Friday, 17 July 2009

Godspeed Legendary Anchorman Walter Cronkite

Tonight at a little before 7:00 Central, 8:00 Eastern, legendary newsman and long time anchor of The CBS Evening News Walter Cronkite died at the age of 92. According to his son Chip Cronkite the cause was complications from dementia.

Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born in St. Joseph, Missouri on November 4, 1916. His father, Walter Leland Cronkite Sr., was a dentist of Ducth ancestry, whose forebears had settled New Amsterdam. His mother was Helen Lena Fritsche Cronkite. Walter Cronkite was only nine years old when he had his first encounter with the news business. He sold copies of The Kansas City Star every Saturday night.

Mr. Cronkite's family moved from Missouri to Houston, Texas when he was 10 years old. It was Fred Birney, a journalism teacher who made a circuit about Houston area schools, who got young Mr. Cronkite into journalism. Birney appointed him editor of the school newspaper. Later he also helped Mr. Cronkite get a job at The Houston Post as a cub reporter and a copy boy. Mr. Cronkite delivered the paper at the same time he was a reporter. In his autobiography Walter Cronkite made the statement, "As far as I know, there were no other journalists delivering the morning paper with their own compositions inside." It was also when Cronkite was only sixteen that he had his first encounter with television. He and some friends went to the World's Fair where he took part in a demonstration of an experimental form of television.

Mr. Cronkite attended the University of Texas in Austin, occasionally reporting for the The Houston Press and other newspapers at the same time. He was at the university only two years before he decided he would rather be working. He took a full time job with The Houston Press, where he worked for a time. He was visiting Kansas City Missouri when he picked up a copy of The Kansas City Star and read news of the opening of KCMO Radio. It was in 1936 that he was hired as KCMO's entire news and sports department. At KCMO he broadcast under the name Walter Wilcox, because in the Thirties radio stations did not want broadcasters to use their real names for fear that if they left they would take their listeners with them. It was at KCMO that he met Betsy Maxwell, a University of Missouri graduate who wrote advertising copy for the station. The two married in 1940. Mrs. Cronkite died in 2005.

It was in 1939 that Mr. Cronkite took a job with United Press, for whom he covered World War II. He covered The Blitz on London. He also accompanied the first Allied forces in Northern Africa. In 1943 Edward R. Murrow offered Mr. Cronkite a job with his radio broadcast team out of CBS's Moscow Bureau. Mr. Cronkite turned Mr. Murrow down, deciding to remain with United Press. It was also in 1943 that Mr. Cronkite was one of only eight reporters selected to accompany B-17 Flying Fortresses and their crews on bombing runs into Germany. Walter Cronkite covered the Invasion of Normandy. He also landed with the airborne operation known as Operation Market Garden. Among the important battles he covered was the Battle of the Bulge. Following the war Mr. Cronkite covered the Nuremberg Trials.

It was after the Nuremberg Trials that Walter Cronkite left United Press to serve as the Washington correspondent for several Midwestern radio stations. It was in 1950 that Edward R. Murrow finally brought him to CBS, although he would be working in television rather than radio. He was hired to develop the news department for a new CBS television station in Washington D.C. It was only a year later that Mr. Cronkite was appearing in nationally broadcast programmes. He was the moderator on It's News to Me and Facts We Face in 1951. In 1952 he was the moderator of Man of the Week. It was also in 1952 that Mr. Cronkite was chosen by CBS to head the coverage of both the Democratic and Republican Conventions. The Democratic and Republican Conventions made Mr. Cronkite a household name for the first time in his career. He would anchor CBS's coverage of every political convention and election until 1980, with the exception of 1964. For the Democratic Convention that year CBS replaced Mr. Cronkite with the team of Roger Mudd and Robert Trout in an effort to challenge NBC's team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who had received good ratings earlier that summer covering the Republican convention.

Starting in 1953 that he hosted the classic series You Are There, a programme which presented historical events as if they were being reported by television news. The series featured future film directors John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet among its directors. You Are There lasted four years and was revived in the Seventies as a Saturday morning show (again with Walter Cronkite). It was in 1954 that CBS made its first attempt to challenge NBC's Today Show. For The Morning Show CBS selected Walter Cronkite as its host. While on the short lived show Mr. Cronkite made the programme's sponsor, R. J. Reynolds, unhappy by correcting the slogan "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" to the more grammatically correct "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should." From 1956 to 1957 Mr. Cronkite was the narrator of Air Power, a documentary series covering the history of manned flight. Starting in 1957 he was the narrator of the long running series The Twentieth Century, a documentary series which covered important events in history.

It was in 1961 that Mr. Cronkite replaced Edward R. Murrow as CBS's senior correspondent. It was on April 16, 1962 that he replaced Douglas Edwards as the anchor of The CBS Evening News. Under Cronkite The CBS Evening News would see some changes. It would be broadcast from an actual news room rather than a studio, as it had formerly been. On September 2, 1963 The CBS Evening News expanded from fifteen minutes to a half hour. It was when the broadcast was expanded in time that Mr. Cronkite began his famous sign off, "And that’s the way it is." Mr. Cronkite was the first person to ever anchor a half hour television news broadcast. It would take several years for it to do so, but with Walter Cronkite as its anchor, The CBS Evening News would overtake The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC in the ratings. In time Walter Cronkite would become known as "The Most Trusted Man in America" and lovingly as "Uncle Walter."

As the anchor of The CBS Evening News Mr. Cronkite would cover some of the biggest events of the 20th Century: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the arrival of The Beatles in the United States, the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the Watergate scandal, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and many others. Even while working on The CBS Evening News Mr. Cronkite continued to narrate The Twentieth Century. He also served as a reporter on various episodes of the series CBS Reports. Starting in 1980 he was the host of the science series Walter Cronkite's Universe. Walter Cronkite retired in 1981 at the age of 64.

His retirement was hardly sedentary. He still worked as a special correspondent for CBS, CNN, and NPR. Among the historical events on which he served as a special correspondent was John Glenn's second flight into space in 1998 (he had also reported on his first flight in 1961). He served as the Master of Ceremonies for The Kennedy Centre Honours: A Celebration of the Performing Arts for many years, starting in 1979. He was the host of 50 Years of Television: A Golden Celebration in 1989. After Katie Couric took over as the anchor of The CBS Evening News in 2006, it was Walter Cronkite's voice which introduced the show each night.

Walter Cronkite has been called "The Most Trusted Man in America." There are many who would say that, short of Edward R. Murrow himself, Mr. Cronkite was the greatest television newsman of all time. And they would not be without good reason. Walter Cronkite was known for reporting the news in a wholly unbiased manner. Throughout his career, Mr. Cronkite was the epitome of journalistic integrity. While he might express his opinions off camera, he never did so while on camera. At the same time, however, Mr. Cronkite was one of the few television newsmen who was approachable. The average American not only considered him one of us, but practically family. Walter Cronkite was not only "The Most Trusted Man in America," but he was also "Uncle Walter." It is perhaps a mark of his greatness that, among other things, Walter Cronkite is the only Missourian to have his own bust placed in the Hall of Famous Missourians at the State Capitol while still alive.

And while Mr. Cronkite was scrupulously objective in his reporting of the news most of the time, like the average American he could be moved by the momentous events of history. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Mr. Cronkite had to wipe tears from his eyes. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, he could not restrain an enthusiastic "Oh, boy!" Mr. Cronkite was fair and impartial, but like the rest of us he could be moved by powerful events.

As for myself, I must say that this has been one of the harder eulogies for me to write. Mr. Cronkite became the anchor of The CBS Evening News less than a year before I was born. He retired when I was 18 years old. For the first 18 years of my life, then, it was through Walter Cronkite that I received the news. It was largely because of Walter Cronkite's enthusiasm for the space programme that I became a supporter of space exploration. I have been a NASA enthusiast since childhood. It was partially because of Walter Cronkite's enthusiasm for history, particularly through the series he hosted, Your Are There, that I also became a history buff. During the time I was a journalist major in college (before moving onto Film and Television), it was Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite to whom I looked as to how to report the news. Walter Kronkite, a fellow Missourian, impacted my life in a way few celebrities have. For that reason, I am very sad tonight.

And that's the way it is, Friday, July 17, 2009.

Walter Cronkite's Report of the Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Force of Evil (1948)

It is a sad fact of life that many of the best films noir are not widely known to the general public. Among my favourite films noir is Force of Evil, a 1948 movie directed by sceenwriter Abraham Polonsky. Today Force of Evil is only know to movie buffs and film noir devotees. This is a grave injustice, as it is one of those great films with which everyone should be familiar.

Force of Evil stars John Garfield as unethical lawyer Joe Morse. Among Morse's clients is powerful mobster Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts), who wants total control of the city's number rackets. Morse not only defends Roberts, but become his partner in the numbers racket. This is perhaps unfortunate, as his older brother Leo runs his own, smaller numbers racket. It is this conflict which propels the plot of Force of Evil forward (for those of you wondering what a numbers racket is, it's essentially an illegal lottery where the better tries to match three or four numbers which are drawn the next day or next week).

What sets Force of Evil apart from many similar films is that it works on many levels. It is a gritty crime drama with more than enough action and violence to satisfy devotees of the genre. At the same time, it is also a powerful melodrama in which the protagonist is conflicted between his loyalty to his powerful employer and the love he feels for his older brother. Above all else, what makes Force of Evil superior to many films noir is that it is extremely realistic. The movie goes into detail on the operation of the numbers racket, so central to the film's plot. In fact, it goes into so much detail that by the time one is finished watching the movie, he or she will know all about the numbers racket, including its terminology. Adding to the film's realism is the fact that much of the film was shot on location in realist style. While a very realistic movie, Force of Evil also features dialogue that borders on poetic and includes frequent allusions to the Bible. It is a very literate movie.

Force of Evil was the first film ever directed by Abraham Polonsky, who had previously written the screenplay for the classic boxing film Body and Soul. Polonsky also co-wrote the film's screenplay with Ira Wolfert. Sadly, Polonsky's film career would be disrupted when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951. Blacklisted in Hollywood, he was forced to write movies under a number of pen names, most of which have never been revealed. It would not be until Madigan in 1968 that he would once more be given credit on a movie. He would not direct another movie until 1969, when he directed Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here.

Force of Evil was hailed by no less than Martin Scorsese as a forgotten masterpiece. He also said that it was the first film he ever saw which featured "...a world he knew and saw." Force of Evil is simultaneously a realistic film shot on location and dealing with crime in a realistic fashion, and a movie centred on the tragic relationship between two brothers. I dare say that everyone could find something to like in this movie, whether they are film noir buffs or they do not really care for film noir. Quite simply, Force of Evil is a film which transcends genre.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Leverage

After spending what seemed like the longest time writing eulogies for celebrities who have died and a six part history of music videos (I think it was the longest series of articles I've ever written in this blog), I thought I would relax and just plug one of my favourite shows currently on the air. Leverage starts its second season tomorrow night on TNT at 8:00 PM Central.

For those of you who have never seen Leverage, the series centres around a team of former con artists, hackers, and thieves, banded together under by former insurance investigator Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) to right corporate and government wrongs against the average person. The average episode of Leverage plays out like a good caper movie, with the team not only playing elaborate con games, but usually having to break into some place as well. Creators John Rogers and Chris Downey were obviously inspired by such classic movies as Topkapi and Ocean's Eleven.

Of course, what often makes the classic caper movies so great are their casts, and Leverage has a great cast. In addition to Timothy Hutton, the series features Gina Bellman (perhaps best known as Jane on Coupling) as con artist Sophie Devereaux, Christian Kane (who appeared on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lindsey McDonald) as martial artist and heavy Eliot Spencer, Beth Riesgraf as cat burglar Parker, and Aldis Hodge (who appeared in the films Die Hard with a Vengeance and the Coen Brothers' remake of The Ladykillers) as hacker Alec Hardison. Each and every one of the characters is well developed, with original personalities. There is no doubt in my mind that Leverage is both one of the best acted and best written series currently on television.

To give you a taste of the series, I'll leave you a character recap of my favourite character, the beautiful Sophie Devereaux, courtesy of TNT.TV:

Monday, 13 July 2009

A History of Music Videos Part Six


The Music Video Fad of the Eighties


While the history of music videos goes back to the advent of sound film, it would not be until the Sixties that they would be made with any sort of regularity. It was in that decade that The Beatles and other artists inaugurated the practice of creating promotional films for various songs. The creation of promotional films continued into the Seventies, but it would not be until the success of a video shot for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" that the record companies would start shooting videos for nearly every single they released. In the late Seventies interest in music videos had grown to the point that entire TV shows devoted to music videos were developed. By 1981 the growing interest in music videos resulted in the creation of MTV, the first cable channel devoted entirely to music videos.

MTV was an enormous success, but that would not have been the case had there not been a good deal of initial interest in music videos among the general public. In fact, in 1981, the same year that MTV was launched, two video albums were released. One was Elephant Parts, which Michael Nesmith of The Monkees produced through his company Pacific Arts. The other was The Completion Backward Principle by The Tubes. What set these video albums apart from earlier video albums (such as those released by Blondie and Split Enz) is that it was the artists themselves rather than the record company that instigated them. Even if MTV had not been launched in 1981, the completion of two video albums conceived by the artists themselves and the debut of several video shows (Video Soul, Night Flight, and so on) demonstrated the demand for music video at the time.

It is little wonder, then, that MTV became a phenomenon in the early Eighties. In fact, combined with the interest which already existed in music videos, MTV would spark an outright fad towards music videos. Nineteen eighty two would see yet more shows dedicated to music videos, largely because of MTV's success. On Nickelodeon, the channel which had aired the historic Pop Clips, Nick Rocks debuted. The series was a half hour in length and even at times featured guest hosts. It lasted until 1989. In 1982 the USA Network, which had debuted Night Flight the previous year, debuted Radio 1990. Strictly speaking, Radio 1990 was more of a music news programme, complete with interviews with music artists. That having been said, it did show a good number of videos. Radio 1990 aired on weekdays on the USA Network, lasting until 1986.

It would also be in 1982 that the music video service Bohemia Visual Music was launched. Unlike MTV, Bohemia Visual Music is a music video service provided to local broadcast stations. It started as Bohemia Afterdark and has aired on various stations throughout the years. Another development in the history of music video was the release of the movie Pink Floyd The Wall, based on Pink Floyd's hit concept album, that year. The film utilised a good deal of symbolic imagery, as well as an extended animated sequence. Pink Floyd The Wall had very little dialogue, with the story told largely through the music of Pink Floyd. It would prove fairly influential on music video.

By 1983 the music video fad was well underway. The year would see the launch of two music video channels and three important music video shows. Since the Sixties music video had been dominated by rock artists. With the growing interest in music video in the Seventies, there finally emerged videos featuring country artists. In 1982 two cable channels were launched which catered strictly to the country music crowd. Curiously the two channels debuted within a day of each other in March of that year. The first to debut was CMT (short for Country Music Television), on March 6. The channel was founded by Glenn D. Daniels, who served as its Programme Director and its President in its early days. It was originally called CMTV, although the "V" was dropped from the name following a complaint from MTV. CMT was essentially the country equivalent of MTV, showing music videos 24 hours a day. While CMT would later expand into other programming, it still shows a good number of videos and much of the programming (movies, reruns of variety shows and so on) it airs is devoted to music.

The Nashville Network debuted on March 7, 1983, only a day after CMT. Unlike CMT, the Nashville Network was conceived more as a channel devoted to country music in general. While The Nashville Network did air music videos, most of its programming was of a more traditional nature. It aired variety shows, talk shows, and even game shows centred on country music. Among its most popular programmes was a television version of old radio standby The Grand Ole Opry. After Westinghouse bought both CMT and The Nashville Network in 1995, the Nashville Network gradually moved away from its original programming, even airing TV series such as Dallas and The Dukes of Hazzard. By the late Nineties Viacom had bought the Nashville Network. In 2000 Viacom changed the name of the channel to The National Network and shifted its programming entirely away from country music. The channel started shows reruns of old broadcast TV series such as Miami Vice, Newhart, The Rockford Files, Taxi, and WKRP in Cincinnati. By 2003 the channel would change again, this time renamed Spike. It was meant, in theory at least, to be a network devoted to men. It is as Spike that the channel has continued to this day.

Nineteen eighty three also saw the debut of three important music video shows. The first to debut was Night Tracks, on the superstation TBS on June 3, 1983. Initially Night Tracks aired for three hours on Friday night, and was then repeated on Saturday night. Night Tracks differed from MTV in that it aired a greater percentage of R&B and dance music artists. Night Tracks proved successful enough that TBS debuted other video shows in its wake: America's Music Tracks (devoted to country music, fall 1983-February 1984), Chartbusters (1984-1991), Power Play (1985-1988), and New Alternative Express (1991-1992). Night Tracks itself would change over the years. In 1989, with the debut of the two hour movie show Night Flicks, Night Tracks dropped down to two hours. In 1990 it was further cut down to 90 minutes, with the 90 minute block often repeated the same night. In 1992 Night Tracks went off the air entirely.

The second music video show to debut in 1983 was New York Hot Tracks. New York Hot Tracks premiered only about a month after Night Tracks, on July 22, 1983. New York Hot Tracks was syndicated across the United States, primarily airing on ABC stations. The series aired dance and rap videos, with a few pop videos mixed in for good measure. New York Hot Tracks lasted until 1989.

The third music video show to debut in 1983 did so only a week after New York Hot Tracks, on July 29, 1983. Friday Night Videos was NBC's answer to MTV, and the brainchild of Burt Sugarman, who produced the show with Dick Ebersol. Its roots actually go back to The Midnight Special, which Ebersol produced. Ebersol left The Midnight Special for Saturday Night Live in 1981. Having a fairly bad experience with Saturday Night Live, Ebersol decided once more to do a Friday night show devoted to music. Friday Night Videos tended to concentrate on Top 40 songs, although it also showed a variety of videos from rock, R&B, and rap artists. It even occasionally showed older videos from the Sixties and the Seventies. In the beginning the show was 90 minutes in length, with the videos announced by an off screen announcer. By 1985 Friday Night Videos started using guest hosts, including Elvira, Yoko Ono, Ozzy Osbourne, John Ratzenberger, and George Wendt, among others. In 1987 the series was cut down to only an hour. In 1991 live music performances were added. By 1994, with ratings falling, the format of Friday Night Videos was changed and its title shortened to Friday Night. Friday Night showed celebrity interviews, movie reviews, live performances, and stand up comedy. It only aired two music videos a night. Friday Night was cancelled in 2000, with its final episode airing on December 29, 2000.

It was in the midst of the music video fad that there would be another music video which would make history. In some respects the importance of the video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" has been overestimated. Storyline videos have existed at least as far back as the Sixties. In fact, in the early Eighties storyline and conceptual videos were generally the rule. Music videos had also become very sophisticated even before MTV was launched. Regardless, "Thriller" was historic for two reasons. The first was the sheer amount of money involved. "Thriller" was the most expensive music video of the time, made for $500,000. Second, "Thriller" was as much a film short as it was a music video. It was even directed by an established movie director, John Landis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Jackson. It featured Jackson's transformation into a werecat, a spoken word monologue by horror actor Vincent Price, and choreographed zombies. The video debuted on MTV on December 3, 1983. As of 2006 Guinness World Records estimated that it was the most successful music video of all time, selling over 9 million copies.

Nineteen eighty four would see the launch of more music video channels and more music video shows. The first of these was Music Box, a pan-European music video channel launched in March 1984. Created by Virgin Vision, one of Richard Branson's companies, Music Box aired throughout Britain, Europe, and the Middle East. Unfortunately, Music Box would not last as a music video channel. On January 30, 1987 Music Box ceased to be a 24 hour music video channel and became merely an independent producer of music programmes. It would continue to air ten hours of videos a day on the Super Channel, which took over Music Box's satellite frequency. By 1990 Music Box ended its satellite broadcasts entirely, continuing to this day as a producer of music shows for the British networks.

A more successful music video channel was also one of the earliest speciality channels in Canadian history. Without a music video channel of its own, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) granted a licence to CHUM Limited to launch MuchMusic, the first Canadian music video channel. MuchMusic was launched on September 1, 1984, "The Enemy Within" by Canadian rock band Rush being its first video ever aired. Even in its early years MuchMusic not only aired videos, but music and variety shows such as Electric Circus (a dance programme) and the game show Test Pattern. Unlike MTV, MuchMusic has been very lenient in censoring content, allowing even the "F" word to be sang or uttered and showing videos MTV had banned. Unlike other video channels, for most of its history MuchMusic did not drift too far from music oriented programming. Much of this was due to necessity. The channel's licence dictated that it show primarily music oriented programming. In fact, in the Nineties MuchMusic ran afoul of the CRTC when it aired Ren and Stimpy. Ultimately, it was forced to remove the show from its programming. Sadly, the Naughts would see MuchMusic airing more non-music programming, even reruns of The O.C. and Gossip Girl. Regardless, MuchMusic's success allowed it to even expand into the United States. In 1994 MuchUSa was launched.

While MuchMusic would see a good deal of success, an American music video channel launched in 1984 would utterly fail. With Night Tracks a success, Ted Turner of TBS attempted his own music video channel. The Cable Music Channel (CMC) was launched on October 27, 1984. It differed primarily from MTV in that it played a wider variety of music videos, everything from rock to country to dance to R&B. Turner apparently had big plans for the channel, even launching it himself. With the words, "Take that MTV!" he pressed a button, after which the CMC aired its first video, "I Love LA" by Randy Newman. Unfortunately for Turner, CMC found itself unable to sign up cable systems (many of who already had MTV) and unable to obtain the rights for top videos. On November 29, 1984 Turner decided to sell CMC to MTV. MTV in turn would use the channel's space on the SATCOM satellite to launch VH1 on January 1, 1985.

Nineteen eighty four also saw the debut of more music video shows. Back Porch Video debuted on January 28, 1984. It was created by the DJ Russ Gibb, then most famous for being instrumental in the "Paul is Dead (as in Paul McCartney)" rumour in 1969. Back Porch Video was unlike any other music video show on the air. It aired out of Westinghouse's Group W Cable studios in Dearborn, Michigan and was crewed entirely by local teenagers. It aired live on Saturday nights from 10 PM to 1 AM. From the beginning its videos tended towards mainstream rock and later alternative rock, although heavy metal and even hardcore punk videos were aired as well. Back Porch Video proved to be one of the most successful video shows of all time, lasting a full sixteen years.

It was on June 22, 1984 that ABC made an attempt to compete with NBC's Friday Night Videos. ABC Rocks was a half hour programme on Friday late night which showed top 40 videos. In the end it could not compete with Friday Night Videos, ending its run on August 2, 1985. More successful was Video Vibrations, which debuted on BET in October 1984. It lasted until 1997.

By 1985 the fad towards music videos was coming to a close. Despite this, two new music video channels would be launched that year. The first was VH1. VH1 was conceived by Warner Cable as a sister channel to MTV, one which would show videos which appealed to a slight older demographic. It was launched on the bones of Ted Turner's Cable Music Channel, taking over that channel's space on the SATCOM satellite. While MTV would eventually drift away from music programming, VH1 has never quite done so. Although it would start showing fewer music videos in the Nineties, to this day the vast majority of its programming is music oriented in some way.

The other music channel to debut in 1985 was The Video Jukebox Network, later simply called The Box. The Box would become well known for showing videos banned on MTV. It also became well known for allowing viewers to call in requests for videos. Initially free, The Box eventually set up a 1-900 line whereby viewers could request up to three videos for a small fee. At times popular videos would air on The Box well before MTV. Sadly, The Box would not last. In 1999 The Box was bought by MTV, who replaced its signal with that of their sister channel MTV2.

During the music video craze of the Eighties, music video infiltrated Anglo-American pop culture in a way that it never has before or since. The famous videos made for "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs" by Z. Z. Top, in which various individuals are helped by three mysterious, beautiful women travelling in a vintage 1933 Ford coupe, provided the basis for one of the dream sequences in the St. Elsewhere episode "Sweet Dreams," which aired during that show's third season. In the movie Beverly Hills Cop, the "Thriller" video was visually referenced. In Britain the series Not The Nine O'Clock News produced their own parody of music videos, "Nice Video, Shame About The Song." Even after the fad towards music videos had begun to fade, in 1986 the video to "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer would be endlessly parodied.

By 1985 the fad towards music videos was coming to a close. No new music video shows would be forthcoming in substantial numbers and no new music video channels would emerge. The music video fad lasted longer than most fads, approximately from 1981 to 1985, but like all fads it would come to an end. The end of the music video fad would have farther ranging effects than the cancellation of a few music video shows. Ultimately it would result in dramatic changes to the cable channel which had started the fad itself, MTV

The Fall of MTV
or
Reality Shows Killed the Video Star


By the mid to late Eighties the music video fad was coming to an end. As a result many music video shows went off the air. Video Jukebox may have been the first, cancelled by HBO in 1985. The USA Network cancelled Radio 1990 in 1986. Night Flight, once one of the most popular video shows, was cancelled in 1988 by the USA Network, only to return for another six years in syndication in 1990. Both Nick Rocks and New York Hot Tracks were cancelled in 1989. Both Friday Night Videos and Night Tracks would both be shortened in length.

As a result of the music video fad coming to an end, the ratings for both VH1 and MTV declined. Although sister channels, they would react to this decline in programming in very different ways. VH1 shifted from music videos to programming that was still music oriented--Behind the Music, Legends, and Movies That Rock. On the other hand, MTV began airing shows that had absolutely nothing to do with music. In 1987 MTV debuted a game show, Remote Control. While Remote Control would only last about three years, it was a sign of things to come. In 1992 MTV debuted the pioneering reality show The Real World. It would be followed by other non-music shows such as Road Rules, Jackass, and Singled Out. During this time MTV's ratings rose, encouraging the channel to air more non-music programming and fewer videos It is for that reason that as the Nineties progressed, MTV would show fewer and fewer videos. By 2000 MTV was showing only eight hours a day of music videos, and often those were confined to the early morning hours. By 2008 that number had slipped to only three hours a day.

While MTV's ratings increased during the Nineties and the early Naughts, the channel's change in programming also drove away viewers. Many of those who once tuned into the channel to watch music videos simply stopped watching it. While the ratings demonstrated that many enjoyed the reality shows on the channel, there were also many others who despised them. A running joke that became more common as the Nineties became the Naughts was that one was Generation X or older if he or she could remember when MTV showed videos. While giving an acceptance speech at the 2007 Video Music Awards Justin Timberlake, who is barely old enough to even remember when MTV showed music videos, called for MTV "...to play more damn videos!" Sadly, it seems his words fell on deaf ears.

As MTV moved away from playing music videos, the channel saw the need to create other outlets for videos. In 1996 M2 was created. M2 was what MTV once was, a 24 hour music video channel. It was renamed MTV2 in 2000. Unfortunately, in the early Naughts the reality shows and other non-music programmes from MTV had overwhelmed MTV2 as well. As a result MTV created a new channel, MTV Hits, which was also meant to be what MTV once was. Fortunately, it has not yet succumbed to MTV's non-music programming.

MTV's shift away from music videos might explain the rise of new music video channels in the Naughts, the first time a significant number of such channels have emerged since the Eighties. Indeed, it was in 1994 that CHUM Limited., the parent company of Canadian music video channel MuchMusic, expanded into the United States with MuchUSA. MuchUSA was essentially an affiliate of MuchMusic, operated by cable company Rainbow Media. In 2003 CHUM Limited revoked Rainbow Media's license to use the names "MuchMusic" and "MuchUSA," whereupon MuchUSA became Fuse. In August 1999 a music video cable channel named E-Music was launched in the United States. What set E-Music apart from other music video channels is that it is interactive; that is, viewers can choose five videos a day they would like to see by going to E-Music's web site. Other music video channels which emerged after MTV had shifted its format were the International Music Feed (it aired videos from around the globe and existed from 2005 to 2008), NOYZ (which existed from 2006 to 2008), Retro-Jams (specialising in older videos--founded in 2007 and continuing to this day), and The Tube Music Network (which existed from 2003 to 2007). While most of these music video channels failed, one has to wonder that they would have come into existence at all if MTV's programming had continued to be dominated by music videos.

Of course, beyond the creation of new music video channels, the Naughts would also see another development related to music videos. In the Nineties and early Naughts the vast majority of Americans accessed the internet through a dial-up connection. Such connections were two slow to make watching music videos, let alone television shows and movies, practical. Even with a 56 kbit/s modem, the fastest modem of the time, watching even a three minute video meant sitting for several minutes while the video buffered. As the Naughts progressed more and more people in North America and around the world began accessing the internet through broadband connections. With data transfer rates often well above 768 kbit/s, broadband made watching music videos, TV shows, and movies on the internet practical. As a result of the increase in broadband connections, video sharing sites such as YouTube and Metacafe came into being, and the websites of various media outlets (such as MTV) began offering much more in the way of videos. While MTV itself no longer shows much in the way of videos, its website features hundreds of them. For many people the internet would become the primary means by which they watch videos.

Indeed, by the mid-Naughts some music videos would only be released online. What is more, some of these music videos have proven popular enough to insure the success of the songs for which they were made. This was the case for both OKGo's "A Million Ways" in 2005 and "Here It Goes Again" in 2006. Weezer would eventually capitalise on this trend with their video to "Pork and Beans," in which they included twenty people famous only from being in videos on YouTube.

With the emergence of new music video channels and music video on the internet, it would seem that MTV has lost of much of its relevance to the medium of music video. In fact, it seems that in achieving respectable ratings in the Nineties and the early Naughts, MTV may have paid a high price for its shift in programming, one that ultimately was not worth it in the long run. Indeed, in moving away from music video MTV lost much of its influence on pop culture. At MTV's height in the Eighties, its veejays were celebrities recognised by a large number of people and the videos it showed were referenced in television shows and movies. Even when its rating declined in the late Eighties, a time when videos still comprised the majority of MTV's programming, the channel still had a good deal of impact on pop culture. "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer was released in 1986, after MTV's ratings had started to slide, and yet the video was endlessly parodied in a variety of media. This stands in stark contrast to the programming aired on MTV throughout much of the Nineties and into the Naughts. While a large number of people know who Martha Quinn is, one would be hard pressed to find anybody who would recognise any of the people who have appeared on The Real World throughout the years. And while various videos which aired on MTV in the Eighties were endlessly referenced and parodied, only a very few of the channel's reality programmes have been so referenced and parodied (The Real World and The Osbournes being examples).

Although it would take years, ultimately even MTV's ratings have suffered because of the channel's shift in programming. Indeed, in June the channel was struggling in the ratings so much that it laid off a good number of employees. MTV's woes would seem to be rooted in its shift away from music videos. Even as MTV reduced the amount of videos it showed in the Naughts, a cycle towards reality shows would overtake both the broadcast networks and cable channels. Eventually the broadcast networks and cable channels would be glutted with such programming. Once a genre that was the sole province of MTV became common place elsewhere, MTV's ratings began to slide once more. In the end, it seems as if MTV may have been better off remaining a music video channel. Granted, its ratings would not have been quite so high as they were when it first shifted its programming to reality shows and other programmes, but then it would not be suffering decreased ratings now. The worst that would have happened is that MTV would simply be speciality channel, although a profitable one.

Unfortunately, despite its falling ratings, it seems that MTV remains insistent in not showing videos. In June 23 of this year MTV announced a development slate which includes series with continuing characters and sketch comedy shows. Despite the fact that reality shows are most likely what caused the channel's drop in ratings, the channel seems insistent on developing new ones. Sadly, MTV ceased to be "Music Television" long ago. And I have to wonder that if it continues on its current course if it won't cease to be entirely.

Afterword


When most people think of music videos, they tend to think of the Eighties. As this series of articles demonstrates, however, the form has a history extending back to the very beginnings of sound film. Vitaphone and other studios would make music shorts in the late Thirties. The Forties saw the creation of a visual jukebox, the Panoram, for which over a thousand Soundies were made. The Fifties saw the creation of Snader Telescriptions, short films made to be aired as filler on television. The Sixties saw the reintroduction of visual jukeboxes and the production of films made for them. More importantly, the Sixties saw the creation of music promotional films, the direct ancestors of the modern music video. The Seventies saw record companies begin producing music videos on a regular basis. The Eighties saw the creation of channels devoted entirely to music videos. The Naughts would see the emergence of the internet as a force with regards to music videos.

Music videos have received more than their fair share of bad press. In the Eighties there were those who claimed that music videos devalued the very experience of listening to music. They claimed that videos violated the freedom of the listener to interpret a song as he or she sees fit. Another common criticism was that music videos commodified music, that music videos were essentially nothing more than commercials. Nearly thirty years later such criticisms hardly seem supportable. People still interpret songs however they wish. As to commodifying music, arguably songs have been commodified since the invention of the phonograph in the late 19th century. Indeed, it must be pointed out that while many good songs have benefited from exposure through a particularly good video, it is very, very rare that a bad song has benefited from exposure through a particularly good video. Regardless of what is up on the screen, it is ultimately the song itself that counts.

In the end it would seem that while music videos began as a promotional tool, they evolved very swiftly into an artform all their own. In many respects the very best videos can be regarded as a form of silent film, telling a story set to music and without dialogue. In many respects this makes music video a very challenging medium, for directors must rely almost entirely upon the visual to move the story along. It should be no surprise that music video directors ranging from Michael Lindsay-Hogg to David Fincher would move onto directing feature films. It would seem that the music video is an excellent training ground.

It is difficult to determine the future of music video, but it is certain that they have one. Even as MTV insistently refuses to play music videos, new music video channels have arisen and the internet has become another venue for music video. There can be little doubt that the music video will continue to grow and perhaps even to thrive as an artform.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A History of Music Videos Part Five


Open Your Eyes, Look Up to the Skies and See...

With promotional films from such artists as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others, the Sixties saw the creation of the first modern rock videos. As the Sixties became the Seventies, however, music promotional films went into a slight decline. It is difficult to say why this was. Part of it may have been the decline in the number of variety shows airing in the United States, the primary venue in the U.S. on which the promotional films were aired. In 1970 Hollywood Palace (where the clips for Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever debuted) went off the air in 1970. In 1971 The Ed Sullivan Show went off the air after twenty three years. Many of the groups which had created the promotional films of the Sixties also broke up--Small Faces in 1969, The Beatles and The Turtles in 1970, and so on.

This is not to say that there were no promotional films being made in the early Seventies, simply that there were fewer being made than in the mid to late Sixties. Indeed, in 1970 Captain Beefheart made both a promotional film for "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" and a television commercial for the album of the same title. The commercial featured a cigarette being flipped in slow motion, Captain Beefheart's band using kitchen utensils as musical instruments, and Beefheart kicking over what appeared to be a bowl of porridge. Between the strange, non sequitur imagery, and the suggestiveness of the song's title, TV stations refused to air it. The advert would find its way into the Museum of Moder Art.

Nineteen seventy one would see the debut of the Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention film 200 Motels. Made on a shoestring budget and ostensibly following a musician's life on the road, the movie was actually a series of vignettes and musical sequences, most of them surreal. That same year The Residents started work on a feature film, Vileness Fats, which would never be finished. That year they did complete clips for "The Third Reich 'n Roll," "One Minute Movies", "Hello Skinny", and a remake of "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" shot for the film. It was also in 1971 that The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour recruited animator James David Wilson to make animated clips of popular songs covered by Sonny and Cher on the show.

Nineteen seventy two could be seen as the year in which promotional films saw a rebirth. That year David Bowie shot promo clips for "John, I'm Only Dancing (in May)," "The Jean Genie (in November)" and the re-release of "Space Oddity (in December)." It also saw the debut of The Midnight Special on NBC in August. The series, which would run until 1981, mostly featured live performances of the popular bands of the day. The show would also air the occasional promotional film. In Concert debuted in September on ABC. As the show's title would indicate, the series featured music artists performing live, although it would also show promotional films from time to time. It was in 1973 that David Bowie would make a promotional film for "Life on Mars."

While The Midnight Special and In Concert only occasionally showed promotional films, it would be in 1974 that the first two shows debuted that would feature music videos on a regular basis. Because of their sheer distance from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Australia and New Zeeland saw tours from the big name artists from Canada, the United Kingdom, and United States less often than the other English speaking countries. As a result Australia and New Zeeland were more dependent on promotional clips than any other English speaking countries. It is perhaps because of this that Australia saw the premiere of two shows that would feature promotional films on a regular basis: Sounds Unlimited (later titled Sounds) in September and Countdown in November.

Of the two shows Sounds Unlimited would be the most significant in music video history. The show was launched by a former DJ, Graham Webb, and aired from ATN-7 in Sydney. Webb soon found himself in need of material, so he approached one of ATN-7's staff, Russell Mulcahy and requested that he shoot footage for popular songs of the day for which no promotional clips existed. Mulcahy shot around 25 different films for the show. Mulcany's promotional films proved a roaring success, so much so that he quit his job to direct music videos full time. In Australia he would shoot promotional films for AC/DC, Hush, and Stylus. In 1976 he moved to the United Kingdom where he would direct such early videos as "Turning Japanese" by The Vapours and the legendary "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. He would go onto direct such classic videos as "Planet Earth" for Duran Duran, "Pressure" for Billy Joel, "Gypsy" for Fleetwood Mac, and many others. Mulcahy would eventually become a feature film director, directing such movies as the cult classic Highlander. In a large part, due to Mulcahy's promotional films, Sounds Unlimited became a hit, lasting well into the Eighties.

While Sounds Unlimited may have been more pivotal in music video history than Countdown, Countdown was arguably the more popular show. Airing on the Australian Broadcasting Company, it proved to be the most successful music show in the history of Australian television. A combination of lip synced performances, news, and interviews, like Sounds Unlimited it was one of the first shows to regularly feature music videos. It was through music videos that such British and American acts as The Cars, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, The Ramones, XTC, and others received their first exposure in Australia.

While Australia would see the first shows to make extensive use of music videos, in the United States there would be an important film short released in 1974. It was in that year that Devo released "The Truth About De-Evolution," a film short which included clips for their cover of "Secret Agent Man" and "Jocko Homo."

It would be 1975 that proved to be one of the most important years in the history of music videos. On April 25, 1975 of that year, in the United States, ABC aired the special Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, which was meant to promote Alice Cooper's latest album Welcome to My Nightmare. The special featured every song from the album, as well as "The Ballad of Dwight Frye" from the album Love It to Death. Many of the clips on the special were conceptual in nature, such as the one for "The Black Widow," in which Cooper is menaced by giant spiders.

As important as Alice Cooper: The Nightmare was in the history of rock video, it pales in importance when compared to the promotional film shot for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Promo clips had already been made for Queen's songs "Keep Yourself Alive," "Seven Seas Of Rhye," "Killer Queen" and "Liar," but the clip for "Bohemian Rhapsody" would prove to be the most important music video of their career. The necessity of a promo clip for "Bohemian Rhapsody" was simple--Queen realised that it would be nearly impossible to lip sync such a complex song on the music shows of the time. The video was directed by Bruce Gowers, who had earlier filmed the band's performance at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The video opened with a sequence based on the cover of Queen II, originally photographed by Mick Rock. The video then switches to Queen performing the song.

The special effects for the video to "Bohemian Rhapsody" were all performed during its recording. This was made possible due to the fact that it was shot on videotape as opposed to film. Much of this was out of necessity. The "Bohemian Rhapsody" video was due for broadcast on Top of the Pops on the BBC that very same week. Film would have meant additional time in processing, during which time any special effects would be added. Shooting the clip on videotape was revolutionary, as prior to "Bohemian Rhapsody" every music promotional film had been shot on film. After "Bohemian Rhapsody" videotape became the primary medium on which music videos were shot. Quite simply, videotape was less expensive than film, and many special effects could be achieved while recording, saving valuable time and money. Because it was shot on videotape, there are many who proclaim that "Bohemian Rhapsody" as the first true music video. Given that in common usage the term music video is applied to earlier promo clips shot on film (such as The Beatles' promo clips or Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues") as well, this is not the case; however, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is historic as the first rock video to be shot on videotape.

The video for "Bohemian Rhapsody" made its debut on Top of the Pops where it caused a sensation. In the United States the "Bohemian Rhapsody" video would debut on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, the successor to the ABC series In Concert which aired in syndication from 1973 to 1982. The video proved to be a hit in the United States as well. In fact, the video proved popular in many different countries around the globe. It was widely attributed with increasing the sales of A Night at the Opera, the Queen album from which the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" had originated. Given its success, record companies began shooting videos for nearly every single released. Nearly ten years after The Beatles shot their first promotional films, the production of rock videos on a regular basis commenced.

Video Killed the Radio Star


In the wake of the success of the video to "Bohemian Rhapsody," recording companies began producing music videos on a regular basis. In fact, after 1975 one would be hard pressed to find a single released by a major artist which did not have a video shot for it. Among these early music videos were "Hot Legs" by Rod Stewart (released in 1977), "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel (released in 1977), "Follow You, Follow Me" by Genesis (released in 1978), "I Got You" by Split Enz (in 1980), and "This Time" by John Cougar (released in 1980--he was not yet billing himself as John Mellencamp). With each passing year of the late Seventies, more and more music artists were releasing music videos.

Despite the revolution launched by Queen and their video for "Bohemian Rhapsody," it would be a feature film rather than a rock video which leave the biggest mark in video history in 1976. Released in October of that year, The Song Remains the Same featured footage shot from three nights of concerts performed by Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in 1977. Interspersed with the concert footage were fantasy sequences, ranging from one involving Twenties era hitmen to a knight searching for the Holy Grail. The imagery featured in the movie would have a profound impact on the heavy metal videos which would follow it in the Eighties.

It was in 1977, with the production of music videos dramatically increasing, that Warner Cable created a predecessor to MTV. That year Warner Cable launched QUBE in Columbus, Ohio. QUBE was the first two-way interactive cable TV system, and featured many specialised cable channels. Among them was the direct predecessor of Nickelodeon, a children's channel called Pinwheel. Another was Sight and Sound, a music channel which showed music oriented programmes, music news, concert footage, and, of course, music videos.

It was the following year, 1978, that the first television programme dedicated entirely to music videos would emerge in the United States. The Madison Square Garden Network (not to be confused with the local New York sports network of that name), soon to be renamed the USA Network, debuted a show called Video Concert Hall. Video Concert Hall was the creation of radio and cable television executive Lloyd "Jerry" Crowe and former TriStar Pictures employee and journalist Charles Henderson. Video Concert Hall (often known simply as VCH) aired everyday on the USA Network from 1977 to 1981. It also became extremely successful. It was among the most popular shows on any of the channels on QUBE. It would eventually appear on other cable/satellite channels, such as the Satellite Program Network and the American Forces Network. It was through Video Music Hall that The Police and Split Enz received their first widespread exposure to audiences in the United States. It is perhaps because of the success of Video Concert Hall that in the late Seventies HBO would start airing videos under the heading of Video Jukebox (later a show all its own) as filler in between movies.

Video Concert Hall would not remain the only music video show on the air for long. By 1979 the children's channel Pinwheel had been re-branded Nickelodeon. As Pinwheel the channel had primarily served preschoolers, but as Nickelodeon the channel desperately need to attract older children. John A. Lack, a Warner executive in charge of Nickelodeon among other things, realised that the growing popularity of rock video might be the key to doing so. Warner Cable then commissioned Michael Nesmith of The Monkees and his company Pacific Arts to deliver a music video show for the channel. The agreement was that Pacific Arts would deliver fifty or more, half hour segments. The series, entitled Pop Clips, went into production in the summer of 1980. John Lack himself gathered together the videos that would appear on the show. Mike Nesmith developed the format of the show itself. Pop Clips would be the equivalent of a radio station on the air, complete with a "veejay (although that term would not be coined until MTV was conceived)." The first veejay in the world would be comedian Charles Fleischer, who would go onto appear in movies such as Night Shift and would provide the voice for Roger Rabbit. William Dear would be the show's director. In many respects the show had the same frantic humour as The Monkees on which Nesmith had appeared in the Sixties. Pop Clips debuted in March 1980 and aired on Nickelodeon throughout that year. It would prove pivotal in the history of music video in more than simply being one of the earliest music video shows and the first show to feature a veejay.

Nineteen seventy nine would prove to be an important year for music video because of more than the debut of Pop Clips. The late Seventies not only saw music videos grow in popularity, but home video in the form of the VCR as well. Chrysalis Records sought to take advantage of this fact through their popular band Blondie. in 1979 Chrysalis Records shot videos for every single song on the Blondie album Eat to the Beat and then released those videos on video cassette. The result was the first music video album. It was also in 1979 that the mainstream media really took notice of the growing popularity of music videos. In an article titled "Gearing up For a Rock-Video Boom" in the October 21, 1979 in the Los Angeles Times, it was predicted that, "...in 1980 rock-video (sic) will finally come of age." Not only was the article extremely prescient, but it is also historic in being one of the earliest usages of the term "rock video" in any medium.

As it was, to some degree rock video did come of age in 1980. It was that year that the first music video subscription service, RockAmerica, debuted. RockAmerica was founded by Ed Steinberg. The service distributed rock videos to DJs in much the same way that earlier record pools would distribute records. On a monthly basis, clubs would receive a new batch of tapes of videos, which they would keep for two months. A number of east coast clubs immediately signed with RockAmerica and the company became so influential that in its early days even MTV would base their programming on RockAmerica's charts. It was also in 1980 that another music video programme debuted. America's Top 10 was the equivalent to the radio show American Top 40, hosted by DJ Casey Kasem. America's Top 10 would then air videos of the top charted songs of the week. The show proved to be a success, lasting until 1992.

As pivotal as the year 1980 would be in the history of music video, 1981 would be even more so. With music videos growing in popularity, the year saw the debut of more music video shows. In June 1981, two months before MTV debuted, Black Entertainment Television (BET) debuted Video Soul, the first video show to focus primarily on R&B and soul artists. The series lasted until 1996. That same month the USA Network once more made music video history with the debut of Night Flight. Strictly speaking, Night Flight was not merely a music video show. While it showed an enormous number of videos (many of which were banned by MTV), it also showed short films, comedic segments, old movie serials, and even feature films. It was one of the first television shows to view music video as an art form rather than mere bits of promotion. Night Flight aired for four hours late night on Saturdays and Sundays. It aired on the USA Network until 1988, then continued in syndication until 1996. In December 1981, HBO's Video Jukebox finally graduated from mere filler between movies to a regularly scheduled half hour programme. The reason for this was probably not simply due to the growing popularity of videos, but rather the debut of a new cable network in August 1981.

MTV (short for Music Television) was launched on August 1, 1981, founded as a cable channel belonging to Warner Cable. The particulars of its creation have always been a subject of some controversy. Michael Nesmith has always insisted that in creating Pop Clips he essentially created MTV. Director Bill Dear has always supported Nesmith's claim. In fact, according to Bill Dear, Warner Cable actually asked to buy both the name Pop Clips and the show's format as the basis for a twenty four hour, music video channel. When Michael Nesmith and Bill Dear turned them down, Warner Cable simply developed MTV. Warner Cable and MTV have always insisted that Mike Nesmith and Pop Clips never had anything to do with the creation of MTV. John Lack himself has lent credence to both Nesmith and Warner Cable's positions. According to Lack, Nesmith agreed to a twenty four hour version of Pop Clips, but various problems developed which prevented the creation of a Pop Clips music video channel. Lack disliked the idea of a humorous host for the channel, such as the one on Pop Clips. Nesmith's company Pacific Arts wanted the prospective channel to originate from their own studios, an idea to which Warner Cable objected. Another problem was that Robert W. Pittman, then in charge of Warner Cable's pay TV division and the man who brought MTV to the air, did not like Mike Nesmith personally. Because of the disagreements between Warner Cable and Nesmith, Pop Clips would come to an end with no new segments being ordered from Warner Cable.

Regardless, Robert W. Pittman would be the man who brought MTV (Music Television) to the air. He would serve as its president and later its CEO. Not only would Pittman turn MTV into the first cable channel to make a profit, but he would oversee Nickelodeon's transition from a network for preschoolers to one for older children and oversee the launch of its night time schedule, Nick at Nite.

To a large degree MTV's format was very similar to that of Pop Clips. Videos on MTV were introduced by and any programming was hosted by veejays, short for video jockeys. The earliest veejays were former model and actress Nina Blackwood, DJ Mark Goodman, DJ Alan Hunter, DJ and former music reporter J. J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn (fresh from the Broadcast Journalism school of NYU). In those early days The programming of MTV consisted entirely of videos. The first video ever aired on MTV was The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." To a degree this was ironic. "Video Killed the Radio Star" is not a song rejoicing in the triumph of video over radio. Instead, "Video Killed the Radio Star" is a song decrying the triumph of style over substance, the triumph of promotion over song. In the early days music videos as a medium were seen by many as devaluing music, as placing the emphasis on the visual over sound. MTV debuted with only 750 music videos in its library, many of them older promotional films.

As a music video channel with a broad appeal to young people, from its earliest days MTV chose to display some restraint in what it showed. From the very beginning MTV banned videos and censored others. In fact, the first video ever banned on MTV was filmed only a mere two weeks before the cable channel was launched. MTV swiftly banned the video for "Girls on Film" by Duran Duran for nudity and fetish style imagery. Only an edited version of the video would ever appear on the channel. Several other early videos would also be banned or censored by MTV: "Psychotherapy" by The Ramones (for horror movie imagery), "Screaming in the Night" by Krokus (for violence), "Body Language" by Queen (for near nudity and sexual content), "Self Control" by Laura Brannigan (for sexual content), the original video to "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (for too many reasons to list here), "When the Lady Smiles" by Golden Earring (also, for too many reasons to list here), and yet others. Many of the videos banned or censored by MTV found their way to the USA Network's Night Flight.

MTV proved enormously successful and would have an immediate influence on pop music. That having been said, its influence would sometimes be overestimated. MTV was not responsible for increasing the popularity of New Wave music in the United States. Well before MTV had launched, New Wave artists such as Blondie, The Cars, Devo, Joe Jackson, Split Enz, and Talking Heads had seen success in the United States. While MTV was not responsible for bringing New Wave music to the forefront in the United States, it could bear a good deal of responsibility for sparking the Second British Invasion, the wave of British artists who swept America in the Eighties. Beginning with Duran Duran in 1981, MTV promoted a number of British acts by showing their videos in the United States, including Adam and the Ants, Billy Idol, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Flock of Seagulls, Madness, New Order, and others. And while heavy metal was already returning to popularity in the United States on the strength of such acts as AC/DC and Judas Priest prior to MTV's launch, MTV would do a good deal to promote such heavy metal or near heavy metal acts as Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Twisted Sister, and others.

MTV would prove to be a phenomenon in the early Eighties. Largely on the strength of its "I Want My MTV" campaign (inspired by the "I want my Maypo" ad campaign of the Fifties), it became the fastest growing cable channel in the United States at the time. MTV went onto become the first cable channel to ever break a profit. More importantly, the launch of MTV would not only increase the already growing interest in music videos in the United States, but it would create an outright craze for music videos. In the wake of MTV, more music video channels and more music video TV shows would debut than at any time before or since.