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'I Want My MTV' back: Network fist-pumps its way to 30th birthday

August 1, 2011 |  3:41 pm
MTV turns 30, but things have certainly changed for the "music" network.
 
Photo: MTV's original veejays were, from left, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter. Credit: MTV Photos

It was once said, you can never trust anyone over the age of 30. For MTV, today is that day.

The network is celebrating its 30th anniversary of being a destination for all the things that go pop. But just like its iconic Moonman mascot, MTV is light-years away from the time it launched with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock 'n' roll” before airing, rather ironically, the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

As MTV went on to prove decades later, reality killed the video star.

Music video airings have fallen victim to pregnant teens, permanently orange, worked-out, fist-pumping “social” drinkers and a scripted sampling of teenage angst: Current shows include a modern twist on “Teen Wolf,” the awkward girl in high school who got attention for not trying to off herself and the awkward boy in high school who got attention for being very well endowed (seriously, we didn't make any of those plots up).

Needless to say, things aren’t so rock 'n' roll anymore, ladies and gentlemen, and it made perfect sense that the network stealthy dropped the word "music" from its logo a few years ago.

"The people who watch it today, they don't refer to MTV as music television. They don't have the same emotional connection that, say, the people who are writing about [the logo change] do," MTV's head of marketing Tina Exarhos said at the time.

Though for all the twenty- and thirtysomethings (including this writer) pouting in a corner about how the network has radically changed, it is resurrecting two beloved shows from yesteryear: alt-music platform “120 Minutes” and the crazy metal-loving “Beavis and Butt-head” -– though all the misgivings for creating “16 and Pregnant” will instantly be forgiven if that recently hinted return of “Daria” comes to fruition.

As the network turns 30, there will be plenty of remembrances of days gone by and just as many pining posts from folks yearning for the good ol' days. This one falls somewhere in between the two categories.

A great deal of time has passed since Madonna dry-humped the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards stage in a sheer white dress during “Like a Virgin” years before re-creating the moment by making out with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera; or when Nirvana created the litmus test for “Unplugged”; or the excitement of Michael Jackson premiering “Thriller.” Music moments like those will never be matched by those of any other network.

Say what you want about what the network looks like now, music-related or not, MTV somehow always managed to stay one step ahead of the rest.

It satiated the voyeur in all of us by throwing a group of strangers from different backgrounds into one house in "The Real World," and we tuned in to watch them live, work and do the adult things we were scared of talking about in public.

Before Tyra Banks flooded airwaves with incessant cycles of “America’s Next Top Model,” MTV gave audiences an insider’s glimpse of models in “House of Style” with Cindy Crawford; satisfied our curiosity for how famous couples did the same things as us with “The Osbournes” and “Newlyweds”; and with “Diary,” showed us that although we thought we knew, we had no idea. Always curious about who -- Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler -- would win in a fight? “Celebrity Death Match” solved that for you with cheeky results. And "Laguna Beach" showed us what it is like to be spoiled little rich kids.

And before the explosion of idiots taking to YouTube to upload videos of themselves racing in shopping carts, the boys of “Jackass” tried it all. And in some form or another, the blueprints of these shows exist everywhere, so blame MTV if you've grown tired of "The Bachelor," "Big Brother" and "[Insert random celeb docudrama here]."

MTV’s last big contribution to music might have come in the form of “Total Request Live.” Serving as the go-to place for poppers and rabid fans at home, it helped Carson Daly carry the torch from veejays such as J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn (pictured above).

"TRL" served as the instrumental launch pad for a breadth of pop royalty, including Spears, Eminem, the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and Aguilera. Plus, the show was the only place where artists like Good Charlotte, Limp Bizkit and Korn became OMG-h-u-g-e stars, and its cancellation also marked a shift toward music videos playing less of a role on the network.

This past weekend VH1 paid tribute to the network by airing hourlong clips of programming (remember “Joe’s Apartment” or those aggressive "I Want My MTV" commercials?) as a reminder of the good times on the network, while MTV geared up for the season premiere of “Jersey Shore” with a marathon of the show.

Stephen K. Friedman, president of MTV, said the milestone offers “another moment of reinvention for this generation.”

“It’s interesting. I don’t know that [the anniversary] means that much for our current audience,” Friedman told Pop & Hiss. “The vast majority of them weren’t born when MTV launched.”

Friedman said he’s well aware of complaints that the network is less music driven, but he said the complaints come from those outside of their demo.

“That is a different era. It’s a quantum leap. Our audience is not going to wait very long to see a video; they are going to go online. It’s just not in the realm of their reality. We stay true to the brand and the DNA. It doesn’t surprise us that people who grew up [when we launched] 30 years ago say, ‘Whoa, what happened?’ But they are not the audience we are speaking to,” Friedman said.

“Our audience is discovering music everywhere. We’d love to have a music franchise that’s a big hit. The bar has been raised for the TV franchise that’s going to get them engaged. I don’t know that we’ve got the answer yet.”

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-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Twitter.com / gerrickkennedy

Photo: MTV's original veejays were, from left, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter. Credit: MTV Photos

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