Music Television or MTV was first aired on August 1, 1981. Launched by the Viacom Music and Entertainment Group, the original programming of the channel revolved around airing music videos to help singers, musicians, and other artists get the necessary exposure. MTV has since grown to become an internationally recognized name that has given rise to many subsidiary channels in America and abroad.
It came to be with the words ‘Ladies and Gentleman, rock and roll’ followed by the theme song for the channel. The theme, which was composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, played over different pictures from the Apollo 11 and the launch countdown of the Columbia. Finally, the MTV Logo with its many colors flashed on the television screens for the first time. Since its debut, MTV has helped music lovers across the world to connect with their beloved artists and their music at a different level.
The first video to play on the channel was interestingly titled, ‘Video Killed the Roadstar’ by The Buggles. However, MTV made singers famous and famous singers, legendary. The channel also introduced a new concept of video jockeys or VJs, who would talk about and familiarize the people with these artists and their music. Soon, the impact of the wave created by MTV was for all to see. Music stores in the areas where MTV was aired started registering a rise in the sale of music by artists who were not even being featured by the radio channels in the area.
The coming decade slowly saw a rise in programs and channels related to music and music videos. HBO’s Video Jukebox was launched around the time MTV was launched. Then, there was Night Tracks in 1983 by SuperStation WTBS. This program, however, did differ from MTV in the fact that it showcased the work of black artists as well, which the channel had overlooked for quite a while. This wall was finally brought down in 1983, when MTV played the Michael Jackson’s single video, Billy Jean. This not only increased MJ’s reputation on a global stage, but also paved a way for other black artists to be featured on the channel.
More 24-hour music channels came to be on the lines of MTV such as Las Vegas’ KVMY (1984), Cable Music Channel (1984), and so on. NBC and ABC also jumped into the competition with their networks offering programs like Friday Night Videos (1983) and ABC Rocks (1984) respectively. In 1984, MTV started the MTV Video Music Awards in order to introduce something a little less formal than the revered Grammy Awards. An award ceremony to honor the talent in the film industry was also put in place called the MTV Movie Awards, eight years later.
As the popularity of the channel increased, the channel started to diversify and included shows of its own. There was the heavy metal centered Guns N’ Roses, Headbangers Ball, the rock-centric 120 minutes, and so on. MTV also started recording live concerts and live performances across the globe. MTV Unplugged was also introduced in 1989 and soon became one of the most popular shows on the channel.
In the early 1990s, the channel again included a new genre into its repertoire. This time, it was a reality television. This is how the hugely popular, The Real World came to be. It became one of the longest running reality television shows in all of television history. The show was about youngsters who, for the duration of the show, are living together in an apartment and are filmed 24 hours. The discussions, fights, situations, made for a show that the youngsters could relate to as these were their problems too. Positioned as a show discussing issues concerning the youth such as family, sex, religion, abortion, and so on. However, as the seasons progressed, it rather became a mirror of the degradation happening in the society.
The channel has never stopped experimenting with the type of program it airs. So, this evolution also saw inclusion of more programs for adults such as the animated series Aeon Flux, the ever- popular Beavis and Butt-head, and so on. The 90s was also a time when the musicians and singers themselves became more aware of the importance of a good video. This led to a massive upgradation in the quality of the videos that started coming out.
Better direction made the final video appear more thoughtful, polished, and more aesthetically pleasing. In fact, many famous directors of our time come from this new wave of music videos. MTV also started making and airing musical acts that included many different genres like rock, R&B, and so on.
This was a time during which MTV also went majorly into playing more hip hop and featuring lesser known rap artists like Snoop Dog, and Tupac. This era marked the growing popularity of alternative rock music. It began to attract a cult following and bands like Nirvana were leading this wave. Their success led to the recognition as well as more airtime to bands that played a similar kind of music like Rage Against the Machines.
Later, MTV also added game shows to its basket like Say What? Karaoke. Then, there were a slew of talk shows on the channel as well, like the Jon Stewart Show. By 1997, with electronic music coming in, MTV started including music from the likes of U2, Daft Punk, and so on. However, pop music soon took over with stars like Britney Spears, Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys becoming a rage. However, by this time many had stated criticizing MTV for not showcasing content as it used to. To pacify its viewers, MTV came up with many shows showcasing music videos in different formats. The most famous of them was The Total Request Show or TRL.
Despite the criticism, MTV kept adding non-music shows like comedy shows, daily soaps like Undressed, Jackass, and so on. The next decade saw a higher shift towards reality shows like the Punk’d. Then, the channel hit gold with another similar show, Jersey Shore.
The channel has had its share of controversies. It has been questioned many a times on the choice of programs aired, censorship, its negative influence on young minds, and so on. The American Family Association has attacked the channel many times for promoting an anti-family culture. The Parents Television Council also has had similar problems with the channel. When you sign up for Time Warner Cable Television Packages you will never miss any of the action.
MTV did start as a simple music video playing channel, but it has become so much more. It is present in more than 160 countries in over 30 languages. It has stood the test of time and has remained relevant by adapting to its viewers. There is no denying the fact that MTV has been an influence on generations, the popular culture, music and the entertainment industry itself.