January 11, 2020


(WFIL-TV, ABC, Syndication, USA Network, October 7, 1952-October 7, 1989)

WFIL-TV (1952-64), Dick Clark Productions (1964-89)

Bob Horn - Host (1952-56)
Lee Stewart – Co-host (1952-55)
Tony Mammarella – Host (1956)
Dick Clark – Host (1956-1989)
David Hirsch – Host (1989)

American Bandstand was a musical television program that showcased Top 40 music as teenagers danced along to the songs. The show began in 1950 as Bandstand on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV Channel 6 (now WPVI-TV), a local program replacing a weekday movie that would air in the timeslot. It was hosted by Bob Horn as a spin-off to his radio show of the same name. Bandstand was a precursor of sorts to MTV as it would show short musical films produced by Snader Telescriptions and Official Films with occasional guests. However, the ratings were abysmal and Horn quickly grew bored with the show. He decided to change it to a dance program that showed teens dancing on camera as records played; based on an idea from WPEN (now WKDN) radio show, The 950 Club.

Dancers choosing the next song Bob Horn would play.

The new Bandstand debuted on WFIL-TV on October 7, 1952. The studio could hold up to 200 dancing teenagers for which time was allotted for Horn to interview them to find out their names, schools, hobbies and whatever else. The music films from the previous version were maintained as filler while dancers were changed out between segments. Horn was given a new co-host in Lee Stewart. Stewart was a local businessman and a large advertising account for WFIL, and his being made co-host was part of the deal. He remained with the show until 1955 when WFIL became more financially stable and didn’t rely on his account as much. In 1956, Horn was fired from the show after becoming involved in a series of scandals; including his involvement in a prostitution ring and being arrested for a DUI while WFIL was doing a news series on drunken driving. Producer Tony Mammarella served as interim host until Dick Clark was hired for the position permanently.

America's teenager: Dick Clark.

That spring, ABC was looking for programming suggestions to fill their 3:30 PM timeslot. Clark pitched the program to ABC president Thomas W. Moore, who eventually agreed to carry the show and bring it to a national audience under the new name, American Bandstand. Baltimore affiliate WAAM (later WJZ) opted not to air Bandstand in favor of attempting to produce their own similar program. Local disc jockey Buddy Deane was named the host of The Buddy Deane Show which aired for two hours daily. A rivalry occurred between Clark and Deane that often resulted in acts first booked on Deane’s show being rejected by Bandstand, and acts first booked on Bandstand were asked never to mention their previous appearance. Deane’s show only ran for 7 years, ending in 1964.

In October of 1957, ABC gave Bandstand a new 30-minute evening show on Monday nights, but it failed in the ratings and was cancelled that December. Also, in November, ABC opted to air their newly acquired game show, Who Do You Trust?, right in the middle of Bandstand on most of their networks. WFIL chose to tape-delay the game show for a later broadcast and air Bandstand in its entirety.

Clark interviewing The Beatles.

By 1959, Bandstand had a national audience of 20 million viewers. It became daily essential viewing and greatly influenced American pop culture. As the show entered the 1960s, ABC opted to truncate the show’s runtime from 90-minutes to 60, and then down to a daily half-hour program. By 1963, the show abandoned its live format and an entire week’s worth of programs were videotaped on the preceding Saturday. This move actually allowed Clark the freedom to pursue other interests as both a producer and host while remaining as Bandstand’s host. That year, the show also moved to Saturday where it would remain in various timeslots after noon throughout the rest of its run.

Many of the local Philadelphia teens became famous following their appearances on the show. Clark would often interview the audience members in a segment called “Rate-a-Record”. He would ask them to rate two records on a scale that Clark would average out, then asked the audience to justify those scores. The segment gave rise to the phrase “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” when describing the songs. Once, the comedy team of Cheech and Chong appeared on the show as participants in a humorous segment of “Rate-a-Record”.

Clark interviewing musical guest Paul Petersen in front of their ABC-inspired logo.

In 1964, production of the show moved from Philadelphia to ABC Television Center in Los Angeles (currently The Prospect Studios) and they adopted a new logo that emulated the ABC logo, reading “AB” in a circle accompanied by the current two-digit date. After a disastrous first attempt to go color in 1958, which failed because of the size of the cameras required at the time in the small studio space plus ABC’s refusal to transmit in color, Bandstand finally went colorized beginning on September 9, 1967. In 1969, the show gained an entirely new set and another new logo. Notably, after the move, the dancers featured on the show became more integrated. Because of segregation, while WFIL happily exhibited the city’s interracial music scene in order to create a successful program, they kept black teenagers out of the studio so as not to alienate viewers and advertisers.

In 1973, Clark managed to cause a bit of racial controversy of his own when he attempted to expand the Bandstand brand. He created the similar Soul Unlimited, hosted by Buster Jones, with a focus on soul music. Bandstand and Unlimited would share a timeslot for several weeks. Two years prior, Don Cornelius had created his own dance program, Soul Train, which featured music from genres such as R&B, jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop (although Cornelius wasn’t a fan of that particular genre, feeling it did not positively reflect African-American culture). Cornelius and Jesse Jackson openly accused Clark of trying to destroy television’s only program created and run by African-Americans. Unlimited’s target audience also wasn’t pleased with the show due to its alleged use of racial overtones on top of its being created by a white man. Ultimately, Unlimited was cancelled after a few weeks and some of its set pieces were integrated into Bandstand’s.

As Bandstand entered the 1980s, ratings began to steadily decline. MTV and other programs began to fill the niche Bandstand had dominated over the decades, taking away more and more of their audience. Also, many ABC affiliates opted to pre-empt or delay the program for things like college football games, which were getting ever-increasing ratings, or for special presentations like an unsold pilot. In 1986, ABC once again reduced Bandstand from an hour down to 30 minutes. Clark decided to end the show’s association with ABC on September 5, 1987 and moved it to first-run syndication two weeks later, restoring the hour format. The show was now filmed at KCET’s Studio B with a new set similar to Soul Train and was distributed by LBS Communications.

Following the broadcast on June 4, 1988, Bandstand went on a 10-month hiatus. When it returned in April of 1989, it had moved over to cable’s USA Network with comedian David Hirsch assuming hosting duties. Clark remained on as executive producer. The new version of Bandstand ditched the studio setting for the first time and was filmed outdoors at Universal Studios Hollywood. However, Bandstand had ultimately run its course and was cancelled after 26 weeks. Of the over 3,000 episodes produced across the decades, only 883 are known to survive.

Donna Summer co-hosting in 1978.

Throughout the show’s run, a number of the musical acts whose songs were played appeared on the show, many of whom it would be the first time on American television, typically lip-synching to their songs and sitting down for an interview with the host. Some of the acts included Aerosmith, Frankie Avalon, The Bee Gees, E.G. Daily, Def Leppard, ELO, Marvin Gaye, The Guess Who, Corey Hart, Hall & Oates, Billy Idol, the Jackson 5, Janet Jackson, B.B. King, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The Mamas & the Papas, Mike + the Mechanics, The Monkees, Juice Newton, Oingo Boingo, The Osmonds, Ray Parker Jr., The Pointer Sisters, Prince, Quaterflash, Della Reese, REO Speedwagon, R.E.M., Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Run-D.M.C., Sha Na Na, Shalamar, Simple Minds, Talking Heads, The Temptations, Conway Twitty, Wham! and “Weird Al” Yankovic. In 1978, Donna Summer became the only musical act to also serve as a co-host as part of a promotion for her upcoming film, Thank God It’s Friday.

Clark posing with New Edition over an anniversary cake.

Bandstand used several themes over the years. Its first was “High Society” by Artie Shaw. After the series was picked up by ABC, the theme became varying arrangements of “Bandstand Boogie” by Charles Albertine. Les Elgart’s big-band version of the theme was released as a single in March of 1954 by Columbia Records. Mike Curb wrote the synthesized rock instrumental piece “Bandstand Theme” which was used from 1969-74 and also received a single release by Forward Records. A new disco version of “Bandstand Boogie” arranged and performed by Joe Porter replaced it in 1974. Another version of “Bandstand Boogie”, this time by Barry Manilow, became the theme from 1977 through 1986. Although Manilow had previously recorded and released the song in 1975, the show’s version featured lyrics by him and Bruce Sussman referencing elements featured on the program. Porter’s theme was retained as bumper music for commercial breaks alongside Billy Preston’s “Space Race”, which had been used on the show since 1974. David Russo arranged a new closing theme that was used from 1986-87, and later performed a new version of “Bandstand Boogie” when the show went into syndication.

In 2002, Clark hosted a special 50th anniversary edition of the show in Pasadena, California. Frequent guest Michael Jackson led a group of performers that included The Village People, Brandy, members of KISS, Dennis Quaid and The Sharks, Cher and Stevie Wonder. In 2004, Clark, along with frequent collaborator Ryan Seacrest, announced plans to revive the show for the 2005 season. However, these plans were indefinitely delayed when Clark suffered a stroke that year, and would never come to fruition before his death in 2012. A segment of the proposed revival, a national dance contest, was eventually turned into the series So You Think You Can Dance


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