Chicago enters the New Year’s Eve game


For the first time in decades, Chicago is holding a big celebration downtown on New Year’s Eve.

As first reported by the Chicago Tribune Thursday, city planners are creating a huge event to ring in 2016, with music, fireworks, and more fun stuff along the Chicago River between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive.

Dubbed Chi-Town Rising, the event is being privately financed (with a beer company as a sponsor) and has WMAQ-TV as one of its partners. The NBC-owned station plans to carry the big countdown to midnight on December 31, pre-empting Carson Daly’s New York-based New Year’s Eve show, and also home to Dick Clark’s countdown show.  Chi-Town rising is also being syndicated to other markets, notably in the Midwest.

Hosts have yet to be named.

The last time a Chicago event was syndicated to TV stations was the Ronald McDonald Christmas Parade in the 1980’s, converting into the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade (with a different sponsor) in the mid-1990s. Also, the Bud Billiken Parade aired on WGN’s Superstation (now WGN America) until 2011.

Chi-Town Rising also plans to have a huge marketing blitz, including TV and radio ads, plus a digital and social media presence. The hope is to attract tourists who would otherwise not come to Chicago during the Holidays (unless visiting family) due to the notorious cold weather.

For WMAQ, the station now goes head-to-head with WLS-TV with their popular New Year’s Eve show, which has drawn huge ratings over the years – even larger than most prime-time shows, demonstrating the power of local television. The ABC-owned station’s dominance has led CBS’ WBBM-TV and Fox’s WFLD-TV to drop their low-rated NYE entries over the years. WLS’ NYE show have been more noticeable in recent years for its train-wreck variety, as noted on social media – though Chicago’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in the 1970’s were a train-wreck variety in their own right.

WBBM carried the festivities from outside Marshall Field’s for several years. The 1979-80 celebration was particularly notorious, with Warner Saunders, John Coughlin, Bob Wallace and others hosting, with then mayor Jane Byrne stood outside in a fur coat looking quite dazed and confused, counting down to the new year.

Gary Deeb of the Chicago Tribune noted (before the special aired): “If you want to laugh yourself into convulsions, tune to WBBM-Ch. 2 about 11:40pm for the station’s annual New Year’s special. The 30-minute telecast originates live from State and Randolph streets, from the Empire Room of the Palmer House, and from Arnie’s, the gathering place for pampered poodles on the Near North Side.”

Deeb went on to say: “The Channel 2 presentation usually rivals a Marx Brothers movie for uproarious slapstick.

But it didn’t compare to Los Angeles independent KDOC-TV’s (based in Anaheim) first and last New Year’s Celebration at Mann’s Chinese Theater in 2012 hosted by Jamie Kennedy, which saw some live profanity, technical difficulties, Macy Gray appearing on stage drunk, and a fight breaking out at the end of the broadcast.

Courtesy of Fuzzy Memories, you can view WBBM’s 1979 New Year’s Eve show in four parts here here here and here. Maybe this Chi-Town rising special would have the same kind of train-wreck variety New Year’s specials are known for.