Q&A; WITH DICK CLARK : 'Popular Music Is the Soundtrack of Our . . . Lives'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The hair contains strands of gray. The face reveals the occasional wrinkle. Believe it or not, America's oldest teen-ager is almost a senior citizen.

Dick Clark is 64 years old. How can that be? He was supposed to remain eternally young, frozen in our stubborn illusions of his immortality.

But aging or not, he hasn't reduced his workload. This month alone, Clark is producing five prime-time television specials, including last Friday's "Soap Opera Digest Awards" and tonight's "American Music Awards" on ABC. The others range from a Valentine's Day-related show about marriage proposals (Sunday) to a look at teen idols (which he'll host on Feb. 15, using footage from his old "American Bandstand" series) to a country music program (Feb. 19).

Clark is best known, of course, for his three decades as host of "American Bandstand," which, before MTV, offered the younger generation its first peek at the hottest new music acts. He still hosts two nationally syndicated weekly radio shows--"Rock, Roll & Remember" and "Countdown America"--but spends most of his time running dick clark productions in Burbank, which, in 1987, went public. The company specializes in producing the kind of light entertainment specials that are on view this month.

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Question: Why do people love awards shows so much?

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Answer: There is so little live television. People look to see if there will be an accident, a surprise, something unexpected. Anything that's live these days draws a big audience because we're satiated on prepared material. Women tune in to see the clothing, the hair styles. Obviously, we tune in to see the punch line--who won? An awful lot of people who watch say, "I would like to be there in that audience."

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Q: After 20 years, is it tough to keep "The American Music Awards" fresh?

A: No, the material changes. I look, year to year, and say, "Oh, God, last year, we were desperate to have this person or these people involved and this year, we don't care. They're not even nominated."

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Q: What's the key to making your sort of specials work?

A: I don't think you ever really know. You try to find something that's easy to promote so that the network can draw some kind of audience. "Will You Marry Me" is an awfully easy show to talk about; it's a big hit in Europe. Surprising one another with proposals should draw women, especially if there are a lot of hot sports on (the Winter Olympics) that night.

Q: Any plans to use more "American Bandstand" footage, as you do in the "Teen Idol" show?

A: Eventually, all of that stuff will go into a museum. But it's very expensive to show it. That's why it's not out there all the time. That's why it's not in videos. You've got guilds and unions. You've got copyright owners. It's endless.

Q: What do you think of music these days?

A: Nothing about the talent has changed. The business has changed. It's now owned by five or six multinational corporations, run by people who deal very much with the bottom line. Breaks for new people are negligible. There's so much money invested in the well-known names, perpetuating their careers and recouping the investment, that you and I, if we just started now, would have a steep uphill battle. In the old days, you'd find a guy who managed the business out of his garage, and you'd be the star, the mainstay.

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Q: How do you feel about MTV?

A: It's a great promotion tool. It has been since the day it started. The unfortunate part that bothers me as an adult is that it strips you of your imagination to listen to a record and conjure up your own pictures in your mind. That's sad. You and I grew up that way. You listened to the radio, and then you wrote a screenplay (with your imagination). Now you see the darn thing as the director of that video saw it: "That's where the car crashes. That's where the guy jumps through the window."

I guess it has changed the appreciation of music for young people because their minds don't play the song. Think of all the songs you have listened to all your life. Popular music is the soundtrack of our individual lives. Anything that ever happened to you, good or bad, was scored with the music you listened to. I'm not sure that's happening to today's generation.

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Q: Do you get tired of being called America's oldest teen-ager?

A: It's tough because I have to look in the mirror every day. To have people continually remind you or crawl up within five inches of your face and say I look pretty good for a guy my age is meant to be a compliment, but it adds that heavy-duty imposition on you--"There's another wrinkle. There's another gray hair." But I use it. The first man to ever call me that was almost 30 years ago. What it does, it breaks the ice. I did Arsenio Hall last night. He used it. I ask people to use "America's Oldest Teen-ager" in an introductory phrase they'll use in a speech because it brings a smile to people's faces. I can react to it. I can pretend to be annoyed. It just breaks the ice at a social meeting.

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Q: How do you look so great?

A: God knows, I take care of myself. I've launched a skin care line and it's going to be a huge business. It's an excellent line of skin care products. It has all the latest developments in it. It has nothing to do with what I look like, but I act as its spokesman. I own it, as a matter of fact. Why not capitalize on the fact that there's a guy who is 64 years old and looks pretty good for his age?

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Q: Why hasn't your company produced successful dramatic series or situation comedies?

A: Situation comedies are a specialty area. If we had had the kind of money to spend on the creators, producers and writers, we could do it. I don't think that's a good way to invest the public's money because the odds are minimal that you'll succeed. We may get one on, but we're hanging on with bated breath for CBS to give us a nod one way or the other. It's a story of two teen idols, who happen to be real idols--Frankie Avalon and Michael Damian. Frankie plays the father, Michael the son who gives up his teaching job to go into music, much to the dismay of his father, who is a former teen idol. It's a very, very funny premise. We did a run-through for CBS and they had us commission a script. You and I can relate to the older end of it, and those kids who are falling in love with the 8 o'clock shows will love the youthful end of it.

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Q: What have you not done?

A: I'd like to launch a Broadway show because we failed twice. It's a part of the entertainment business I haven't quite licked yet. I'd like our company to have more regular series on so that we don't have to reinvent ourselves every few minutes, but in the meantime, being the most successful of what we do is not a bad mantle to carry.

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