It’s MTV’s 30th birthday, so I’ll be reblogging some pertinent posts from around the internets.
This one is from my friend, producer David Levin’s unpublished introduction to the 20th birthday MTV book (in fact, David and I actually met for the first time when he was putting this book and the companion special together 11 years ago). I’d never read it before, maybe you haven’t either:
“You’ll never look at TV the same way again.”
When VJ Mark Goodman first said those words, in the very first segment in the very first minute on the very first day of MTV, no one knew that it wasn’t just hype. That ultimately, television would, indeed, change forever.
If you’re under the age of 25, it is probably hard to imagine a world without MTV. That big blocky M with the graffiti TV added almost as an afterthought is known internationally - once voted among the top ten logos ever - along with the CBS eye, the swastika, the Star of David and the Cross.
But until MTV launched on August 1st, 1981, just a handful of people knew what it was - and even THEY didn’t quite agree on what it should be - or even what it should be called. That small group spent the next few years creating and recreating a television channel unlike anything that had come before: 24 hours a day - unheard of! - devoted to (of all things) rock music - more like a radio station than a TV station.
Music. Television. MTV.
Absurd. And yet it worked.
Younger viewers embraced the fledgling network. They quickly caught on to the fast-paced cutting, the sexy visuals, the vivid colors, the hard-thumping early 80’s techno music. And why not? This was a generation that had grown up on the fast-paced cutting, vivid colors and rocking music of Sesame Street.
MTV was the next logical step.
For all of the revolutionary television and music video techniques that emerged and were credited to MTV in the early 80’s, they had their roots in films like HELP!, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and television shows like the MONKEES, PARTRIDGE FAMILY and yes, Sesame Street. Is it really that great a leap of logic to get from Big Bird to Jesse Camp?
In turn, the MTV “look” during the 80’s influenced movies, commercials, television and design.
For the young professionals who worked at MTV back then, those were heady days. A time to learn their craft, stretch creative muscles and try doing television in a way no one had imagined. Without the sky-high budgets of most network television at the time, producers, directors and the hundred of people who put the shows together learned to fend for themselves, using creativity and ingenuity to solve problems rather than money.
Many of the people who toiled behind the scenes at MTV in the early days have gone on to even greater success: as producers, feature film directors, network executives - even as stars of music, film and television.
But even for those who did not go on to fame, pretty much ANYone who has worked at MTV for even a week has a tale to tell: a celebrity encounter, a trip to an exotic location gone wrong, an on-air mishap that became legendary in the retelling. Some of those stories were shared with friends and family and insiders at MTV. Few were told outside the MTV offices.
(Read the rest of David’s essay here.)
[Click here for my other posts about MTV.]