VH1 special looks at 200 greatest pop icons
Ten-hour marathon show IDs 200 of the greatest.
July 19, 2003
That’s right. Another countdown show.
This one, however, does not identify the most delicious teen idols, forewomen of rock, most shocking moments in rock, greatest power ballads or sexiest artists. VH1 has already covered such territory.
The network, which has increasingly folded more general pop culture coverage into its once music-dominated programming, is tackling more of an umbrella topic with its latest “Greatest” show. Its “200 Greatest Pop Icons” culls talk show hosts, football players, rappers, actors, politicians and more to offer up those household names who have made collective America fume (Judge Judy), flutter (Dolly Parton) and fawn (Ben Affleck).
Elevating this 10-hour special, which airs in two-hour increments across five consecutive nights beginning Monday, is the inclusion of artwork from Robert Risko, a pop icon himself. His bold, insightful illustrations of public figures have woven together decades of pop history as narrated by the likes of Interview, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair and Newsweek.
A Risko illustration introduces each artist’s segment, which is comprised of archival clips and photographs, fragments of songs and anxiously shot interviews with celebrities (Sharon Osbourne, Dick Clark, Usher) and media critics.
Recognizing that media moguls are the Rockefellers and Carnegies of the 21st century, Risko nods to the culture of celebrity that makes a special such as “200 Greatest Pop Icons” relevant.
“Celebrity has become much more of a commodity and an important thing in this culture,” Risko says. “It’s a fascinating time, and I don’t know where it will lead us.”
Some figures successfully travel the casualty-ridden road from celebrity to institution, transgressing mortality to become a representation. An icon.
Risko turned his awe of celebrity to the list of 200 icons that was born of much heated discussion in the VH1 hallways, says VH1 executive Robert Weiss.
“We garnered feedback from all over the company, and we came up with a list of 1,000 people,” says Weiss, head of East Coast programming and development. The list was chiseled to 250, with the final 50 being axed by way of passionate debates.
“It’s fascinating when people have very intellectual discussions about Scooby-Doo and Fred Flintstone,” he says. Both animated icons avoided being cut, joining Beavis & Butthead, Cartman from “South Park” and Wonder Woman in the final 200.
Weiss notes that criteria considered were Halloween-costume friendliness, whether an individual had been the focus of a “Saturday Night Live” skit, responsibility for a one-liner (“Won’t you be my neighbor?”), creation of a signature character (Austin Powers) and passage of “the one-name test” (Denzel).
No doubt the inclusions and exclusions of particular figures will spur outbursts in offices across the country. “No James Bond?! No Snoopy?!” “Dr. Phil is on the list? And Kevin Bacon?” This is, of course, part of the pleasure of watching shows like those in VH1’s “Greatest” series: Identifying those personalities and characters who inspire such strong feelings – and why.
Weiss, a “huge fan of Robert Risko’s work,” says he wanted the show to be both informative and fun. “And Robert Risko would immediately convey a fun show.”
As Andy Warhol brought the world of advertising into the gallery, Risko similarly blurs the lines between high art and low art, opening his talents to a wide audience through illustration.
“Most people think it’s a commercial thing, and I approach with the same attitude I would with a painting,” Risko says. His early goal, Risko says, was “to be a fine artist and a painter,” but he felt his sensibility was far more akin to the celebrity-drenched world of Warhol.
Risko says he had but a month to complete his 200 illustrations, though he estimates he had drawn 25 percent to 30 percent of the icons previously and he was familiar with all but one or two. In addition to his use of strong graphics, Risko captures telling personality traits of his subjects – Cher’s casual amusement, Madonna’s intensity, Bill Clinton’s need to be liked.
One person not included in the 200 that Risko thought was overlooked was Joni Mitchell. As most of us do with our own favorites, Risko admits to a personal draw to the folk singer. “I always have sort of identified with her in terms of an artist in the business and trying to maintain some kind of integrity.” But, he adds, “200 people is not that many.”
He’s ready, he says, should there be a sequel.
IF YOU WATCH:
What: VH1’s 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons.
When: 6-8 p.m. Monday through Friday (Cox), 9-11 p.m. (Comcast). Each night features a different two-hour episode as the program counts down to No. 1.
Where: VH1 (Cox channel 51, Comcast channel 50).
Tucson Citizen’s “what?!” list
As will undoubtedly happen at water coolers across the country, the Features Department at the Tucson Citizen considered the “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons” list amid exclamations such as “of course” and “what the?!” These are celebrities or characters we believe should have been on VH1’s list.
Please feel our outrage at the exclusion of:
Tammy Faye Bakker, Barbie, Ben & Jerry, Benji, Bette Midler, James Bond, Marlon Brando (as the Godfather), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alice Cooper, Mr. Clean, Divine, Energizer Bunny, Frankenstein, “Golden Girls” cast, Lassie, Steve Martin, “M*A*S*H” cast, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched,” Ron Popeil, “Rocky Horror Picuture Show” cast, Martin Scorsese, Tony Robbins, Dr. Ruth, Richard Simmons, Snoopy and Mr. T.
Mister D: YOU CAN WRITE MS. HIGGINS AND THANK HER: