You didn't have to be a teenager to watch American Bandstand. You don't have to be a stadium headliner to vote for the American Music Awards. And, going on for decades now, you haven't had to be at a swanky party to celebrate New Year's Eve.
Even more uniquely, he made you part of the big, unruly world.
Teenagers were a scary species, and their love of Elvis Presley a troubling development when Clark, a former radio deejay, took American Bandstand from a local Philadelphia station to the TV nation in 1957.
The show helped make youth, their music and even Presley, who was seen on the first coast-to-coast broadcast, both desirable and influential—a 90-minute-long, weekday primer in hair styles, clothes styles and dance moves.
In true Clark style, though, Bandstand wasn't a clique; it was a community of everybody. According to Clark, only 25 percent of the audience was comprised of actual teens, while fully half was old enough, and then some, to vote.
New Year's Rockin' Eve was the flipside of Bandstand.
Launched in 1972, it made the champagne-soaked holiday safe for young viewers who previously had had to make do on Dec. 31 with beautiful music from big bands, and with little sense of the holiday's fireworks.
"People are interested in what is happening in Times Square," Clark said decades ago—and he was right. The scene has long since become the focal point of New Year's Eve coverage, and despite all the like-themed Rockin' Eve rivals, and even after Clark passed the mic to Ryan Seacrest in the early 2000s, it is Clark's innovation that stands above the rest in the Nielsen ratings.
In 1973, another twist from Clark: the American Music Awards.
Before the People's Choice Awards, and much longer before the MTV Movie Awards, and the rest, it was Clark's idea to open up the awards show to the young, to the old and, above all, to the fans, whose votes decided the winners.
Clark wasn't surprised when the AMAs overtook the Grammys for popularity in the 1970s. "After all, we're airing the American people's opinions," he said.
Along the way, during a career that spanned Presley to Justin Bieber, Clark also made TV that was just plain entertaining: the game show The $20,000 Pyramid, and its inflation-adjusted variations, which he hosted; TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes, which he fronted alongside Ed McMahon, and which punked stars while Ashton Kutcher was in grade school; and the Golden Globes, which he began producing in the wake of the show's Pia Zadora scandal, and which he successfully rebranded as a party as much as an Oscar-season stop.
Clark was famously called the world's oldest teenager, but that wasn't quite right. While he looked younger than his years, he didn't act it.
He acted like the perfect ambassador, bridging genres and generations. He acted liked the perfect host.
And maybe it wasn't an act. Maybe he was.