Legendary dance show highlights 4 decades of music

“American Bandstand” began simply as “Bandstand” on WFIL-TV in Philadelphia in 1952 and ran through 1989. Hosted by local radio personality Bob Horn, the show began with New York native Dick Clark playing records for the audience. In 1956, Clark took over as host and it remained a local hit. In early 1957, ABC polled its affiliate stations nationwide for ideas on shows to fill its 3:30 p.m. timeslot. Dick Clark lobbied for hard for Bandstand. He won. The show debuted August 5, airing on 67 stations nationwide.

“It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it”

Renamed “American Bandstand,” the new show featured gym-like bleachers for its “regulars” (teen dancers featured on the show) and its most famous segment, in which studio guests rated the newest music releases on a scale from 25 to 98. Bandstand’s famous tagline “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” evolved out of this segment. Bandstand’s popularity came from showcasing the latest popular music combined with teen dancers showing off the latest in dance moves, fashion and hairstyles. The show was broadcast live daily for three hours from Philadelphia. In 1963, production was moved to Los Angeles where the show began a 24-year run as a weekly program.

Bandstand creates hits and stars

In the ’50s, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dion and the Belmonts and Simon & Garfunkel all made their debuts on the show. Because of its popularity, Bandstand became an instant hit maker. By 1958, more than 8 million viewers watched the show daily and by the end of the decade, it became the most popular daytime show on any network.

In 1960, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters failed to show up to perform their hit song “The Twist.” Clark convinced his friend Chubby Checker to go into the studio and cut a version that afternoon. After demonstrating the dance on the show, Checker had an instant hit and The Twist was a dance craze lasting for several years. Bandstand debuted many more artists in the ’60s including Ike and Tina Turner, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Aretha Franklin, Sonny and Cher, Neil Diamond and Stevie Wonder.

During the next two decades, Bandstand continued to debut new artists. In 1970, Michael Jackson performed with the Jackson 5 for the first time on American Bandstand and Dick Clark was the first to interview Jackson. Donna Summer co-hosted the show with Clark for its Disco special where Clark developed a series of moves for the audience to perform to the Village People’s “YMCA.” And another dance craze was born!

In the ’80s, Prince, The Talking Heads, Public Image Ltd., Janet Jackson and Wham! all made their national debuts, but none were as memorable as Madonna, who told Clark she wanted “to rule the world.”

Rise of MTV causes Bandstand’s ratings to decline

In the ’80s, the rise of MTV and other music programs on television caused Bandstand ratings to decline. This competition decreased the show’s influence. ABC affiliates began to pre-empt the show for televised college football during its Saturday time slot. In 1986, ABC cut the show from one hour to 30 minutes, which prompted Clark to ask ABC to drop the show. The show was picked up for syndication after only two weeks and it returned to its hour-long format. It moved to the USA Network on cable in April 1989, but its return was short-lived. The show was canceled after 26 weeks and its era closed on October 7, 1989.

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