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Dick Clark Called Me a Nudge

by Tony Quin, SoDA Board Chairman and CEO, IQ / April 20, 2012

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

I first met Dick when I was producing the Marconi Awards, the Emmys for radio. Dick agreed to be the host and can you imagine a better host for anything? The next year he came back and hosted them again and that was where I saw what he was really made of.

It was a jam packed program of music and luminaries all working for the good of the radio industry. So when the road manager of Tower of Power demanded cash for his band to go party after the show, I said no, we didn’t have any cash. I then didn’t think of it again until we discovered the road manager, upset at the lack of party favors, had shut down all of the sound computers for Kenny Loggins, who was next up. In the 25 minutes it took to boot the computers back up again, Dick took to the stage to save the day.  He proceeded to regale the black tie audience with wonderful stories of the music and radio industry people he had met over his already illustrious career. He was so engaging that when Kenny was ready go on again no one wanted Dick to stop. It turned out to be the highlight of the evening.

Dick was the real deal. He was easy to know, never superior and never acted like a  star. He could be a bit gruff to those he knew, but he was always really generous and gracious. After the Marconis I suggested a couple of TV show ideas that we might pitch together. Of course this was like telling David Hockney that I had an idea for a painting. He started out by telling me that he had already had every idea I would ever have. While I was still processing those ground rules he asked me what I had and as it turned out he liked one of my ideas. I had actually created shows before including a series for NBC so I wasn’t a complete beginner, but I was very conscious of being in the presence of a master.

We agreed to take the idea to the networks together. First we went to NBC to sell the show to Brandon Tartikoff, the celebrated programming genius.  I did the selling and Dick brought the credibility. It was a quintessential network pitch meeting. Tartikoff burst into the room trailed by flustered looking assistants. He was brusque, acerbic and five minutes later bought the show on the spot. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I thought, that was easy. A month later the NBC lawyers killed the deal. So I called Dick and suggested pitching it to ABC.  Once again his patience and generosity indulged my enthusiasm and a couple of days later I drove him over to Century City to see the head of programming for ABC. I pulled into valet parking as I always did, but Dick, the $200 million dollar man, insisted it was stupid to spend $10 when we could do it for ourselves. Appropriately chastened I found a spot and never forgot the lesson.

Dick was a self made man and he never forgot that either. He saw himself first as a business man.  It was almost like the star Dick, was just what he had to be to get his ideas to happen. At heart I think he saw himself as a salesman, an idea guy, a marketer, a hard working man, who loved work. And he was always working; he would open a supermarket if it kept him busy.

So we sold our show to ABC and suddenly I was producing a prime time network TV show with Dick Clark. It was a lot of stress, not only because of the show, but also because I was getting married two days after the premiere. Perhaps that was why I listened when someone told me to be careful because Dick was a business barracuda.  I shouldn’t have listened, but I did, and I started to act a bit pushy about my creative rights and other show biz BS. Dick tolerated me, as he probably had many other novices before, until one day he looked up and in his slightly crusty, avuncular way,  told me I was a nudge. Being an Irish Catholic boy I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. So I did a little research and discovered it meant I was being too pushy. That was the extent of the dark side I ever saw from Dick. Sure he could be gruff, but he was usually wise and invariably kind. On the day before our show, a piece of nonsense called “Anything for Laughs” was to premiere on ABC, following “America’s Funniest Home Videos” another pillar of American culture, my fiancé and I received a package at home. It was a wedding present from Dick and his wife Kari. A set of hand blown brandy snifters with a little place where you could put your thumb, and a note that read “….never lose touch with what’s important.”

After the show flashed forgettably across the television heavens for an instant, Dick and I stayed in touch, although I went into the digital world from there. Some years later, however, after not talking to him for a long while, I was at a conference when I saw him surrounded by admirers. I stood at the edge of the crowd, waiting my turn, when he saw me, and lunging through the throng gave me a big, long bear hug.  I’ll never forget how special that made me feel.

Like many I watched Dick bravely battle the stroke that damaged, but didn’t destroy his legendary timing. But unlike most, I knew that he had also been fighting Parkinson’s disease for years.  Nothing could seemingly slow down the man that refused to stop working; the man who always looked so young and alive that we joked he had secretly stolen Dorian Grey’s portrait. Part of me, with everyone else, lost America’s favorite TV host today, but a bigger part of me lost someone who was patient and generous to an ambitious young man, once upon a time, for which I will always be grateful.

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