BILOXI, Miss. -- "Hired hand" is one label you'd never think to apply to Dick Clark, but he insists that's what he'll be when he hosts CBS' prime-time telecast of "The Miss Teen USA Pageant" at 9 tonight live from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center.
Madison Square Gardens Productions, not Mr. Clark's own company, is producing the pageant, but "This is a crew of terrifically talented people who run [the pageant] like a well-oiled machine," he says. "I'm just the hired host."
To be sure, Mr. Clark is a smoothie, and a smart one at that. He didn't come to be one of the entertainment industry's most recognizable names and faces by being difficult or unapproachable. And so he is cordial, even warm and happy to talk about his latest TV endeavor.
The much-maligned pageant business endures, he says, "because it is a piece of Americana. Of course, it's subject to ridicule because it's been around for so long. It's like making jokes about Mickey Mouse." Or the perennial teen-ager himself?
"Listen," he says, "you can't get ahead in the pageant business if you're not smart. Being beautiful isn't enough. Everyone is beautiful, so you're at a dead start when it comes to looks." Brains, he maintains, are what take you to the winner's circle.
It's worked for Mr. Clark, too, who doesn't sing or write music, doesn't play an instrument or a role. Brains, instinct and nearly 40 years in "the business" have equipped him to go straight to the heart of Middle America. And he does it with elaborate practical jokes (the "Super Bloopers" series), year-end celebrations ("New Year's Rockin' Eve") and awards shows, all conceived and executed by Dick Clark Productions.
Last January, for instance, nearly 19 million homes tuned in to the "American Music Awards," a Clark production, making it the third most watched show in the country the week it aired.
The specials with which he associates himself have an oomph that carries them closer to the cutting edge than their mainstream themes alone would take them. But Mr. Clark says he has no special insight.
"You just have to appeal to the majority of people who's tastes are not radical or peculiar," he says. "You don't do anything that's going to slam them up side the head.