Today MTV turns 25 years old. It was on August 1, 1981 that the channel first went on the air. Curiously, MTV is holding no celebrations, no parties, to mark the ocassion. In fact, they are not even mentioning the anniversary. Of course, if you ask me, there really isn't much to celebrate.
For those of you too young to remember, there was a time when MTV showed videos. In fact, when the channel first debuted that was all it showed. MTV was the equivalent of a radio station on television. It would show music videos, interrupted only by commercials and the chatter of their veejays (that's "video jockeys"--the video equivalent of a "disc jockey" or "deejay"). The idea of MTV grew out of a show produced by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees in 1980. Capitalising on the growing popularity of music vidoes, Popclips aired on Nickelodeon throughout 1980. Warner Cable (now Warner Ammex), the parent company of Nickelodeon, took notice of the show and offered to buy the rights to it so they could create a cable channel that would show nothing but videos 24 hours a day. Nesmith and his production company, Pacific Arts, turned them down. It was then that Warner developed their own music video channel--MTV, short for Music Television.
It is hard today to imagine the impact that MTV had on its debut. It became one of the fastest growing cable channels of its time, bolstered a good deal by the "I Want My MTV" advertising campaign. It even sparked a video craze in the early Eighties. Soon cable channels and networks from WTBS (now just TBS) to NBC would have their own video shows. The videos themselves would even seep into pop culture. Z. Z. Topp's videos for "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs" would serve as the basis for a dream sequence on the series St. Elsewhere. Michael Jackson's video "Thriller" would be visually referenced in the movie Beverly Hills Cop. Robert Palmer's video for "Addicted to Love" would be endlessly parodied. There can be little doubt about it--MTV loomed over the Eighties like no other cable channel did.
Indeed, in those days it seemed as if everyone under thirty watched MTV. Oh, at the time my friends and I often mocked MTV as too commercial. We often complained about those times when MTV would place a video on what we called "burnout rotation (that is when it seemed as if MTV was showing a video every 15 minutes)." But ultimately we still watched MTV. In fact, I doubt that there were very many days in the early to mid-Eighties that I didn't have MTV on at some point on any given day.
Sadly, it was not to last. In 1987 MTV debuted the game show Remote Control. It was their first show that had absolutely nothing to do with music. And while the show would not last long (only about three years), it set a precedent for non-musical programming on MTV. Gradually, MTV would start showing more and more shows that had nothing or, at least, very little to do with music or music videos. The die was cast in 1992 when the channel debuted its reality series The Real World. It would be followed by other non-musical shows, such as Singled Out and Road Rules. At the same time MTV started showing fewer and fewer videos until, at last, the majority of their programming was made up of non-musical shows. Videos, the material which gave MTV its start, would become a rarity on the channel.
Indeed, MTV would show so few music videos that in 1996 they created a new channel, MTV2, just for showing music videos. MTV2 was essentially what MTV originally was--a cable channel devoted totally to music videos. Since then Fuse, the video channel from Canada, has gained a very firm foothold in America. It seems to me that people still want their MTV, but they don't want what MTV has become. At least no one over twenty five wants it.
Quite simply, I have to wonder why MTV even bothers calling itself MTV any more. On any given day, MTV only shows a few hours worth of music videos. And with few exceptions it is usually in the late night/early morning hours that they show them. The rest of MTV's time is devoted to regularly scheduled programming, only a very few of which are even remotely devoted to music. In my opinion, MTV, the channel which built itself on music videos, ceased to be "Music Television" long ago. I honestly think that the channel should change its name to something more appropriate (given that very little of what they air is worthwhile in my opinion, I would suggest JTV--Junk Television...). After all, other cable channels (Spike, the Hallmark Channel, and so on) changed their name when they changed their formats. And if MTV insists on still being called "MTV," then perhaps they should stop showing non-stop reruns of The Real World and Road Rules and start showing videos again. Until then, I don't really want my MTV...