How The Times Square Ball Is The Best Host Of All
Every year, millions of Americans gather around the warm glow of the television and ring in the new year by watching the ball drop in New York City’s Time Square. Though the networks’ new year specials aren’t officially classified as “late night television,” they certainly fit the bill: what else are they but variety shows that air late at night, and on television, to boot?
Why do millions of people around the world stay up late and turn their eyes to Times Square? Could it be that the ball itself represents the leaps and bounds society achieved in the 20th century? The Times Square ball first dropped in 1907, to end a fireworks display that commemorated the infamous One Times Square as The New York Times’ new headquarters. It was and remains a pageant of glitz and glamour, starting as a wood, iron, and electric avatar of America’s early 20th century industrial age, and evolving into a computerized, weatherproof, LED-paneled signal for the new year. From promoting print media to representing green technology, that big ball might just bare the ever-changing priorities of our civilization.
Of course, our fascination may be less sophisticated than all that. The darn thing is famous, so we love it — plain and simple. I only know of the annual ball drop thanks to Dick Clark, whose New Year’s Rockin’ Eve special set the standard for ringing in the next 365 days. The ball’s connection to celebrity is almost as old as the ball itself, beginning with big band leader Guy Lombardo’s original broadcasts from New York, and continuing today with Ryan Seacrest, Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, Carson Daly, and more. For some reason, that ball is the only inanimate object worthy enough to headline a show where Mariah Carey or Lady Gaga are mere opening acts. Trends in entertainment come and go, but the Times Square Ball is always at the top — literally.
The poet in me would like to think our love of the ball is a bit more metaphysical than that. The thing is an illuminated orb, for crying out loud — a microcosmic beacon that descends from on high as the clock rolls into a new year. As we make resolutions, this century-old icon stoops to our level, that much closer to arm’s reach, assuring us that perhaps all things are possible. Then again, we use the phrase “dropping the ball” to describe failure, so is every year doomed from its start? Is our gathering to watch the ball a tribal response to the pessimistic inevitable, finding less hope in the unattainable and more appreciation in what we already have?
Surely it isn’t a biological metaphor. I mean, a ball . . . dropping? The young new year hits puberty before the confetti even touches the ground. New years grow up so fast.
As someone obsessed with late night television, I’d like to think the legacy of that genre is itself the reason. Just as generations ended their day by turning on Johnny Carson, new year’s parties will have New Year’s Rockin’ Eve playing as a soundtrack in the background. Though the ball airs on many networks, all eyes are on one place at one time, like when Johnny was the only option. It’s the most familiar, longest running global tradition of connectivity we have. No matter how many LED lights illuminate that thing, those old-fashioned tenets are what really help us move forward.
So, forget Fallon, or Colbert, or Kimmel. The most compelling late night ring leader of all is a glittery ball that performs a ten second monologue, with the greatest punchline of all time: a brand new year. Happy 2017!
Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, 10:30 p.m.
Space 55, 636 E. Pierce St., Phoenix
Guests: Arizona “hip-storian” Marshall Shore, comedian Matt Micheletti, webcomic artist Birdie Birdashaw