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 and YouTube 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 Headbanger's Ball and hip-hop/rap on Yo! MTV Raps. Thanks to MTV, music went from being a primarily audial medium to a visual one, making the image and appearance of musicians just as important -- if not more so -- than their actual musicianship.
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 the 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 virtually overnight.
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. MTV's also 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 Gone Mad. 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 bands, girl groups and idol singers like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, TLC, Destiny's Child, the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, which themselves partly displaced rock music. Grunge pressed on into Post-Grunge, with Nickelback and Creed leading the way, and Nu-metal bands like Linkin Park, Korn 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. Total Request Live, or TRL, a program where viewers got to 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 that spawned a number of MTV's best-remembered non-music programs from the '90s, including Aeon 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 Spin-Off Daria.
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, 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. Today, MTV only plays three hours of music a day (most of it in the early morning hours, and despite music videos being the first to film consistently in the format, never in High Definition), 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 (almost to the point where it can be called Deader Than Disco, although hit reality shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore have kept it relevant). But to deny that MTV has, for better or worse, fundamentally shaped popular culture into what it is now would be impossible.
In 2010, the network officially announced the decision it was dropping the "Music Television" subtitle, which was a surprise to only their legal department and nobody else.
Fortunately, a ray of hope may be shining onto the fallen network, as they're not only bringing back Beavis and Butthead after nearly thirteen years, but the duo's music video commentary (one of the show's staples from the very beginning) would still stick around. In fact, according to the New York Post, the freshly Uncancelled show "will be a backdoor means for MTV to return to showing music videos". And the Fandom Rejoiced. A few months later in July 2011, 120 Minutes returned on MTV 2 with Matt Pinfield (the host of the program during the mid 90's) back as host, regular music performances and a focus on current indie rock artists. In addition, at least in the UK, MTV have a new channel specifically geared towards music. The name? MTV Music.
Series that have aired on MTV:
- 16 and Pregnant
- Aeon Flux
- Beavis and Butthead
- Celebrity Deathmatch
- Clone High
- Good Vibes
- The Head
- The Hills
- Jersey Shore
- Laguna Beach
- Liquid Television
- The Maxx
- My Super Sweet Sixteen
- Newlyweds Nick and Jessica
- Pimp My Ride
- The Real World
- Road Rules
- The Sifl and Olly Show
- Skins (the American remake)
- The State
- True Life
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.
- 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
- Tr3s: An MTV spinoff focusing on Latino culture.
- MTV 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.
- 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
- 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
- The phrase originated with an ad campaign designed to get cable providers to carry the network in its infancy, but took off as a Memetic Mutation all on its own.
- Although let's not pretend that that wasn't already the case before MTV. Did David Bowie do the whole androgynous alien from Mars shtick solely to write better music? Didn't The Beatles have to change their image to get successful?