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Close-up of couples dancing on American Bandstand

by Matt Delmont

American Bandstand’s productions strategies also encouraged viewers to participate in the show by taking an interest in the show’s regulars and by learning dance steps.  An October 1957 TV Guide review called attention to the show’s camera techniques: “[T]hanks to some camera work by director Ed Yates that would do credit to any TV spectacular there isn’t one of these amateur and largely anonymous supporting players who isn’t worth watching.”[i]  While teens danced in the studio, the show’s camera operators made frequent use of two types of shots.  First, during slow dances they used extended close-ups on the couples faces that provided viewers with an intimate look at which teens were dancing together.  In turn, the show’s regulars would jockey to dance in front of the cameras so they could be seen on television.  Arlene Sullivan, who along with Kenny Rossi made up one of the show’s most popular couples, remembered that “it got to the point where the regular kids wanted to be on camera all the time, so Dick Clark would turn off the red light so we were supposed to not know which camera was on.  But we always knew where the camera was.  We were hams.”  Asked how she knew which camera was on without the red light, Sullivan recalled “Oh, you knew.  You knew how they were focusing.  And then Dick Clark would start to say, if he thought we were in front too long, ‘Ok, Arlene and Kenny in the back, Franni in the back, Carole in the back.’  He wanted to give the other kids a shot.”[ii]  Despite Clark’s prodding, the regular dancers were on camera enough to become celebrities among the show’s viewers and teen magazine readers. ‘Teen magazine, for example, told readers they were “swamped with requests to do a story on the kids from Bandstand,” and subsequently featured six cover stories on American Bandstand between 1958 and 1960, with profiles of current and former Bandstand regulars like Pat Molittieri, Kenny Rossi, and Arlene Sullivan.  ‘Teen also published two eighty-page special issues for teens to read more about the show’s dancers.[iii]  Daily television exposure and celebrity-style coverage in teen magazines made Bandstand’s regulars into what would later be called reality television stars.  These non-professional performers became, as ‘Teen put it, the “most famous unknown[s] on TV today.”[iv]  American Bandstand’s use of extended close-ups, coupled with numerous magazine profiles, invited viewers to follow along with the dating and style choices of the show’s regulars and provided viewers with information about another form of consumption.

American Bandstand - Close-up shot of couples dancing - 1957

This clip shows one of the primary camera techniques used on American Bandstand.

from American Bandstand (1957)
Creator: Dick Clark
Distributor: ABC/WFIL
Posted by Matt Delmont
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