Every year, shortly before midnight on New Year's Eve, I tune in to the local countdown specials on TV with genuine excitement and anticipation. And every year, I'm sorry to say, I come away disappointed.
Janet Davies and Mark Giangreco
ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, which has had a lock on local New Year's Eve programming for quite a while, tonight will present "Countdown Chicago 2010," hosted by Janet Davies and Mark Giangreco, starting at 11:08 p.m. Over the years, others have aired versions of the hats-and-horns routine, but few produced noteworthy (or ratings-worthy) results.
The most memorable exception was New Year's Eve 1992 when radio funnymen Steve Dahl and Garry Meier hosted a live, pay-per-view cable special from Dahl's home in the suburbs. Celebrity guests had to sign releases promising never to divulge the location of the house. (As I recall, they were instructed to assemble in a nearby parking lot where shuttle buses drove them to Dahl's place and back. No, they didn't have to wear blindfolds.) For nearly two hours, the two hosts wandered from room to room, delivering R-rated commentary on the party as it unfolded. Believe it or not, 18 years later, you can still buy DVD or VHS copies of "New Year'Steve & Garry" on Dahl's website for $25.
My complaint isn't that Channel 7 doesn't do a fine job of covering all those parties and concerts, capped by fireworks on the lakefront. Technically, the station is quite proficient at the task. And when it comes to hosts, you couldn't ask for two smoother pros than Davies and Giangreco. It's just that everything about it is always so inane and predictable. (Honestly, without "Happy New Year 2010" plastered across the screen, could you tell the difference if they simply ran a tape of last year's broadcast -- or even one from five years ago?)
Just once I'd like to see them do more with the hour than point cameras at concerts I wouldn't pay to see, ask drunken revelers about their New Year's resolutions, and show reporters in tuxes and evening gowns struggling to hear each other shout over the crowds. For the record, Channel 7's venues this year will include Buddy Guy's Legends (with the legendary bluesman himself), the InterContinental Chicago O'Hare Hotel (with the Gin Blossoms and the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra), Metro (with The Jesus Lizard), and Carnivale.
Maybe there's some hope tonight: Channel 7 says its special also will offer "one final look at 2009 to see what happened on the entertainment, restaurant and weather scenes in the Windy City," along with Giangreco's "humorous take on the top nine funniest news stories of 2009."
OK, that's a start. But if it were up to me, I'd do so much more: Get some prominent Chicagoans to make predictions for 2010 (and hang on to the tape for next New Year's Eve to see how well they did). Display graphics of notable quotes uttered during the year. Review the most spectacular sports plays of the year, and run clips from Roger Ebert's top movies of the year. Show funny outtakes from Ben Bradley's interviews with Mayor Daley or Cheryl Burton's interviews with Oprah. Put up pictures of notable Chicagoans who died or went to prison in 2009.Invite viewers to tweet their opinions of Janet Davies' dress or Mark Giangreco's hair.
And someday, if the folks at Channel 7 really want to get ambitious, they could block off State Street in front of their studios for a big, outdoor countdown to the New Year (like Chicago did when I was growing up). Who needs Dick Clark in Times Square? We'd have our very own Dick Biondi right here at State & Lake. See you back here on Monday with a preview of Chicago media stories to watch for in 2010. Happy New Year!