Is there anything as ephemeral as a New Year’s Eve broadcast? Fifteen minutes after midnight, it’s already irrelevant. Nothing is timeless; everything is designed for max trendiness, like a Forever21 party dress. Which makes footage from previous years downright vertigo-inducing.

And truly, not enough attention is paid to the batshit nature of network television in the 1990s, the last moment they could take for granted the near-undivided attention of the American mainstream. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane on this, one of the slowest working days in the entire calendar year.

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Here’s Dick Clark ringing in the 1990s. The man really had his countdown patter down pat. “The ball was dark in 1981—the Iranian hostage crisis. How well I remember that.”

In 1990/1991, CBS thought “Tonight” from West Side Story was the best way to open up their telecast. But what I like best about this particular clip is the festive bumper from the local Cleveland affiliate. That, and the live shots from on location at Billy Bob’s, Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1992, ABC had DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince on their live broadcast to sing “Summertime.” I know “Summertime” was their big hit, but in January? Really? That’s just cruel.

Meanwhile CBS did an entire Hard Rock Cafe New Year’s special, with guests including Keith Richards and the X-pensive Winos. As a little comedy bit, host Jay Thomas brought along his trusty TV Guide to rattle off some counter-programming options, before you switched over. (Because of course you had to manually change the channel—this was the dark ages, before digital cable guides, for all the fucking teenagers in the comments of these YouTube videos talking about how they were babies at the time these specials originally aired.) Skip to 4:15 and watch Thomas try to cram as many then-topical jokes into a minute as he possibly can.

While ringing in 1995, Dick Clark was not going to let you forget to stick around for a performance by Hootie and the Blowfish.

Before cutting back to the festivities in New York, this New England broadcast devoted a lot of time to the lotto numbers. Note the proud boasting about two minutes in that they’d switched over to a computerized process for dropping the ball, and a test drive went seamlessly.

Please enjoy your New Year’s Eve festivities and, for added fun, watch any broadcasts for elements that’ll be downright unintelligible 15 years from now.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

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Gif by Bobby Finger, from YouTube.