MTV started out as just a torrent of music videos, directed only slightly by pioneering VJs like Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter (remember Alan Hunter? Sigh...). But smart execs realized that eyeballs would tune in more often if they had specific programming to watch at specific times, and voila! MTV became a bona fide network. Here are a few highlights (and lowlights) of MTV's original shows. For everyone who complains that there's no actual music on MTV, these guys are pretty much to blame.
A game show for the MTV crowd, Remote Control featured young contestants trying to win prizes by answering TV-related questions while chillin' in pimped-out La-Z-Boys. When contestants were eliminated the chairs would "smash" through the back wall, which, to impressionable 9-year-old minds, was pretty cool. Smartass host Ken Ober was aided by future Saturday Night Live castmember Colin Quinn, B-movie starlet Kari Wuhrer, and even pre-famous Denis Leary and Adam Sandler. MTV would try other game shows like the popular Dating Game-inspired Singled Out and underrated Jeopardy-liteIdiot Savants, but would never match the unbridled creativity or inanity of the beloved Control.
One of the few MTV shows to actually focus on music, Unplugged featured artists performing acoustic sets in front of a small audience in an informal, intimate setting. The talent net was cast wide, catching rockers Aerosmith and KISS, modern-day troubadours like Bruce Springsteen, and even R&B superstars like Mariah Carey. Several of the shows are considered defining moments in the artists' careers, including Nirvana's 1993 episode, and Lauryn Hill, whose bizarre 2002 appearance marked her "comeback" after her multi-platinum debut album. Although no longer a regular series, Unplugged is brought back occasionally as a special, as it was in 2005 for Alicia Keys.
The Real World(1992-present)
Arguably MTV's greatest contribution to the television landscape is this prototypical reality show, in which seven strangers are picked to live together in a posh pad and taped 24/7 to find out what happens when people "stop being polite, and start getting real." In the early seasons that's exactly what happened. Through their interactions the roommates explored serious issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, and the general angst of being a 20something. Unfortunately, as competitive reality TV like Survivor and American Idol upped the ante, the show has mostly nosedived into salacious mediocrity. The casts are prettier, drunker, and a lot more likely to "accidentally" get into the threeways. Why not just watch Girls Gone Wild?
Beavis and Butt-Head (1993-1997)
Hehheh.Heh. Beavis and Butt-Head are a couple of ostensibly mentally challenged slackers whose lives revolve around 1) watching bad music videos; 2) seeing/touching boobies; 3) masturbating; 4) setting things on fire. The crude animation made early seasons of The Simpsonslook like Fantasia. The meandering stories accomplished nothing. Ultimately there was very little of redeeming value to be found in Beavis and Butt-Head, which is why it was so quintessentially of its time (*cough* slackers *cough*). Paradoxically, creator Mike Judge went on to do one of the most sweet-natured cartoons ever, Fox's King of the Hill.
Next is symbolic of MTV's current slate of programming: insipid, disposable dating/reality shows designed to amuse the teen crowd for a half-hour at a time. In Next five single people are bussed in to meet and go out on a date with a selected random Barney/Betty. Said person then decides when he/she gets tired of a bus date and says "Next," at which point the next cattle, er, person in line heads out. The humiliation all parties subject themselves through makes my head and heart hurt --- are teenagers/20somethings this desperate for 10 minutes on television? Apparently, as Next's schedule mates --- Date My Mom, Parental Control, Room Raiders, the infuriating My Super Sweet 16 among them --- all champion shallowness and vapidity above all else. I weep for the future of our nation, and MTV. You're 25 years old now. Act like it.