MTV Turns 30! But Let’s Get A Few Things Straight!

Mister D: Sorry, for better or worse, Bette was humping the stage long before Madonna.  When I first saw Madonna pull her “Like A Virgin” rolling on the floor, humping the stage stunt, my first thoughts were….Bette Midler! She set the bar for stage performances!

New York Post
Mtv mania
Last Updated: 1:54 AM, July 31, 2011
Posted: 7:39 PM, July 30, 2011

If Yippies founder Jerry Rubin was right about not trusting anyone over 30, then MTV is in a heap of trouble. Staying connected to youth is the network’s mission, so MTV may want to forget that it was sparked to life 30 years ago with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” Television hasn’t been the same since.

But MTV, after its long transformation into a reality-TV juggernaut, is looking a bit more like it used to. Its underground-rock showcase “120 Minutes” has just returned with former host Matt Pinfield. And the network’s notorious cartoon duo “Beavis and Butt-head” are due back this fall, along with “Jersey Shore.”

To commemorate 30 years of MTV, here are the network’s Top Ten most seminal pop-culture moments.

1. Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” (1981)

Sure, the Buggles’ prophetic “Video Killed the Radio Star” was MTV’s first clip. But the second video, featuring Benatar in a punky haircut, striped tee and skin-tight pants, was the one that truly pointed to the future of pop.

Unlike male-dominated rock radio, MTV gave women (at least attractive women) a huge boost. Female sex appeal turned out to be the great leveler, something that has never changed at MTV, from Madonna to Britney Spears.

Pat Benatar “established a new image of women in rock – not only as a sex symbol but as a woman who sings the tough rock song, songs traditionally left to the guys,” says Nina Blackwood, one of the network’s founding veejays. With more cynicism, Benatar herself has said, “When I first came out, they didn’t know what to do with me. So they went with the easiest thing, my looks, rather than marketing my voice or even the band.”

2. Rick James “Freaks” outon MTV (1981)

Although MTV started with an African-American veejay, J.J. Jackson, on its team, the network quickly came under fire because black pop stars were nearly invisible. Michael Jackson, however, wasn’t the first to level charges of racism – it was Rick James.

Even though his 1981 album “Street Songs” had sold more than three million copies, MTV passed on his videos for both “Super Freak” and “Give It to Me Baby.” James chalked it up to racism, later declaring “a lot of black asses are going to come together and explode on MTV.” The network countered that it was simply because James didn’t fit its rock format. Also, the clip and its writhing, “kinky” street girls, was too racy.

The network, though, could hardly afford to be picky. In the early years, videos wound up in constant rotation simply because there were no other clips available.

“We had nothing to pick from,” early MTV exec Les Garland told Jet Magazine. “I spent 50 percent of my time just convincing artists [and labels] to make music videos.”

Jackson, meanwhile, had already made clips for his 1979 hit “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and his smash, “Billie Jean,” which had been on top of the Billboard singles chart for seven weeks. Legend has it that Jackson’s label threatened to pull all its artists from MTV unless “Billie Jean” went on the air. Garland, though, says the first time he saw it, he thought it was the best video he’d ever seen.

Whatever the case, on March 2, 1983, “Billie Jean” debuted on MTV, becoming the first video by a black artist to make it into heavy rotation and paving the way for Prince and Whitney Houston, as well as Jackson’s own crowning moment, the December 1983 unveiling of the 14-minute “Thriller” clip, still arguably the best music video ever made.

3. Madonna at the virgin VMAs (1984)

In an era when the Grammy Awards were music’s biggest snooze, expectations ran high for the inaugural Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall. Those who tuned in to MTV weren’t disappointed.

Hosts Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler appeared in space suits to deliver sexually charged banter. Michael Jackson snagged multiple awards and Eurythmics were named the best new band for their video “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The night’s big winner? Herbie Hancock, who cleaned house with five awards his robot video for “Rockit.”

Tina Turner, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis all turned in performances. But the only one anybody remembers was delivered by a sexy newcomer who sang “Like a Virgin.” Clad in a bustier-topped wedding dress, Madonna danced on top of a giant wedding cake before dry-humping the stage in a turn that set the bar for every awards-show performance since – and gave MTV a reputation for pushing the boundaries of taste.

4. “Remote Control” (1987)

The goofy game show with pop-music trivia was MTV’s first foray into non-musical programming. But what’s often overlooked is how the network served as an incubator for now-legendary comedic talent.

Over five seasons, “Remote Control” gave Adam Sandler, Denis Leary and Colin Quinn their first big breaks. A gurgling Leary portrayed Andy Warhol in the “Andy’s Diary” segment. Sandler turned up as “Stud Boy,” who described famous women he’d had affairs with. Quinn croaked out tunes in “Sing Along with Colin” – he’d start the song and the contestant had to fill in the rest of the words.

By 1990, there was also “The Ben Stiller Show,” produced by Stiller and a guy called Judd Apatow. Two years later, Jon Stewart bombed in “You Wrote It, You Watch It,” but returned in 1993 with his first, self-titled talk show. The rest, as they say, is fake news.

5. “Yo! MTV Raps” (1988)

MTV may have been slow to embrace black artists, but it quickly saw the coming impact of hip hop and jumped on the burgeoning urban-youth movement with “Yo! MTV Raps,” which aired for seven years. The show took hip hop beyond the boroughs and into middle America for the first time.

It also helped ignite a culture war between fans’ desire for authentic videos with “street cred” and broadcast standards, which in 1991 nixed controversial clips such as Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona” and Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man.” Ultimately, a plea from MTV executive Sheri Howell, who argued that the Cypress Hill clip had an important message, got that video aired, but the show’s ratings were already in freefall.

Still, the show had a few more sparks in store, including the TV debut of Jennifer Lopez, then a dancer in MC Hammer’s troupe. And in 1993, while being interviewed about his role in the film “Poetic Justice,” Tupac Shakur went off on directors the Hughes Brothers, who had fired him from their film “Menace II Society.”

“These chump punks,” he said, “fired me in a punk snitch way, so I caught them on the streets and beat they behinds.” That tough talk – later played by prosecutors for a jury – was enough for him to be convicted of assaulting the siblings. Tupac spent 15 days in jail.

6. “Beavis and Butt-head” (1993)

Way before “South Park” introduced us to foul-mouthed brat Eric Cartman, Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-head” was a guilty pleasure. “Shut up, butt-munch” became a catchphrase and the pair’s fire-worshiping fixation an ongoing meme.

But when a 5-year-old boy started a deadly blaze in Dayton, Ohio, his mother blamed the cartoon doofuses for promoting the notion that fire was fun. The network promptly bumped the hit show from 7 to 11 p.m.

At this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, “Beavis and Butt-head” creator Mike Judge talked about the series’ return. This fall, Beavis and Butt-head go see “Twilight” and then try to become vampires in order to get girls. They’ll also spend time dissecting “Jersey Shore” and “16 and Pregnant.”

7. “Boxers or briefs?” (1994)

If there was ever affirmation that MTV was not only the voice of young America but also a media force, it came at a town hall meeting sponsored by the network in Washington, DC, with President Bill Clinton and 200 viewers. After Clinton, fielded a number of serious political and social questions, 17-year-old high school newspaper editor Laetitia Thompson of Potomac, Md., asked, “Mr. President, all the world’s dying to know – is it boxers or briefs?” The president paused, smiled and replied, “Usually briefs.”

He smiled again and added with his Arkansas drawl, “I can’t believe she did that.” Neither could most of America.

It stood as a defining moment for Clinton, who instead of ducking the question for being silly, answered it with humor and charm. Thompson, who later went to Princeton and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, later told the Associated Press, “If I had just said it and Clinton hadn’t done anything, it might have been a trivia question,” she said. “I’m glad it happened, and I got to do some really cool stuff because of it.”

8. “The Real World: San Francisco” (1994)

Reality TV as we know it was born in 1992, with the debut of “The Real World,” and quickly reached its zenith in the show’s third season, set in the Bay Area. Like Snooki getting punched in the face on “The Jersey Shore,” the early “Real World” was outrageous. It also managed to be funny, touching and daring.

In San Francisco, the seven housemates witnessed epic bickering between obnoxious bike messenger David “Puck” Rainey” and Pedro Zamora, an openly gay AIDS activist infected with HIV. Zamora decried Puck’s disgusting personal habits, such as scooping peanut butter with his fingers after picking his nose. Puck mocked Zamora’s accent, sexuality and career as an AIDS educator – and created so much hostility that the cast voted him into exile.

Zamora died on Nov. 11, 1994, the day after the final episode of his season aired, inspiring Clinton to acknowledge that “through his appearance on ”˜The Real World,’ Pedro had become a part of viewers’ families, and everyone who watched the show could say that they knew someone who’d lived with AIDS.”

9. Kurt Cobain dies (1994)

Nirvana, the flagship band of Generation X was immediately embraced by MTV on programs such as “120 Minutes” and “Unplugged,” and what became known as alternative rock was suddenly available in a format other than obscure 7-inch singles and zines.

“Nirvana was important to MTV and the kids because they brought the DIY ethic to rock,” says Pinfield, who hosted the show from 1995 to 1999. “You didn’t have to be pretty, there were no uniforms. The music was open to everyone and you could be who you are.”

When singer Kurt Cobain killed himself with a shotgun blast, thousands of fans formed for impromptu memorials, especially in his Seattle hometown, MTV news chief Kurt Loder and his team crushed all other outlets with its coverage of his death. The network was seemingly alone in recognizing that, for Gen X, the tragedy was as powerful as the murder of John Lennon had been to the Baby Boomers.

ABC newsman Tom Foreman, reporting from Seattle, admitted on air that “most Americans over 30 probably don’t even know who Nirvana or Kurt Cobain is.” Loder, meanwhile, was on the air in a black jacket and shirt, choking back tears at the end of his first report. “This is a loss of a gentle and wonderful guy,” he said. “This is a really bad day for all of us.”

10. “The Osbournes” (2002)

If one show ever poured everything MTV stood for into one place, it was “The Osbournes,” a ribald mash-up of reality TV, celebrity, rock ’n’ roll, drugs, rebellion, profanity, incoherent mumbling and sheer attitude. It quickly became the highest rated program in the network’s history.

The show’s formula: crazy man Ozzy Osbourne is really just a good dad who has overcome his battles with drugs and booze. But in an interview with the BBC, Osbourne revealed the truth: “When the filming ended, I’d go in my little bunker and smoke a pipe and drink a case of beer every day.”

“The three years that we were filming, he was stoned the whole time,” Sharon Osbourne chimed in. “He wasn’t sober for one day.”

Which in many ways is a fitting epitaph for MTV’s first 30 years: a network groping in the dark for the next big thing, claiming it’s something that it’s not and, with reality oddities such as “Jersey Shores,” still managing to amuse the hell out of the most distracted, jaded generations of kids ever born.

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