synching to a prerecorded vocal track? The whole world has turned upside down. You make a sex video these days and get your own TV show. You fake a live performance and you're catapulted further into the limelight. If Milli Vanilli were around today, a national holiday would no doubt be named in their honor.

Maybe I'm becoming a codger. Maybe I've forgotten the true meaning of New Year's Eve. To be honest, I'm not clear anymore what the hoopla's all about. We're all another year older? Is anybody over 25 really thrilled about that? And if they are, can I please get the name of the pharmaceuticals they're using? Maybe Colin Powell watches that ball fall and is filled with hope for a brighter tomorrow. Or maybe he's just putting the best face on a less than preferable situation. As anyone at the UN will tell you, he's been known to do that.
No, I don't think the true meaning of New Year's Eve is going to be found in the words of Colin Powell. Or Hoobastank. My guess is the go-to guy for this one is Scottish bard Robert Burns, who in 1788 shaped an ancient folk song into a timeless piece of verse that, many years later, was shaped back into the theme song for this special night: "Auld Lang Syne." Feel free to sing along:

We twa hae run about the braes,

And pou'd the gowans fine,

But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,

in auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn

Frae morning sun till dine,

But seas between us braid hae roar'd

Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,

And gie's a hand o thine,

And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne"

Glad I could clear that up for us. Have the best 2005 ever.