Dick Clark and his associates have sensory apparatus like a seismograph. This is not always the case with network TV executives.
But when Garth Brooks' "Ropin' the Wind" entered the album charts at No. 1 and later reclaimed that spot over Guns N' Roses' new double album, and when the Country Music Awards telecast in October pulled its largest-ever audience, the tremors made network "suits" look up. And while he had their attention, Mr. Clark hit them with his latest best shot: "Hot Country Nights," a prime-time hour of country music. The weekly series makes its debut Sunday at 8 on NBC (Channel 2).
"Dick had been on top of it all along," says the series' producer-director, Gene Weed, "and we had been trying to interest all the networks in the concept."
Mr. Weed quickly corrects a presumption about the format, which was conceived after NBC ordered the series. "It is not a variety show, it's a music series," Mr. Weed says, "not a format like 'Hee Haw,' but one we hope will appeal to the 'Hee Haw' audience.
"It's very 1990s," he says. "It won't be hosted in the traditional sense. The artists will 'host' and introduce one another using something personal that's been incorporated into the script.
"Clint Black, Alabama, K. T. Oslin, Kenny Rogers and Pam Tillis will be [among those] on the first show, and, for example, K. T. has some wonderful stories to tell about Clint and the guys in Alabama.
"We'll have stand-up comedy, too," Mr. Weed says (Louie Anderson appears this week), "and we hope we'll have something to appeal to every age."
Certainly country fans come in all ages, a phenomenon rare among rock, metal and rap audiences. Mr. Weed explains it this way:
"We haven't found any kind of negative response [from traditionalists] to the newer sounding artists, and I believe it's because the young performers take the time to pay homage to the older artists. They all are so appreciative and such fans themselves."
And Mr. Weed says he believes that the stampeding popularity of country music lies not only in its broad appeal but in that it is "where you find the heroes, if you will, for young people today. Country is where they're getting back to the basics," Mr. Weed says. "It's where they find people they want to look up to and identify with."
"Hot Country Nights" may have to deal with a compound fickle-factor, music and TV each being a shaky like of work. But Mr. Weed is optimistic.
"We're committed to six shows, and we hope to get the pickup shortly thereafter -- for maybe two or three years."