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New Year's Eve shows downplay terrorism jitters on one of TV's most competitive nights

New Year's Eve shows downplay terrorism jitters on one of TV's most competitive nights
Police officers stand guard over the many revelers in New York last year. (Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images)

This will be the ninth New Year's Eve in a row that Kathy Griffin has broadcast live from the teeming crowds in New York's Times Square with her CNN cohost Anderson Cooper, and she's not about to have the party spoiled by the widespread jitters over recent terrorism attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

"I'm just so used to being a target that I'm actually not one bit afraid," Griffin joked in a phone interview. She then took a dig at her competing Times Square host on ABC's "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve": "If Ryan Seacrest can do it, I can do it."

Over the last few years, New Year's Eve has become one of the most competitive live-broadcast nights of the year, with multiple TV networks airing coverage of festivities in New York, Miami and elsewhere.

"With a million people in Times Square and tens of millions of people watching, it is about as big as it gets for a platform these days," said Seacrest, who next year will wrap up a 15-year tenure as "American Idol" host.

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But this year's celebrations are tinged with wariness after recent terror attacks here and abroad. The Islamic State militant group in November released a video that showed Times Square and other New York landmarks, which was widely construed as a barely veiled threat.

"The video reaffirms the message that New York City remains a top terrorist target," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis wrote in a statement, adding that police were not aware of a specific threat against the city. An NYPD spokesman said the department doesn't discuss details of its antiterrorism procedures to avoid helping terror groups plan attacks.

"Security comes into play every single year," said Larry Klein, the veteran executive producer of "Rockin' Eve." "We did a show just three months after 9/11. Security always comes into play when you have a million people in the crowd."

Numerals to mark the coming year are unveiled in Times Square on Dec. 15.
Numerals to mark the coming year are unveiled in Times Square on Dec. 15. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

As far as the TV networks are concerned, the shows will go on. Plenty of people end up watching parties from home rather than attending one live, guaranteeing a surprisingly large television audience for a holiday night. It also helps that New Year's Eve is not as family-oriented as Christmas or Thanksgiving and, thus, puts fewer competitive demands on viewers' attention.

The current throng of party programs is a far cry from 1973, when impresario Clark started "Rockin' Eve" as a younger-skewing rival to the then-dominant New Year's Eve show on CBS, from bandleader Guy Lombardo. (Clark, who died in 2012, had earlier picked Seacrest as his successor.)

Last year, "Rockin' Eve" — which features Seacrest live from Times Square with top musical acts, this year led by Carrie Underwood — drew 12.9 million viewers during the 10 p.m. hour, climbing to an impressive 22.7 million during the 11:30 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. slot, according to Nielsen. The show is telecast for more than three hours and for much of the country climaxes with the live countdown at midnight in New York.

"Rockin' Eve's" total was far ahead of the 5.4 million who turned out for its main rival, "New Year's Eve With Carson Daly" on NBC (Daly logged 8.6 million for the late-night portion). CNN's "New Year's Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin" drew an average of 1.6 million over the course of three-and-a-half hours.

I'm just so used to being a target that I'm actually not one bit afraid. If Ryan Seacrest can do it, I can do it.


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NBC is hoping to expand its party into an entire night of event TV. This year Andy Cohen, host of Bravo's "Watch What Happens: Live," will emcee "New Year's Eve Game Night," airing live at 10 p.m. in much of the country (the program will air on tape in Los Angeles).

Cohen's show is an extension of "Hollywood Game Night," the Jane Lynch-hosted contest which in January will mark its fourth-season premiere on NBC. At 11:30 p.m. Cohen will join Daly in Times Square for the traditional New Year's countdown.

Cohen said he's unfazed by terrorism fears.

Times Square on New Year's is "either going to be the safest place in the world or the opposite," Cohen said. "Living in New York City, I have great trust in the police. I ride the subway most days."

Meanwhile, Fox will again head to Miami for "Pitbull's New Year's Revolution," a dance-music extravaganza overseen by the Cuban American rap star. This year the broadcast will be supervised by veteran Nashville TV producer John Hamlin, who promises the show will, for the first time, be entirely live. Last year, "Pitbull's New Year's Eve Live" gathered 4.4 million during the 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. slot.

"No pretaped performances, not a single one" this year, Hamlin said.

Security will be as key in Florida's Bayfront Park as it is in Times Square. "I've discussed it with Miami PD," he said. "They are confident that they have their eyes and ears on this situation."

The various New Year's Eve shows are settling into specific niches, with CNN's aimed at news junkies who aren't interested in the pop music, dancing or games offered by other networks. Griffin expressed surprise that the cable news network keeps bringing her back year after year as a comedic foil to Cooper, who sheds his sober-newsman persona only slightly for the evening.

"He really is the perfect foil for me because there's so many things he can't say," Griffin said of Cooper.

As for terrorism, Griffin makes it clear that in the cutthroat world of show business, entertainers may have nothing to fear so much as one another.

"We are a genuine alternative to Ryan Seacrest and his cavalcade of stars," she said of the CNN New Year's show. "I feel very proud that we've made a small step in destroying Ryan Seacrest."

Follow Scott Collins on Twitter at @scottcollinsLAT

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