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TV Validates It: 1998 Is on Its Way

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Here are two predictions for the New Year: It will arrive as scheduled, and David Sanborn’s saxophone will sound just as terrific in 1998 as it ever did before.

Assuming that the first proposition pans out, you can certify the second one by catching Sanborn’s tasty hourlong special, “After New Year’s Eve,” on ABC tonight--well, actually, Thursday at 1:05 a.m.

Taped two weeks before New Year’s Eve at a mid-Manhattan studio, the program captures the right atmosphere with its cozy, jazz-club setting, including wisps of artificial smoke.

Sanborn is an affable host as well as a virtuosic musician, and he welcomes a refreshingly diverse slate of guests, including Isaac Hayes, Joan Osborne, Lou Reed, Boz Scaggs, hip-hop group Naughty by Nature and legendary New Orleans singer-pianist Dr. John. Highlights include Reed’s rip-roaring “Dirty Boulevard” and a sexy, silken pairing of Hayes and Osborne on “Spooky.”

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The only drawback of the show is its scheduling. Despite paying appropriate lip service to auld lang syne, “After New Year’s Eve” is right for any occasion. Aired in prime time on another night, it might receive the larger audience it deserves.

Still, TV sets in great numbers will burn bright on New Year’s Eve. For those viewers gazing at them, Sanborn should prove a welcome second act after “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” signing on at 11:35 p.m., has ushered in the main event.

But where does television get off playing any role in ringing out one year and ringing in another? Why do celebrants need guidance from Dick Clark or, over on Fox, from David Alan Grier (of “In Living Color”) as host of “When New Year’s Eve Attacks!”? What can they tell you that your own on-site countdown can’t identify?

Glad you asked. As with so much of its programming year-round, TV trades on the principle that the grass is greener in your neighbor’s (televised) yard. So, no matter where you are and what you’re doing New Year’s Eve, you’ll naturally assume that the revelers you see on television are having way more fun than you. TV invites you to share in their merriment vicariously.

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Besides, television reigns as the supreme authority. Just as you would rather hear a Weather Channel meteorologist tell you it’s raining outside than peek out your window yourself, somehow television’s confirmation that 1998 is nigh carries more weight than the clock on your own wall ticking down the seconds.

Plus, TV can offer so much more razzle-dazzle.

During the Las Vegas-based “When New Year’s Eve Attacks!,” which starts at 11 p.m., Fox promises to herald 1998 by dropping a car 150 feet “with an internationally famous stuntman inside.” (Nagging thought: For those there on the scene, won’t it only be 10 p.m. on Dec. 31? Won’t this stunt be a little premature?)

Meanwhile, ABC’s “Rockin’ ” will bear witness to the annual dropping of the New Year’s Eve ball--all 500 pounds’ and 12,000 rhinestones’ worth--high above New York City’s Times Square. It’s been a tradition since 1906, with Dick Clark a TV fixture since 1912. Oops, make that 1972.

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But what about all those Americans watching from a broad swath somewhere between Vegas and Manhattan? What about those viewers in the Central Time Zone, who up to now have had no national network New Year’s countdown to call their own? (When Clark pronounces it 1998, these disenfranchised millions still will have an hour to go.)

A bold new tradition forged with them in mind begins this year on NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” which follows Jay Leno’s New Year’s celebration on “Tonight Show.”

So what if Eastern Time Zone viewers will have had a good half-hour head start into 1998 when “Late Night” begins its New Year’s Eve edition at 12:35 a.m.? Conan, mindful of his 11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m. time slot for Central viewers, will deliver ’98 expressly synced to the heartland.

Besides celebrating the culture and history of a region unconcerned at living life an hour behind, “Late Night” will ring in the New Year for the Central Time Zone legions.

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In simulated fashion, that is. Complete with CST countdown, “Late Night” will pre-tape, as usual, in the late afternoon. The resulting time warp means Conan can break his ’98 resolutions even before ’97 goes kaput. Whenever that might be.

* “When New Year’s Eve Attacks!” airs tonight at 11 on Fox (Channel 11). “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve ’98" airs tonight at 11:35 on ABC (Channel 7). “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” airs Thursday at 12:35 a.m. on NBC (Channel 4). “After New Year’s Eve With David Sanborn” airs Thursday at 1:05 a.m. on ABC.


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