"Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll."
—The very first lines ever spoken on MTV.
On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 AM, pop culture was changed forever by a new cable network that introduced a brand new idea — a TV channel that played music videos
, 24/7. That network was MTV. Fittingly, the first video they ever showed was "Video Killed the Radio Star"
by The Buggles
The results were fantastic. In The Eighties
, MTV was the iTunes, YouTube
Pandora of the day, a revolution in pop culture and how music was enjoyed. Countless bands and artists (Madonna
, Michael Jackson
, Duran Duran
, Rick Astley
, and just about every Hair Metal
band) saw their careers launched or furthered
because of the heavy video rotation of some of their songs. If they were popular in the '80s, they were on MTV. Later in the decade, the network would also receive acclaim for devoting time to bands that played what was then called "college rock
" (now known as Alternative Rock
) on their 120 Minutes
series, as well as Heavy Metal
on Headbangers Ball
on Yo! MTV Raps
. While image, style, and appearance were important parts of the music world long before MTV (just look at David Bowie
, The Beatles
, or even Elvis Presley
,) the network's rise elevated those things into an art form almost on par with the music itself.
One unexpected result of MTV's success was the rise of British
pop and rock groups in The United States
. Music videos had caught on in Britain back in the mid '70s
thanks to shows like Top of the Pops
, giving that country a much higher music video output than the US in MTV's formative years. Most American videos in the early '80s, by contrast, were videotaped concert performances. As MTV was desperate for any music videos it could get its hands on, it threw many of those British vids on the air to fill airtime, leading to what has been called a second British Invasion
as bands saw themselves developing screaming American fanbases
Like any new trend in popular culture, it wouldn't be long before MTV was hit with its first criticism. In its early years, it was targeted for not playing many black artists, although that quickly ended once Michael Jackson
became a superstar. Later, in 1985, the Hardcore Punk
band Dead Kennedys
released their classic "MTV Get Off the Air
," attacking the young network for devaluing the importance of music and for being a corporate shill. From the other direction, MTV's also long been a favorite whipping boy for conservative Moral Guardians
, who have long felt it to be a den of filth
, dangerous behavior, left-wing activism, and political correctness
. Of course, none of this did anything to hurt the network's popularity — famously, Bill Clinton
's appearances on MTV provided a huge boost to his youth support during his Presidential campaign in 1992.
In The Nineties
, MTV started bringing hip-hop acts into regular rotation, and the grunge
and Alternative Rock
that had been popularized on 120 Minutes
started displacing Hair Metal
. Later in the decade, MTV was instrumental in the rise of Boy Band
s, Girl Group
s, and Idol Singer
s like Britney Spears
, Christina Aguilera
, Destinys Child
, the Backstreet Boys
, and *NSYNC
, which themselves partly displaced rock music. Grunge pressed on into post-grunge
, with Nickelback
leading the way, and Nu Metal
bands like Linkin Park
, and Slipknot
emerged to bring a harder sound into the mainstream — and act as Gateway Music
to a whole generation of metalheads no matter how loath they are to admit it
. The music videos became more professional, having evolved from marketing tools to encourage album sales into the main attraction; price tags of over a million dollars for short films just three or four minutes long were not unheard of. Total Request Live
, or TRL
, a program where viewers got to call in and vote for their favorite music videos to air, became a sensation, turning host Carson Daly
into a celebrity in his own right. It was with the launch of this show that MTV opened its famous studio in Times Square
At the same time, a new focus was placed on pop culture in general rather than just music, following the success of non-music shows like The Real World
, Beavis And Butthead
, and others. MTV still played a lot of music, just not as much as it used to. MTV became home to a variety of offbeat original live-action and animated programs, most notably the anthology program Liquid Television
a number of MTV's best-remembered non-music programs from the '90s, including Ĉon Flux
, The Head
, and the aforementioned B&B
. Other shows from this era include the Sketch Comedy
show The State
, the Bloody Hilarious claymation
show Celebrity Deathmatch
, and the B&B spinoff Daria
itself quickly became more focused on the Times Square studio antics than the music videos, which would in many cases only get 30 seconds (!) of airtime. Nevertheless, for many Gen-Xers and millennials, the argument over whether the '80s or the '90s was MTV's Golden Age
can be a heated one, and boils down largely to whether one prefers the purely music-driven format of the '80s or the edgy, countercultural non-music shows of the '90s. In any event, in 1996 MTV created a sister network, initially known as M2 but later known as MTV2, that would be dedicated entirely to music to answer concerns over the main network's shift in programming.
The Turn of the Millennium
was when the Network Decay
that had been setting in at MTV for the last decade really began to take over. Carson Daly's departure from TRL
in 2003 set that show on a slow decline, finally being cancelled in 2008. Non-music-related shows took over the schedule, pushing music videos into the late night and early morning hours. Most importantly, the rise of online sources such as YouTube
, iTunes, Pandora, and now MTV's own MTV Music
meant that people no longer needed to watch MTV to get their music video fix, which led to MTV diverting even more hours away from music programming. One could say that the internet killed the video star
. Indeed, The Limousines say so
Today, the main MTV network has all but abandoned playing music outside of special occasions like the Video Music Awards, and even MTV2 plays only three hours of music a day in the early morning hours. Despite music videos being the first to film consistently in the format, they didn't even air any videos in High Definition
across any Viacom
network until August 2012
, long after their rival Fuse (created partly in response to MTV's decay) had converted to HD. The kids of the "MTV Generation" are in their thirties and forties and having kids of their own, and the network's popularity has faded a great deal since the Glory Days
of the '80s and '90s (though hit reality shows and scripted series have kept it relevant.) In 2010, the network officially announced the decision that it was dropping the "Music Television" subtitle, which was a surprise to only their legal department
and nobody else, and when the network refused a Milestone Celebration
in 2012, this was indeed a sign the old MTV was long gone. But to deny that MTV has, for better or worse, fundamentally shaped popular culture into what it is now would be impossible.
Series that have aired on MTV:
MTV has other sister networks. These include (for the US at least)
- MTV2: Initially focused on music videos, then on Alternative Rock and Hip Hop and is now, unfortunately, MTV, too with a incredible overreliance on reruns of Martin. Out of the two main networks, it's still your best bet to find music videos, although often shoved in weird hours. For instance, the revived 120 Minutes was briefly given a cushy late primetime slot before it was shoved right back into the same slot at Otaku O'Clock that both the original 120 and its sister show Subterranean inhabited for years.
- However, outside of 120 Minutes, the only thing they played for more than a year was mainstream Rap videos, making it worse than MTV (at least they had Clubland and other genres.) Recently, they tried to fix this by playing other videos (still only an hour, compared to the channel's abundance of Rap culture programming.)
- MTV Hits: A music video channel that still, you know, actually shows music videos exclusively. It mostly features pop artists.
- MTVu: Another music video channel that actually shows just music videos. This one showcases indie rock, Pop Punk and hip-hop and is usually seen on college campuses (with a few cable homes here and there.)
- MTV Jams: Same as Hits and U, but focusing on hip hop music (and controversially replaced the more rock-oriented MTVX.)
- Tr3s: An MTV spinoff focusing on Latino culture.
- Palladia: An HD channel providing high quality music content.
- VH-1: Initially focused on older adults, then as a more video-oriented MTV, then lastly as a home for slightly less shallow reality shows and nostalgia programming.
- VH-1 Classic: Focused on older music (and occasionally new music from classic artists), particularly Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, and still shows a large amount of music videos, especially ones from The Eighties. Aside from some of its movies and Married... with Children reruns, almost insanely devoted to music and shows featuring lots of music — and seems to be fighting Network Decay to the death.
- VH-1 Soul: A channel mostly devoted to soul, R&B and funk music.
- CMT: Acquired from CBS, initially a Country Music only network, it has since added such "country themed" programming as Extreme Makeover Home Edition and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?.
- CMT Pure Country: Essentially what CMT was circa 1994.
- Comedy Central
- Nickelodeon and Nick At Nite
- Spike TV: Was the Nashville Network when CBS acquired it, changed over to Spike TV in 2004 after a lawsuit involving Spike Lee was settled.
- TV Land