Imagine a world without reality TV, the cult of Madonna, and — dare we say it — “Beavis and Butt-Head.”
As the groundbreaking network turns 30 Monday, people want their MTV more than ever.
But today’s MTV is a far cry from the one that jolted the nation and quickly transformed the look and feel of television after it went live on Aug. 1, 1981. Long gone are the VJs, concerts, cutting-edge music shows and — unless you’re up early in the morning — the videos.
“When we are talking about MTV, we’re really not talking about music anymore, are we?” said original VJ Mark Goodman, adding that MTV’s current viewers don’t bemoan the disappearance of videos as its original core audience does. “It’s not sad for people who are watching it now — for them it’s great,” said Goodman, who’s now a host on Sirius radio.
After all, in 1981, there was no other outlet to see music stars in action 24/7.
These days, the endlessly morphing network is a reality-show machine, enjoying its highest ratings ever thanks to shows such as “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom.”
“MTV invented reality shows and that’s something that people really don’t talk about,” said Daniel Manu, site director of TelevisionWithoutPity.com. “ ‘Real World’ started 19 years ago, [with] the idea of not doing it as a documentary — actually casting people, contriving the action. That was the template for reality TV.”
MTV President Stephen Friedman, 41, said the goal is to keep the network as “the cultural home of the youth generation.”
“It’s about entertaining them, engaging them, and being an advocate for them,” he said, adding that it’s important the channel “represents them better than any other music vehicle out there.”
“Our shows are getting higher ratings now than in the history of MTV,” he said. “What’s fascinating, we found a couple of years ago when [viewers] started getting tired of certain things we were doing that every generation seems to demand its own MTV.”
Even if you’ve never seen a music video or watched “The Hills,” MTV’s imprint is on virtually everything you watch.
“The way it communicated changed television, the way ‘Sesame Street’ did 10 years before,” said Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media. “In the early ‘80s, it certainly changed the look and grammar of television. Those early videos changed the look and pace of all television.”
Goodman added, “The story that I love is that ‘Miami Vice’ was pitched to networks as ‘MTV Cops.’”
MTV airs videos from 3-9 a.m. on most days, but that’s not enough for some New Yorkers.
“It’s definitely changed weirdly over the years,” said Ingrid Echavarria, 31, of midtown. “It’s somewhat entertaining but nothing like the ‘80s and ‘90s MTV.”
For the 58-year-old Goodman, though — he admits he’s now 30 years older than MTV’s demo — not having music on the channel just makes sense.
“MTV as it was conceived in 1981 is just not necessary anymore,” because videos are all over the web, he said.
MTV, which is celebrating its birthday with a marathon on VH-1 Classic, hasn’t completely disinherited its past.
This October, “Beavis and Butt-Head” returns and “120 Minutes,” the alternative rock staple that ran from 1986-2000, re-emerges Saturday with host Matt Pinfield.
The three-day marathon on VH1 Classic begins Saturday and runs through Monday at 12 a.m. The tribute, called "MTV30 on VH1 Classic," will include "iconic moments" from MTV's history and clips from musical performances, specials, hit series and news events that "shaped the network," according to a news release.
And for the full experience, at midnight Sunday (July 31) VH1 Classic will show MTV's first original hour of programming.
(with Christine DiStasio)
10 Memorable Moments in MTV History
1. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1983) – “Thriller” debuts on MTV in Dec. 2, 1983. This 14-minute epic is often referred to as the most famous music video of all time.
2. Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (1984) — On the first MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna writhed on stage clad in a wedding dress and “Boy Toy” belt in a smoldering performance.
3. Live Aid (1985) – About 95 percent of world’s TV sets were tuned in to the dual-continent benefit show that aired live over two days.
4. Pee-wee Herman’s “Joke” (1991) – After his arrest for masturbating at an adult theater made him the subject of merciless ridicule, Paul Reubens re-emerged several weeks later at the 1991 Video Music Awards. Dressed in Pee-wee’s finest, he asked on stage, “Heard any good jokes lately?”
5. Nirvana’s “painful’ performance (1992) – While performing “Rape Me,” Krist Novaselic tossed his bass guitar up only to get socked in the head with it on the way down. He left the stage dazed while his bandmates finished the song without him.
6. The three-way kiss (2003) – Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera took the stage with their performance of “Like a Virgin.” After the song, Madonna leaned into a receptive Spears and shared a long kiss before laying one on Aguilera.
7. Britney’s not-so-great-comeback with “Gimme More” (2007) – Audience members were thinking “gimme less” as an out-of-shape Britney sluggishly lip-synched her way through what was supposed to be her comeback performance.
8. Kanye West Interrupts Taylor Swift (2009) – An interruption heard around the world, West nearly destroyed his career after snatching the microphone from Swift as she was accepting her VMA for Best Female Video. “I’m sorry, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all times,” West said before a shocked crowd.
9. Eminem gets mooned by Bruno (2009) – Sacha Baron Cohen, playing his persona Bruno, fluttered across the audience as an angel donned in knee-high boots. Bruno’s buttocks landed on Eminem’s face as the rapper furiously struggled and eventually stalked out. Turns out, the whole thing was staged.
10. Lady Gaga’s meaty dress (2011) – At the VMA, Gaga donned a “dress” made out of slabs of raw meat to accept her award. She was also wearing meat shoes and carrying a meat clutch.