Tuesday, July 27, 2004

When MTV Played Videos

Looking through the televison schedule, it seems to me that MTV simply shows The Real World, Road Rules, and Newlyweds over and over and over again. I can remember when MTV used to play music videos. Now it seems to me that most of their programming is reality series. I seriously doubt that they play much more than two to three hours of videos a day, and then only in the wee hours of the morning.

MTV opened for business on August 1, 1981. In those days it operated pretty much like a radio station on TV. They aired nothing but music videos, introduced by veejays (short for "video disc jockey," I suppose). Everyone I know complained a bit about MTV. A lot of the people I know thought it was overly commercial, just another promotional tool for the big record companies. And we all complained when they would put a video we didn't like on "Burn Out Rotation (that's when they'd show a video every hour on the hour)." But in the end, everyone I knew watched MTV. Or at least had it on in the background. That was one of the great things about MTV when it played videos. One could watch it like any other TV channel or one could simply have it on in the background like a radio station. It was the world's first ambient TV channel!

In those days, there were some pretty good videos on the air. Texas band Z. Z. Top had a complete series of videos, starting with "Gimme All Your Lovin'," that featured a vintage Ford and three beautiful women. The plots of most of the videos were pretty much the same. The women would show up in the car, help out some poor schmo, and then leave as mysteriously as they had arrived. Duran Duran was another group that had some interesting videos. Their video to "A View to a Kill" was a take off on Bond movies and was actually better than the Bond movie for which it was written (although that would not have taken much). Adam Ant was another artist who seemed to have been born to make videos. His video to "Goody Two Shoes" is a simple male fantasy, involving a beautiful, yet prim and proper reporter (well, she wasn't so prim and proper towards the end of the video...). Billy Idol also put out some good videos--especially "Cradle of Love," in which a mild mannered yuppie is driven mad by a beautiful woman dancing around his apartment. Beautiful women seem to have been a recurring theme in music vidoes--looking at "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne, I guess they still are! Of course, surrealism is another recurring theme in music videos. When it came to surrealism, The Eurhythmics' video for "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" maybe topped them all. I am still pondering why the cow was in the video...

Of course, MTV sparked a bit of a video craze and other channels debuted their own music video shows. NBC had Friday Night Videos. TBS had Night Tracks. USA had Night Flight. There were even video shows in syndication, the most successful of which was probably America's Top Ten with Casey Kassem. The video fad would eventually fade away and most of these shows would go by the wayside. Friday Night Videos perhaps lasted the longest, lasting for 11 years before NBC changed the show's format and changed its name to Friday Night.

As the Eighties progressed, MTV started airing material other than videos (I think the first may have been the game show Remote Control). As time passed, more and more time would be devoted to these programmes and less and less to music. In 1992 The Real World debuted. I suppose that was the final nail in the coffin of music videos. From that time forward MTV has devoted more time to their "original programming" and less to videos. I have to wonder why they still call themselves "Music Television" any more?

Of course, there is MTV2, which shows nothing but music videos. The problem is that it is not available on every cable outlet. VH1 is still devoted to music, although it appeals to an older crowd (at 41 I feel as if I am too young for VH1...). There is also Fuse, a video channel from Canada. Unfortunately, they are not available on all cable outlets either. For someone wanting to watch music videos, there are only a few places to turn. I suppose one can only pray that MTV wakes up one day and realise that they are Music Television and dump the "reality" series...

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