June 20, 2012

Music Still on MTV

The title for today's post comes from a line in Bowling for Soup's song "1985" (check out their video at http://youtu.be/K38xNqZvBJI).  August 1, 2012 marks the 31st Anniversary of MTV. MTV revolutionized the way we looked at music and the VJs were a big part of shaping that vision, for a time, anyway.

A website called "80s VJs" dot com [http://www.80svjs.com/] has links to the original five MTV VJs, many of whom now have Satellite Radio shows (sorry, VJs, but I don't like retro radio enough to pay for it!!  I may have wanted my MTV, but to pay for the audio-only, not so much)!  Still, the fact that MTV is IMHO a shadow of it's former self, having all but divorced itself from the "M" (for music) part of it's acronym means I rarely tune in any more.

MTV: Forever 21?

The intro to this section comes from a cheesy teen retailer known as Forever 21.  Apparently, MTV agrees with that.  MTV itself didn't really even acknowledge the network's own 30th anniversary (see HERE).  Note this quote from Nathaniel Brown, an MTV executive:

"MTV as a brand doesn't age with our viewers," explained Nathaniel Brown, senior vice president of communications for MTV, who confirmed that there were no plans for an on-air MTV celebration. "We are really focused on our current viewers, and our feeling was that our anniversary wasn't something that would be meaningful to them, many of whom weren't even alive in 1981."

Of course, I no longer fit into the "youth" demographic anyway, but that seems a bit ironic, doesn't it?  After all, isn't this the same network that once ran a series called "I Love the '80s"?!

Anyway, some of the network's moves into reality programming, notably the "Real World" in 1992 were pretty unique, although that really was also the beginning of the end to MTV as a music entity.  Unfortunately, the reality TV formula has been copied left, right and sideways by virtually everyone, with shows like Big Brother and a new one called The Glass House.  It's a fad that, fortunately, has ended as TV networks return to genuine programming.  Still, I can't really fault MTV for it's "evolution" away from music completely.

Indeed, in the book "MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution" by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, the authors note that even during MTV's earliest days, the network established a history of adapting to what viewers were drawn to (often not by executives' choice, but in spite of it, including the network's warming to Hip Hop and the show "Yo MTV Raps").   It's also worth noting that MTV was barely profitable at one point in the beginning, so decisions about programming based on viewership were rooted in the need to cover expenses.  The evolution away from music, incidentally, wasn't completely driven by execs in the corner office.  In recent years, we can point to technology as a factor that drove the final nail in the "music" part of MTV's coffin.

Today, we can pretty much watch videos on-demand online, so the concept has lost some of it's original appeal as far as a channel dedicated to the concept.  And the mere fact that Jersey Shore's Snooki is knocked-up suggests to me that the reality TV part of Viacom's "youth" channel may be due for a reboot as well.  I mean, really ... teenagers today can pick from hundreds of channels on basic cable, and add to that Roku streaming video players and you have a recipe for a cable station kind of basking in it's former glory, but without a real sense of purpose or mission anymore.  The MTV Video Music Awards still run, but it's yet another awards show in a medium drowning with far too many awards shows anyway.

That's just my humble opinion. Viacom probably doesn't give a $#!t what I think, but when my neices become teenagers, I wonder what MTV's contribution to Viacom's bottom line will be?

Still, for it's time, MTV was revolutionary (the same thing can be said for stereo radio broadcasting).  Evolution is the name of the game for survival, and MTV has proven adept at evolving.  But it still sees itself as cutting edge for youth programming.  I'm not so sure about that anymore.

Separately, in 2009, NPR had a blog post about whether YouTube has become what MTV used to be (see HERE).  Indeed, as the former head of NBC television Warren Littlefield, noted in his interview (see my post on that HERE) regarding television, if you don't like what's on television today, just make it yourself.  Indeed, some are doing just that.  For example, an entire YouTube-based series called "Husbands" [http://husbandstheseries.com/] is now luring enough viewers to be noticed by Hollywood.

Last year, NPR had a segment entitled "The Golden Age of MTV — And Yes, There Was One" which addresses the book I already noted at the beginning of this post, and includes interesting interviews with the authors.  Have a listen below, or by visiting http://n.pr/McqJR4:

I bought the book "I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution" by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, but frankly, I wouldn't especially recommend it.  It's a bit of a boring tome, which was more about the founding of a new business that became MTV, but I don't think it's the best work on this subject (it does, however, have some interesting quotes from many music people you may find entertaining).  Instead, you might decide to wait ...

In January 2012, Atria Books announced a deal with four of the original MTV VJs for an as yet untitled oral history of MTV's defining years during the early '80s (see HERE for details).  According to the press release: "This publication will mark the first time Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn give their uncensored accounts from the front lines of the cultural revolution that was MTV. Among the highlights will be the VJs' never-before-told stories about getting, doing, and ultimately leaving the most coveted job of the decade; the truth behind Roger Daltrey's demands to visit MTV; days and nights spent partying with Van Halen; the 'Paint the Mutha Pink' contest with John Cougar Mellencamp that went toxic; joining the mile high club while flying to see the band Asia play at the Budokan in Japan; and all true tales of hair styles gone horribly wrong as a new kind of broadcast medium was being created hour by hour and day by day — all perfectly set against the era when you would still call into your answering machine from a pay phone."

As for me, I have a 25 year high-school reunion coming up in 2 weeks, but reminiscing about MTV isn't going to be on the agenda.  It was something bored teenagers watched at home, when we didn't have friends to visit with.  And, while music on MTV may be history, visiting with old friends, even for one evening, is something we can still enjoy today!

Author P.S., October 21, 2013:  MTV and VH1 might have launched music television, but there's a reason they don't play music videos and concerts anymore -- not enough people watch them. These days, they're available on-demand via YouTube and other online channels.  Now, however, rapper and media mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs thinks he can change that with a little help from the internet.  He's launching a new network today called Revolt TV that he says will play rap, hip-hop, and maybe even some country "if it's funky enough, baby."  As of October 2013, the new network had gained carriage on Comcast and Time Warner Cable.  Catch the Marketplace Morning Report story for more details at http://bit.ly/16qqwUh.

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