Photo: NBC- Mitch Haaseth
Carson Daly and his fellow executive producer David Friedman recently spent some time with fans on a conference call chatting about their New Year’s Eve special on NBC. This year, Carson is joined by Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys, and Tiki Barber. Tune into NBC starting at 11:35PM EST.
Carson, can you talk about these two people, Alicia Keys and Lenny Kravitz. These are live performances, there’s no lip-synching, right?
Carson: That’s right, there will be no lip-synching.
Not everybody can do that in these types of situations. Can you talk about why you think they’re particularly well suited to do this?
Carson: Well, they’re two of the best artists and two of the most acclaimed artists, especially Alicia right now with her latest album going to number one. Both Lenny and Alicia, I’ve known since my days at MTV; Lenny, I’ve known longer. You’re right, one of the prerequisites for us in finding top notch musical acts to be a part of our show is that they are as talented as these two are. They’re just perfect examples of the type of music that we like to have on shows that we produce, especially on NBC.
They have real pipes and real sound.
Carson: I think everybody does their show different. With the late night show and my passion for music, doing as much as I can for up and coming or established music definitely, we take our music seriously. Whether it was Avril Lavigne, her first year when she was out or Mary J Blige, or even Panic! At the Disco last year. This year, just takes the cake with Alicia and Lenny.
You’re originally a west coaster. You’ve done a lot of New Year’s Eves. Between this and MTV, how many New Year’s Eves have you done now?
Carson: I believe it’s 9 out of the last 10.
Tell us your impression of the first time you ever saw a New York NYE?
Carson: It’s hard to describe. It sounds like a cliché, and every year when I do press for it, the best way for me to describe it, the one year I wasn’t there I was suffering from withdrawal. I saw it on TV and I thought, wow, that’s where I need to be. Anything on the riser, I think NBC has the best real estate of all the networks there. And I am fortunate to be the one standing up there, so I certainly have the best view. And to be in a sea of a half trillion people and to be live on television, I look forward to it every year.
Can you wrap your mind around the fact that you are the New Year’s Eve tradition now?
Carson: Um, I appreciate that. No, it’s something that I love doing. We did it at MTV, where we were inside and I was warm all those years. First time I was at NBC, I thought, wow, this is tough work out here. It was a tradition that I sort of found myself in at MTV. I got spoiled early, and when I went to NBC, it was a priority, David and I, it was our priority to bring to the network. It was something that we wanted to start a new long standing tradition of hosting the New Year’s Eve special, and we’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve been able to do it, now in our fourth year.
What were you doing for New Year’s Eve before it was your job?
Carson: I’ve been doing it since I was 23, about 10 years. Before that, I was just hanging out with friends, and beer, and watching MTV or watching Dick Clark when I was a kid.
Obviously, Dick Clark is the competition, but he is also the man who started this whole ball rolling. What, if anything, do you take from him for preparing for the show?
Carson: I’ve never made any bones about my admiration or respect for Mr. Clark. I always have. There’s been a long standing comparison to the profound effects an afternoon teen show called Total Respect Live had in its heyday against another show called American Bandstand. My old quote was that “the comparison has been great for me, and it sucks for Mr. Clark”. This night, and this broadcast isn’t the singular thing that I sort of try and take something from Dick Clark. It’s just history. As a person, in front of the camera, behind the camera. His natural abilities on the air, his personality, if I can obtain a morsel of that, I would consider myself successful.
In terms of the audience, you’re going to have various people in stages of revelry. Kind of a very diverse crowd. How do you prepare, what kind of format do you want to offer?
Carson: David can talk a little about it. We’re equally excited, at least I am, to be hosting it and being able to produce it. It’s such a wonderful annual event. And we’re excited to be doing it. David and I spent a lot of time in the first few years. It’s been an organic progression. The ratings have gotten better every year. We feel like we’re developing that audience. We simply don’t worry about what other networks do that night. We felt that there were a lot of families. Ultimately, that sometime means that the TV is on with the sound off until the ball drops, and we thought that the image that is on the screen is the most important thing, and we felt that New York is that image.
David: I think the only thing to add to that, the most important thing to that, is to make sure that we are living in the moment, and sort of being the vehicle for anyone that is not lucky enough to be in Times Square. It’s an amazing experience being in Times Square. You can’t really explain it, so we try every year, wherever they are, to give them the sensation that we’re experiencing live. It’s a combination of some great visual stuff and some great music and then really trying to make you feel like you’re there with us.
The show ends at 12:37AM. What are your plans directly following the rap?
Carson: I like to help with the clean up. I like to start sweeping up the confetti. Our first thought, literally, and this isn’t a joke here, our first thought is our crew. This intense week of work in Times Square, a lot of our staff is from the late night show, they fly in and work tirelessly. We immediately think where we’re going to take these people and have some champagne with our friends and family?
As an LA guy, how well do you adjust to NY New Year’s?
Carson: I lived there for the last 8 years or so. I lived the entire time I was there in midtown Manhattan. I feel like Times Square was my backyard. I felt very comfortable there. As a broadcaster, it’s sort of all about painting a picture in words to people at home, and describe our description of what’s actually happening there. I think I’ve adjusted pretty well.
Hopefully the strike will be over come New Year’s Eve [it’s not….sadly], are you worried you’ll be heckled by strikers?
Carson: I don’t think so. That’s not what we’re worried about. We’re watching the strike every hour for every reason.
David: We just want people to celebrate and be with their loved ones. Times Square is not the place to sort of walk around and do your own thing.
What are some of your favorite memories of New Year’s Eve?
Carson: Historically? One of my favorite memories, and I don’t know what year it was, Billie Jo from Greenday, at MTV they would do 8 bands playing throughout the night. I remember one year, I was on-air for 6 or 8 hours. At midnight, we would always do a special performance. I have never seen someone so intoxicated. He could not get through Time of Your Life. We were all having such a great time. He ran downstairs in his punk rock shorts, I think it was Kurt Loder doing the news outside just after New Year’s, and [Billie Jo] tried climbing the scaffolding. That was a great memory. There’s been a lot of them. Marilyn Manson also tried to jump through the glass in the middle of his song. He literally threw his body into the glass.
Is there any time you wake up on New Year’s Day and say “why am I doing this” and would rather veg out in front of the couch?
Carson: Never. In fact, quite the opposite. The one year [after not doing it] I woke up and was miserable. The waking up the next day, it’s like, I don’t know. It feels like a quarterback who just won a game on Sunday, waking up on Monday and reliving the highlights. We love doing the late night show. There’s something really special about New Year’s Special.
David: We both love doing live television. You can’t imagine the adrenaline. The late night show is not live, it’s live to tape, so it’s a quick turnaround, but there’s no feeling like live TV, so that part of both of us, is like, we won’t ever regret living for that moment. As far as my favorite moment, last year, in the middle of a 2.5 minute commercial break, someone shut off our power on Carson’s home-base. And so it was terrifying and it was also my favorite moment. You’re in the middle of live TV and you have to figure out what to do. That’s why we do it. We love being live and broadcasting from Times Square.
Carson, could you talk about the reaction to you going back to work?
Carson: I don’t want to get into that too much on this call, but I will say that as I said in my official statement and as I said on the air the first night back, there was only one reason we came back on the air and that was to save the jobs of our fine staff and crew. Shortly after the taping of the first show, I was very quickly reminded of just how right that tough decision was. We’re very appreciative.
NYE is the night people look back at the past year? What were some of the highlights of the past year?
Carson: I don’t want to give you a sappy answer. Just the whole thing. I feel like last year was the first full year to be back in LA after 12 years. I had been in New York for almost 10. This was my first full year back. For me, the real highlight wasn’t anything specific. My sister just had a kid, so being able to spend as much time as I did in the last year with my sister and her kid, and my parents are close by. Especially with my mom, the breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed while I was in NY. As far as the entertainment side, just the sheer growth of Last Call and what we’ve been able to do, what’s been given to us, and the way in which we’ve done it, has been really exciting.
How can you focus on talking clearly to us, the viewers, while surrounded by the screaming crowd?
Carson: That’s a good question. I have to go back to my training at MTV. There are no louder sounds than the sound of 5000 screaming 16 year olds. I’ve done spring break, TRL from the Superbowl, Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The tip for me, the first couple of times, I couldn’t hear anything around me. You just scream into the microphone, and I remember watching it back, and I was so loud on TV. There’s a microphone in front of you. That’s what that technology does. I learned quickly that you could have a normal tone of voice and people at home could hear me.