On August 1, 1981, a basic cable and satellite television channel called MTV was launched that would change the music industry forever. Artists from every genre used music videos to catapult their careers because they were given a platform to pair visual imagery with their music. Decades later people are still talking about Tawny Kitaen in Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” video, the anti-cheerleaders in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and of course anything by Michael Jackson. As a result, the video jockeys (VJs) became celebrities as well – what job was cooler than interviewing your favorite band and then introducing their video?
As a kid I remember watching MTV for hours and even using a blank VHS tape to record videos when I wasn’t home. I loved every aspect of music videos – the songs, the stories they told, and seeing my favorite musicians on screen. There is no question that the creation of MTV, like the creation of CD and iTunes, is still one of the most significant game-changers in music history.
Even the shows made their mark on pop culture – who didn’t watch Beavis & Butt-head and Daria? MTV was also responsible for inventing reality television with The Real World and subsequent shows like Road Rules and The Challenge. Although these shows were popular, by 1997, MTV was getting a hard time for being a music channel that didn’t play music videos. So in 1998 Total Request Live (TRL) became the go-to show to watch for the daily countdown of the top music videos hosted by then-unknown Carson Daly. Throughout the 2000s, MTV went back to more “reality” shows like Laguna Beach, The Hills, and the ubiquitous Jersey Shore which all made huge stars out of nobodies.
Although those shows were also extremely popular, MTV again dealt with criticism for not playing music which lead to a few relaunches: In January 2006 as Music: High Definition, in September 2008 as Palladia, and then in February 2016 at MTV Live. Two days ago there was another announcement: “MTV plans to rebrand as MTV Classic starting on August 1.” So as of Monday, “the new channel will focus on an eclectic mix of fan-favorite MTV series and music programming drawn from across its rich history, with a special focus on the 1990s and early 2000s.”
As excited as I am to see actual music videos playing on MTV, along with old episodes of MTV Unplugged, Daria, and TRL, I can’t help but laugh about this decision. Clearly, after more than three decades, MTV has realized that their original business model was the best and is reverting back to the format that made the channel great in the first place. In true nostalgic form, MTV has chosen August 1 because it commemorates the 35-year anniversary of the channel that changed everything. Additionally, the debut hour of MTV Classic will bring everyone back to 1981 by recreating the original first hour of programming in MTV’s history.
The quote from MTV President Sean Atkins is my favorite: “From Beavis & Butt-head to Laguna Beach, MTV’s programming vault is a music and pop culture goldmine with universal resonance. MTV Classic gives audiences a modern and artful home for classic MTV programming and — alongside MTV, MTV2, MTV Live and mtvU — rounds out a diverse portfolio with music and youth culture at its core.” Translation: the powers that be at MTV are realizing that this throwback is the best way for them to get people watching the channel again.
While it would be fun to use a throwback recording device for Monday’s launch of MTV Classic, VHS tapes are long gone so the DVR will have to do. I hope everyone is ready for “Video Killed the Radio Star” – I definitely am!
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