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Q & A

Rick Dees Wages War 'Into the Night'

July 15, 1990|Daniel Cerone

For Rick Dees, the wisecracking morning host on KIIS-FM (102.7) who scraped past his competitors in the last Arbitron ratings to regain his position as L.A.'s top drive-time radio personality, the competition is getting even stiffer.

Ken and Bob will be the least of Dees' concerns Monday at midnight, when he's up against much bigger names--Johnny, Arsenio and Dave--in his new Monday-through-Friday show on ABC, "Into the Night Starring Rick Dees."

Reportedly, many of the network's 200-plus affiliates didn't want Dees' crazy new weeknight show, which features local jazz group Billy Vera and the Beaters as its house band. Some affiliates opted to keep the post-"Nightline" slot open for local and syndicated programming.

ABC, however, believed in Dees' antics and offered its affiliates a bigger slice of the advertising pie if they'd take the show. Most bit, and "Into the Night" is set to air in about 90% of ABC's markets.

Now it's up to Rigdon Osmond Dees III, alias Rick, to wow them on TV like he has on radio. The boyish 40-year-old first entertained a national audience as a Memphis deejay in 1976 with his smash novelty hit, "Disco Duck." He was the host of the syndicated TV show "Solid Gold" in 1983-84 and currently hosts "Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40" on national radio.

What's more, Dees reportedly earns a salary of about $2 million a year.

So why a night job? Daniel Cerone recently discussed the changes with him.

How did you make the leap from radio to television?

This has been a dream in the making for about five years, at least. I came up with a concept for a show and have been pitching it to several people for the past few years, even to the point of putting my own pilot together two years ago. ABC tested the pilot with audiences, and luckily for all of us it did real well. Then it went through the channels at ABC. It took a while. I kind of felt like a fine wine gathering dust on a shelf. But in November, we shot a second pilot for ABC.

What is the concept behind "Into the Night"?

I wanted a show that was not just guest-driven. We'll have regular comedy features and bits, sprinkled with top superstars in entertainment and the hottest music acts around. And some surprise elements, where we jump out of the bushes and throw some money out at you. The overall feeling of the show is that anything can happen. We want you to feel good about being up at such an ungodly hour. We're not into making you feel bad, or making our guests feel stupid.

You have a nationally syndicated radio show. Are you a known commodity across the country?

In the testing they did for this, the answer is: It appears that I have scratched and clawed my way to the middle. I'm not that well-known. Maybe that's good. I'm not perceived as being the host of some show. I'm just a guy who loves to get up in front of people and act like a fool. In the testings, a lot of people just didn't know who I was.

The late-night arena is so competitive. What are your show's chances of success?

I'm so much the underdog. I don't feel that's bad to say. I've worked at this so long, it's not something that's just happened out of the blue. But let's face it, the show is just starting. Every other show that's on late night now has been on for a long time. They are the standards by which everybody measures late-night shows, and I'm starting in a spot where there are no established ratings for ABC. There's zero. So point one is an improvement. But I'm sure the brass at ABC expects bigger than that."

If "Into the Night" is a success, will you give up being a local deejay?

I cringe when I see myself described as a deejay. Because that's the term that we put on Alan Freed back in the 1950s. I just put a comedy show on a microphone that happens to go out on the radio. In television, I do the exact same thing, the same comedy. I think in terms of what Bob Hope used to do, Jack Benny used to do. They never called them deejays, they were hosts. That's what I feel I am. A guy who plays records all day, "This is Madonna, and next up, Michael Jackson," that's a deejay.

Will you give up being a radio host then?

I love radio so much, and I love television so much, it's easy for me to make them coexist. I love being busy. So I always want to be doing everything I can. I'm also a volunteer fireman, and I sell Amway and Herbalife.

No, that's a joke. To tell you the truth, it's just so much fun to do the radio shows, and I do them so fast. It's not brain surgery for me. I go out there and knock them off. It's my hobby. I get the biggest thrill out of it.

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