By the time you’re reading this, MTV will be 40 years old.
Yes, you read that correctly. The big 4-0. Four whole decades have gone by (with about three decades of music on Music Television). MTV came on the air Aug. 1, 1981, and ushered in a new generation of how people consumed not only music, but were exposed to the artful forms of music videos and new genres in real time.
There’s no denying the network’s influence on popular music as Michael Jackson transformed the music video genre with longform movies to the groundbreaking “Total Request Live” in the late-90s that capitalized on the boy band and pop princess era.
By the time I came of age, MTV meant there were music videos on TV early in the morning before school, a carousel of music in the afternoon with “TRL” and then some random shows at night. Those days are long gone, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been great shows on the network in the 13 years since “TRL” was canceled in 2008.
“Great” might be subjective, but there were still shows that had little to do with music that are both highly influential on the sort of media produced today and memorable — like “Jackass,” “Punk’d,” “Teen Mom” and “Jersey Shore” – as the network increasingly moved away from music to reality television. There was also “Cribs,” which showed where the magic happens and “Pimp My Ride,” which is the reason I’ve always wanted a fish tank in the trunk of my car.
It’s sad MTV really doesn’t play music anymore, but it’s still a cultural reference point for my friends and I. Like my friend John, who I’ve written about before as being my shoe expert. He married my cousin Tina and is now officially part of the family. I asked them both to rattle off some of their favorite MTV shows. Their lists included “Next,” a blind-date show where a single man or woman would have mini dates with a cast of characters waiting patiently one-by-one on a charter bus.
John’s favorite show, “Run’s House,” was focused on Run-DMC’s Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons. He ended every show in a bubble bath typing out inspirational quotes on his Blackberry. If that sounds absurd, well it was.
Tina was a fan of “Laguna Beach,” its spin-off “The Hills” and power couple Spencer and Heidi. The three of us still talk about contestants and quote from “Flavor of Love,” where rapper and clock-wearer Flavor Flav tries to find his dream girl.
Again, it should be noted, the early-2000s was just the beginning of reality TV and the bar was really, really, really low.
There were some really interesting shows, too. “Made” was a teen makeover show focused on transforming people into their dream lives. “The Buried Life” featured three friends crossing off bucket-list items.
Every now and then, MTV gets back to its roots. In late summer, the Video Music Awards and its Moon Man trophies are still a big deal. MTV always makes a big push every presidential election to get young people to the polls.
While I wish I could turn on the TV and see and hear music from the network, I realize I have YouTube and Spotify in my pocket that can do those things commercial-free. Regardless, happy birthday, MTV. I miss your music, but I’ll always be grateful you gave me a Hulk Hogan reality show and the hope that one day I’d end up at its spring break celebration.
(Pete Sirianni is the managing editor of the New Castle News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)