Previous concepts (1964–1977)
Several earlier concepts for music video-based television programming had been around since the early 1960s. The Beatles had used music videos to promote their records starting in the mid-1960s. The creative use of music videos within their 1964 film A Hard Day's Night, particularly the performance of the song "Can't Buy Me Love", led MTV later on June 26, 1999, to honor the film's director Richard Lester with an award for "basically inventing the music video".
In his book The Mason Williams FCC Rapport, author Mason Williams states that he pitched an idea to CBS for a television program that featured "video-radio", where disc jockeys would play avant-garde art pieces set to music. CBS rejected the idea, but Williams premiered his own musical composition "Classical Gas" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he was head writer. In 1970, Philadelphia-based disc jockey
Bob Whitney created The Now Explosion, a television series filmed in Atlanta and broadcast in syndication to other local television stations throughout the United States. The series featured promotional clips from various popular artists, but was canceled by its distributor in 1971. Several music programs originating outside of the US, including Australia's Countdown and the United Kingdom's Top of the Pops, which had initially aired music videos in lieu of performances from artists who were not available to perform live, began to feature them regularly by the mid-1970s.
Gary Van Haas, vice president of
Televak Corporation, introduced a concept to distribute a music video channel to record stores across the United States, and promoted the channel, named Music Video TV, to distributors and retailers in a May 1974 issue of Billboard. The channel, which featured video disc jockeys, signed a deal with US Cable in 1978 to expand its audience from retail to cable television. The service was no longer active by the time MTV launched in 1981.
In 1977, Warner Cable a division of Warner Communications and the precursor of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment launched the first two-way interactive cable television system named QUBE in Columbus, Ohio. The QUBE system offered many specialized channels. One of these specialized channels was Sight on Sound, a music channel that featured concert footage and music-oriented television programs. With the interactive QUBE service, viewers could vote for their favorite songs and artists.
The original programming format of MTV was created by media executive Robert W. Pittman, who later became president and chief executive officer (CEO) of MTV Networks. Pittman had test-driven the music format by producing and hosting a 15-minute show, Album Tracks, on New York City television station WNBC-TV in the late 1970s.
Pittman's boss Warner-Amex executive vice president
John Lack had shepherded PopClips, a television series created by former Monkee-turned solo artist Michael Nesmith, whose attention had turned to the music video format in the late 1970s. The inspiration for PopClips came from a similar program on New Zealand's TVNZ network named Radio with Pictures, which premiered in 1976. The concept itself had been in the works since 1966, when major record companies began supplying the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation with promotional music clips to play on the air at no charge. Few artists made the long trip to New Zealand to appear live.
On Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 am Eastern Time, MTV launched with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," spoken by John Lack and played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia (which took place earlier that year) and of the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, a crunching rock tune composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over the American flag changed to show MTV's logo changing into various textures and designs. MTV producers Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert used this public domain footage as a concept; Seibert said that they had originally planned to use Neil Armstrong's "One small step" quote, but lawyers said that Armstrong owned his name and likeness and that he had refused, so the quote was replaced with a beeping sound. A shortened version of the shuttle launch ID ran at the top of every hour in various forms, from MTV's first day until it was pulled in early 1986 in the wake of the Challenger disaster.
The first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star", originally only available to homes in New Jersey. This was followed by the video for Pat Benatar's "You Better Run". Sporadically, the screen would go black when an employee at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR. MTV's lower third graphics that appeared near the beginning and end of music videos would eventually use the recognizable Kabel typeface for about 25 years. But these graphics differed on MTV's first day of broadcast; they were set in a different typeface and included information such as the year and record label name.
As programming chief, Robert W. Pittman recruited and managed a team for the launch that included Tom Freston (who succeeded Pittman as CEO of MTV Networks), Fred Seibert, John Sykes, Carolyn Baker (original head of talent and acquisition), Marshall Cohen (original head of research), Gail Sparrow (of talent and acquisition), Sue Steinberg (executive producer), Julian Goldberg, Steve Lawrence, Geoff Bolton; studio producers and MTV News writers/associate producers Liz Nealon, Nancy LaPook and Robin Zorn; Steve Casey (creator of the name "MTV" and its first program director), Marcy Brafman, Ronald E. "Buzz" Brindle, and Robert Morton. Kenneth M. Miller is credited as being the first technical director to officially launch MTV from its New York City-based network operations facility.
MTV's effect was immediate in areas where the new music video channel was carried. Within two months, record stores in areas where MTV was available were selling music that local radio stations were not playing, such as Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow and the Human League. MTV sparked the Second British Invasion, with British acts, who had been accustomed to using music videos for half a decade, featuring heavily on the channel.
MTV targeted an audience between the ages of twelve to thirty-four. However, according to MTV's self conducted research over 50% of its audience is between twelve and twenty-four. Furthermore, this particular group would watch MTV for an average of thirty minutes to two hours a day. 
Original VJs and format (1981–1994)
MTV's original logo, used from August 1, 1981 to March 18, 2009. It is still used in other countries.
The original purpose of MTV was to be "music television", playing music videos 24 hours a day and seven days a week, guided by on-air personalities known as VJs, or video jockeys. The original slogans of the channel were "You'll never look at music the same way again", and "On cable. In stereo."
MTV's earliest format was modeled after AOR (album-oriented rock) radio; MTV would transition to mimic a full Top 40 station in 1984. Fresh-faced young men and women were hired to host the channel's programming and to introduce music videos that were being played. The term VJ was coined, which was a play on the initialism DJ (disc jockey). Many VJs eventually became celebrities in their own right. The original five MTV VJs in 1981 were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and Martha Quinn.
The VJs would record intro and outro voiceovers before broadcast, along with music news, interviews, concert dates and promotions. These segments would appear to air live and debut across the MTV program schedule 24 hours a day and seven days a week, although the segments themselves were pre-taped within a regular work week at MTV's studios.
The early music videos that made up the bulk of MTV's programming in the 1980s were promotional videos (or "promos", a term that originated in the United Kingdom) that record companies had commissioned for international use or concert clips from any available sources.
Rock bands and performers of the 1980s who had airplay on MTV ranged from new wave to hard rock or heavy metal bands such as Adam Ant, Bryan Adams, The Pretenders, Blondie, Eurythmics, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Culture Club, Mötley Crüe, Split Enz, Prince, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, RATT, Def Leppard, The Police, and The Cars. The channel also rotated the music videos of "Weird Al" Yankovic, who made a career out of parodying other artists' videos. MTV also aired several specials by "Weird Al" in the 1980s and 1990s under the title Al TV.
MTV also played classic rock acts from the 1980s and earlier decades, including David Bowie, Dire Straits (whose 1985 song and video "Money for Nothing" both referenced MTV and also included the slogan "I want my MTV" in its lyrics), Journey, Rush, Linda Ronstadt, Genesis, Billy Squier, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Moody Blues, John Mellencamp, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Billy Joel, Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart, The Who, and ZZ Top; newly solo acts such as Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, David Lee Roth, and Pete Townshend; supergroup acts such as Asia, The Power Station, Yes, The Firm, and Traveling Wilburys, as well as forgotten acts such as Michael Stanley Band, Shoes, Blotto, Ph.D., Rockpile, Bootcamp, Silicon Teens and Taxxi. The hard rock band Kiss publicly appeared without their trademark makeup for the first time on MTV in 1983. The first country-music video aired on MTV was "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, which first aired on MTV in 1981.
During the early days of the channel, MTV would occasionally let other stars take over the channel within an hour as "guest VJs". These guests included musicians such as Adam Ant, Billy Idol, Phil Collins, Simon LeBon, and Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, Tina Turner; and comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, and Steven Wright; as they chose their favorite music videos.
The 1983 film Flashdance was the first film in which its promoters excerpted musical segments from it and supplied them to MTV as music videos, which the channel then aired in regular rotation.
In addition to bringing lesser-known artists into view, MTV was instrumental in adding to the booming eighties dance wave. Videos' budgets increased, and artists began to add fully choreographed dance sections. Michael Jackson's music became synonymous with dance. In addition to learning the lyrics, fans also learned his choreography so they could dance along. Madonna capitalized on dance in her videos, using classically trained jazz and break-dancers. Along with extensive costuming and make-up, Duran Duran used tribal elements, pulled from Dunham technique, in "The Wild Boys", and Kate Bush used a modern dance duet in "Running Up That Hill". MTV brought more than music into public view, it added to the ever-growing resurgence of dance in the early 1980s that has carried through to today.
In 1984, more record companies and artists began making video clips for their music than in the past, realizing the popularity of MTV and the growing medium. In keeping with the influx of videos, MTV announced changes to its playlists in the November 3, 1984, issue of Billboard magazine, that would take effect the following week. The playlist categories would be expanded to seven, from three (light, medium, heavy); including New, Light, Breakout, Medium, Active, Heavy and Power. This would ensure artists with hit records on the charts would be get the exposure they deserved, with Medium being a home for the established hits still on the climb up to the top 10; and Heavy being a home for the big hits – without the bells and whistles – just the exposure they commanded.
In 1985, MTV spearheaded a safe-sex initiative as a response to the AIDS epidemic that continues to influence sexual health currently. In this light, MTV pushed teens to pay more attention to safe-sex because they were most likely more willing to hear this message from MTV than their parents. This showed that MTV was not always influencing youth negatively. Even though in other aspects, MTV was provocative, they had this campaign to showcase their positive influence on youths and safe sex – a campaign that still is alive today: "Its Your Sex Life".
Breaking the "color barrier" (1981–1983)
During MTV's first few years on the air, very few black artists were included in rotation on the channel. The select few who were in MTV's rotation were Michael Jackson, Prince, Eddy Grant, Donna Summer, Joan Armatrading, Musical Youth, and Herbie Hancock. The very first people of color to perform on MTV was the British band The Specials, which featured an integrated line-up of white and black musicians and vocalists. The Specials' video "Rat Race" was played as the 58th video on the station's first day of broadcasting.
MTV rejected other black artists' videos, such as Rick James' "Super Freak", because they did not fit the channel's carefully selected album-oriented rock format at the time. The exclusion enraged James; he publicly advocated the addition of more black artists' videos on the channel. Rock legend David Bowie also questioned MTV's lack of black artists during an on-air interview with VJ Mark Goodman in 1983. MTV's original head of talent and acquisition, Carolyn B. Baker, who was black, had questioned why the definition of music had to be so narrow, as had a few others outside the network. "The party line at MTV was that we weren't playing black music because of the 'research'", said Baker years later. "But the research was based on ignorance ... we were young, we were cutting edge. We didn't have to be on the cutting edge of racism." Nevertheless, it was Baker who had personally rejected Rick James' video for Super Freak "because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV."
The network's director of music programming, Buzz Brindle, told an interviewer in 2006, "MTV was originally designed to be a rock music channel. It was difficult for MTV to find African American artists whose music fit the channel's format that leaned toward rock at the outset." Writers Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum noted that the channel "aired videos by plenty of white artists who didn't play rock." Andrew Goodwin later wrote, "[MTV] denied racism, on the grounds that it merely followed the rules of the rock business." MTV senior executive vice president Les Garland complained decades later, "The worst thing was that 'racism' bullshit ... there were hardly any videos being made by black artists. Record companies weren't funding them. They never got charged with racism." However, critics of that defense pointed out that record companies were not funding videos for black artists because they knew that they would have difficulty persuading MTV to play them.
Before 1983, Michael Jackson also struggled to receive airtime on MTV. To resolve the struggle and finally "break the color barrier", the president of CBS Records at the time, Walter Yetnikoff, denounced MTV in a strong, profane statement, threatening to take away MTV's ability to play any of the record label's music videos. However, Les Garland, then acquisitions head, said he decided to air Jackson's "Billie Jean" video without pressure from CBS. This was contradicted by CBS head of Business Affairs David Benjamin in Vanity Fair.
According to The Austin Chronicle, Jackson's video for the song "Billie Jean" was "the video that broke the color barrier, even though the channel itself was responsible for erecting that barrier in the first place." But change was not immediate. "Billie Jean" was not added to MTV's "medium rotation" playlist (two to three airings per day) until after it had already reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In the final week of March, it was in "heavy rotation", one week before the MTV debut of Jackson's "Beat It" video. Prince's "Little Red Corvette" joined both videos in heavy rotation at the end of April. At the beginning of June, "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant would join "Billie Jean", which was still in heavy rotation until mid-June. At the end of August, "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer was in heavy rotation on the channel. Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" and Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" would be placed in heavy rotation at the end of October and the beginning of November respectively. In final week of November, Donna Summer's "Unconditional Love" would be in heavy rotation. When Jackson's elaborate video for "Thriller" was released late in the year, which raised the ambition bar for what a video could be, the network's support for it was total; subsequently, more pop and R&B videos were played on MTV.
Regardless of the timeline, many black artists had their videos played in "heavy" rotation the following year (1984). Along with Herbie Hancock, Prince, Donna Summer, other black artists such as Billy Ocean, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, Ray Parker Jr, Rockwell, The Pointer Sisters, The Jacksons, Sheila E and Deniece Williams all had videos played in heavy rotation on MTV.
Eventually, videos from the emerging genre of rap and hip hop would also begin to enter rotation on MTV. A majority of the rap artists appearing on MTV in the mid-1980s such as Run-DMC, The Fat Boys, Whodini, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys were from the East Coast.
Video Music Awards (1984–present)
In 1984, the channel produced its first MTV Video Music Awards show, or VMAs. The first award show, in 1984, was punctuated by a live performance by Madonna of "Like A Virgin". The statuettes that are handed out at the Video Music Awards are of the MTV moonman, the channel's original image from its first broadcast in 1981. Presently, the Video Music Awards are MTV's most watched annual event.
Special, annual events (1986–present)
MTV began its annual Spring Break coverage in 1986, setting up temporary operations in Daytona Beach, Florida, for a week in March, broadcasting live eight hours per day. "Spring break is a youth culture event", MTV's vice president Doug Herzog said at the time. "We wanted to be part of it for that reason. It makes good sense for us to come down and go live from the center of it, because obviously the people there are the kinds of people who watch MTV." The channel's coverage featured numerous live performances from artists and bands on location. The annual tradition would continue into the 2000s, when it would become de-emphasized and handed off to mtvU, the spin-off channel of MTV targeted at college campuses.
The channel would later expand its beach-themed events to the summer, dedicating most of each summer season to broadcasting live from a beach house at various locations away from New York City, eventually leading to channel-wide branding throughout the summer in the 1990s and early 2000s such as Motel California, Summer Share, Isle of MTV, SoCal Summer, Summer in the Keys, and Shore Thing. MTV VJs would host blocks of music videos, interview artists and bands, and introduce live performances and other programs from the beach house location each summer. In the 2000s, as the channel reduced its airtime for music videos and eliminated much of its in-house programming, its annual summer-long events came to an end.
MTV would also hold week-long music events that would take over the presentation of the channel. Examples from the 1990s and 2000s include All Access Week, a week in the summer dedicated to live concerts and festivals; Spankin' New Music Week, a week in the fall dedicated to brand new music videos; and week-long specials that culminated in a particular live event, such as Wanna be a VJ and the Video Music Awards.
At the end of each year, MTV takes advantage of its home location in New York City to broadcast live coverage on New Year's Eve in Times Square. Several live music performances are featured alongside interviews with artists and bands that were influential throughout the year. For many years from the 1980s to the 2000s, the channel upheld a tradition of having a band perform a cover song at midnight immediately following the beginning of the new year.
Live concert broadcasts (1985–2005)
Throughout its history, MTV has covered global benefit concert series live. For most of July 13, 1985, MTV showed the Live Aid concerts, held in London and Philadelphia and organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. While the ABC network showed only selected highlights during primetime, MTV broadcast 16 hours of coverage.
Along with VH1, MTV broadcast the Live 8 concerts, a series of concerts set in the G8 states and South Africa, on July 2, 2005. Live 8 preceded the 31st G8 summit and the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. MTV drew heavy criticism for its coverage of Live 8. The network cut to commercials, VJ commentary, or other performances during performances. Complaints surfaced on the Internet over MTV interrupting the reunion of Pink Floyd. In response, MTV president Van Toeffler stated that he wanted to broadcast highlights from every venue of Live 8 on MTV and VH1, and clarified that network hosts talked over performances only in transition to commercials, informative segments or other musical performances. Toeffler acknowledged that "MTV should not have placed such a high priority on showing so many acts, at the expense of airing complete sets by key artists." He also blamed the Pink Floyd interruption on a mandatory cable affiliate break. MTV averaged 1.4 million viewers for its original July 2 broadcast of Live 8. Consequently, MTV and VH1 aired five hours of uninterrupted Live 8 coverage on July 9, with each channel airing different blocks of artists.
Formatted music series (1986–2008)
MTV had debuted Dial MTV in 1986, a daily top ten music video countdown show for which viewers could call the toll-free telephone number 1-800-DIAL-MTV to request a music video. The show would be replaced by MTV Most Wanted in 1991, which ran until 1996, and later saw a spiritual successor in Total Request Live. The phone number remained in use for video requests until 2006.
Also in 1986, the channel introduced 120 Minutes, a show that would feature low-rotation, alternative rock and other "underground" videos for the next 14 years on MTV and three additional years on sister channel MTV2. The program then became known as Subterranean on MTV2. Eight years later, on July 31, 2011, 120 Minutes was resurrected with Matt Pinfield taking over hosting duties once again and airing monthly on MTV2.
Another late night music video show was added in 1987, Headbangers Ball, which featured heavy metal music and news. Before its abrupt cancellation in 1995, it featured several hosts including Riki Rachtman and Adam Curry. A weekly block of music videos with the name Headbangers Ball aired from 2003 to 2011 on sister channel MTV2, before spending an additional two years as a web-only series on MTV2's website, until Headbangers Ball was discontinued once again in 2013.
In 1988, MTV debuted Yo! MTV Raps, a hip hop/rap formatted program. The program continued until August 1995. It was renamed to simply Yo! and aired as a one-hour program from 1995 to 1999. The concept was reintroduced as Direct Effect in 2000, which became Sucker Free in 2006 and was cancelled in 2008, after briefly celebrating the 20th anniversary of Yo! MTV Raps throughout the months of April and May 2008. Despite its cancellation on MTV, a weekly countdown of hip hop videos known as Sucker Free still airs on MTV2 through the present day.
In 1989, MTV began to premiere music-based specials such as MTV Unplugged, an acoustic performance show, which has featured dozens of acts as its guests and has remained active in numerous iterations on various platforms for over 20 years.
To further cater to the growing success of R&B, MTV introduced the weekly Fade to Black in the summer of 1991, which was hosted by Al B. Sure!. The show would be reformatted into the better known MTV Jams the following year, which incorporated mainstream hip-hop into the playlist. Bill Bellamy would become the new and ongoing host. The show became so successful it spawned its own Most Wanted spinoff titled Most Wanted Jams.
Rise of the directors (1990–1993)
By the early 1990s, MTV was playing a combination of pop-friendly hard rock acts, chart-topping metal and hard rock acts such as Metallica, Nirvana and Guns N' Roses, pop singers such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, 2 Unlimited, and New Kids on the Block, and R&B groups such as New Edition, En Vogue, Bell Biv Devoe, SWV, Tony Toni Tone, TLC and Boyz II Men, while introducing hit rappers Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. MTV progressively increased its airing of hip hop acts, such as LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, Naughty By Nature, Onyx, MC Lyte, and Sir-Mix-A-Lot, and by 1993, the channel added West Coast rappers previously associated with gangsta rap, with a less pop-friendly sound, such as Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, Warren G, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Tone Loc, and Snoop Doggy Dogg.
To accompany the new sounds, a new form of music videos came about: more creative, funny, artistic, experimental, and technically accomplished than those in the 1980s. Several noted film directors got their start creating music videos. After pressure from the Music Video Production Association, MTV began listing the names of the videos' directors at the bottom of the credits by December 1992. As a result, MTV's viewers became familiar with the names of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, David Fincher, Mary Lambert, Samuel Bayer, Matt Mahurin, Mark Romanek, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Anton Corbijn, Mark Pellington, Tarsem, Hype Williams, Jake Scott, Jonathan Glazer, Marcus Nispel, F. Gary Gray, Jim Yukich, Russell Mulcahy, Steve Barron, Marty Callner, and Michael Bay, among others.
As the PBS series Frontline explored, MTV was a driving force that catapulted music videos to a mainstream audience, turning music videos into an art form as well as a marketing machine that became beneficial to artists. Danny Goldberg, chairman and CEO of Artemis Records, said the following about the art of music videos: "I know when I worked with Nirvana, Kurt Cobain cared as much about the videos as he did about the records. He wrote the scripts for them, he was in the editing room, and they were part of his art. And I think they stand up as part of his art, and I think that's true of the great artists today. Not every artist is a great artist and not every video is a good video, but in general having it available as a tool, to me, adds to the business. And I wish there had been music videos in the heyday of The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. I think they would've added to their creative contribution, not subtracted from it."
Alternative is mainstream (1991–1997)
Nirvana led a sweeping transition into the rise of alternative rock music on MTV in 1991 with their video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit". By late 1991 going into 1992, MTV began frequently airing videos from their heavily promoted "Buzz Bin", such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos, PM Dawn, Arrested Development, Björk, and Gin Blossoms. MTV increased rotation of its weekly alternative music program 120 Minutes and added the daily Alternative Nation to play videos of these and other underground music acts. Subsequently, grunge and alternative rock had a rise in mainstream tastes, while 1980s-style glam bands and traditional rockers were phased out, with some exceptions such as Aerosmith and Tom Petty. Older acts such as R.E.M. and U2 remained relevant by making their music more experimental or unexpected.
They also played lots of hard rock acts such as Pantera, Death and other heavy/death metal acts at the time period.
In 1993, more hit alternative rock acts were on heavy rotation, such as Stone Temple Pilots, Soul Asylum, Rage Against the Machine, Marilyn Manson, Tool, Beck, Therapy?, Radiohead, and The Smashing Pumpkins. Other hit acts such as Weezer, Collective Soul, Blind Melon, The Cranberries, Bush, and Silverchair would follow in the next couple of years. Alternative bands that appeared on Beavis and Butt-Head included White Zombie.
By the next few years, 1994 through 1997, MTV began promoting new power pop acts, most successfully Green Day and The Offspring, and ska-rock acts such as No Doubt, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Sublime. Pop singers were added to the rotation with success as long as they were considered "alternative," such as Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Fiona Apple, and Sarah McLachlan.
Electronica and pop (1997–1999)
By 1997, MTV focused heavily on introducing electronica acts into the mainstream, adding them to its musical rotation, including The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Aphex Twin, Pendulum, Daft Punk, The Crystal Method, Butthole Surfers and Fatboy Slim. Some musicians who proceeded to experiment with electronica were still played on MTV including Madonna, U2, David Bowie, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins. That year, MTV also attempted to introduce neo-swing bands, but they did not meet with much success.
However, in late 1997, MTV began shifting more progressively towards pop music, inspired by the success of the Spice Girls and the rise of boy bands in Europe. Between 1998 and 1999, MTV's musical content consisted heavily of videos of boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, as well as teen pop "princesses" such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lynda Thomas, Mandy Moore, and Jessica Simpson. Airplay of rock, electronica, and alternative acts was reduced. Hip-hop music continued in heavy rotation, through the likes of Puff Daddy, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, DMX, Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Eminem, Foxy Brown, Ja Rule, Nas, Timbaland, and their associates. R&B was also heavily represented with acts such as Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Destiny's Child, 702, Monica, and Brandy.
Return of the Rock (1997–2004)
Beginning in late 1997, MTV progressively reduced its airing of rock music videos, leading to the slogan among skeptics, "Rock is dead." The facts that at the time rock music fans were less materialistic, and bought less music based on television suggestion, were cited as reasons that MTV abandoned its once staple music. MTV instead devoted its musical airtime mostly to pop and hip hop/R&B music. All rock-centric shows were eliminated and the rock-related categories of the Video Music Awards were pared down to one.
From this time until 2004, MTV made some periodic efforts to reintroduce pop rock music videos to the channel. By 1998 through 1999, the punk-rock band Blink-182 received regular airtime on MTV due in large part to their "All the Small Things" video that made fun of the boy bands that MTV was airing at the time. Meanwhile, some rock bands that were not receiving MTV support, such as Korn and Creed, continued to sell albums. Then, upon the release of Korn's rock/rap hybrid album Follow the Leader, MTV began playing Korn's videos "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash".
A band sponsored by Korn, Limp Bizkit, received airtime for its cover of George Michael's "Faith", which became a hit. Subsequently, MTV began airing more rap/rock hybrid acts, such as Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. Some rock acts with more comical videos, such as Rob Zombie, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters, also received airtime.
In the fall of 1999, MTV announced a special Return of the Rock weekend, in which new rock acts received airtime, after which a compilation album was released. System of a Down, Staind, Godsmack, Green Day, Incubus, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Sevendust, Powerman 5000, Slipknot, Kittie, Static X, and CKY were among the featured bands. These bands received some airtime on MTV and more so on MTV2, though both channels gave emphasis to the rock/rap acts.
By 2000, Sum 41, Linkin Park, Jimmy Eat World, Mudvayne, Cold, At the Drive-In, Alien Ant Farm, and other acts were added to the musical rotation. MTV also launched digital cable channel MTVX to play rock music videos exclusively, an experiment that lasted until 2002. A daily music video program on MTV that carried the name Return of the Rock ran through early 2001, replaced by a successor, All Things Rock, from 2002 until 2004.
Total Request Live (1998–2008)
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Also by 1997, MTV was criticized heavily for not playing as many music videos as it had in the past. In response, MTV created four shows that centered on music videos: MTV Live, Total Request, Say What?, and 12 Angry Viewers. Also at this time, MTV introduced its new studios in Times Square.
A year later, in 1998, MTV merged Total Request and MTV Live into a live daily top ten countdown show, Total Request Live, which would become known as TRL (the original host being Carson Daly) and secure its place as the channel's unofficial flagship program. In the fall of 1999, a live studio audience was added to the show. By spring 2000, the countdown reached its peak. The program enjoyed success playing the top ten pop, rock, R&B, and hip hop music videos, and featuring live interviews with artists and celebrities.
From 1998 to 2001, MTV also aired several other music video programs from its studios in Times Square and on location at various beach-themed locations each summer. These programs included Say What? Karaoke, a game show hosted by Dave Holmes that evolved from Say What?, MTV's earlier program that ran the lyrics of music videos across the screen. TRL Wannabes aired from 1999 to 2000 and featured a selection of music videos that just missed the TRL top ten. VJ for a Day, hosted by Raymond Munns, continued this concept in early 2001. VJ for a Day was an extension of an annual event, Wanna be a VJ, which aired each spring from 1998 to 2000 to select a new VJ to host programs on MTV.
MTV also aired Hot Zone, hosted by Ananda Lewis, which featured pop music videos during the midday time period and was a casual alternative to TRL; it later became MTV Hits. Other programs were Direct Effect, Return of the Rock, MTV Jams, BeatSuite, MTV Soul, and blocks of music videos hosted by VJs simply called Music Television in the spirit of the channel's original purpose.
During the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, MTV suspended all of its programming, along with its sister cable channel VH1, and it began simulcasting coverage from CBS News (the news division of CBS), which was acquired by MTV parent Viacom two years earlier) until about 11:00 pm. ET that night. The channels then played a looped set of music videos without commercial interruption until an MTV News special edition of TRL aired on September 14, 2001.
In 2002, Carson Daly left MTV and TRL to pursue a late night talk show on NBC. After his departure, the relevance and impact of Total Request Live slowly diminished. TRL ultimately remained a part of MTV's regular program schedule for ten years. The series came to an end with a special finale episode, Total Finale Live, which aired November 16, 2008, and featured all the show's hosts from over the years, many special guests from the history of the show, and played its last music video, "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears.
Milestones and specials (1999–2011)
Around 1999 through 2001, as MTV aired fewer music videos throughout the day, it regularly aired compilation specials from its then 20-year history to look back on its roots. An all-encompassing special, MTV Uncensored, premiered in 1999 and was later released as a book.
MTV celebrated its 20th anniversary on August 1, 2001, beginning with a 12-hour long retrospective called MTV20: Buggles to Bizkit, which featured over 100 classic videos played chronologically, hosted by various VJs in reproductions of MTV's old studios. The day of programming culminated in a three-hour celebratory live event called MTV20: Live and Almost Legal, which was hosted by Carson Daly and featured numerous guests from MTV's history, including the original VJs from 1981. Various other related MTV20 specials aired in the months surrounding the event.
Janet Jackson became the inaugural honoree of the "mtvICON" award, "an annual recognition of artists who have made significant contributions to music, music video and pop culture while tremendously impacting the MTV generation." Subsequent recipients included Aerosmith, Metallica and The Cure.
Five years later, on August 1, 2006, MTV celebrated its 25th anniversary. On their website, MTV.com, visitors could watch the very first hour of MTV, including airing the original promos and commercials from Mountain Dew, Atari, Chewels gum, and Jovan. Videos were also shown from The Buggles, Pat Benatar, Rod Stewart, and others. The introduction of the first five VJs was also shown. Additionally, MTV.com put together a "yearbook" consisting of the greatest videos of each year from 1981 to 2006. MTV itself only mentioned the anniversary once on TRL.
Although MTV reached its 30th year of broadcasting in 2011, the channel itself passed over this milestone in favor of its current programming schedule. The channel instead aired its 30th anniversary celebrations on its sister networks MTV2 and VH1 Classic. Nathaniel Brown, senior vice president of communications for MTV, confirmed that there were no plans for an on-air MTV celebration similar to the channel's 20th anniversary. Brown explained, "MTV as a brand doesn't age with our viewers. We are really focused on our current viewers, and our feeling was that our anniversary wasn't something that would be meaningful to them, many of whom weren't even alive in 1981."
Decline in music videos (1995–2008)
From 1995 to 2000, MTV played 36.5% fewer music videos. MTV president Van Toeffler explained: "Clearly, the novelty of just showing music videos has worn off. It's required us to reinvent ourselves to a contemporary audience." Despite targeted efforts to play certain types of music videos in limited rotation, MTV greatly reduced its overall rotation of music videos by the mid-2000s. While music videos were featured on MTV up to eight hours per day in 2000, the year 2008 saw an average of just three hours of music videos per day on MTV. The rise of social media and websites like YouTube as a convenient outlet for the promotion and viewing of music videos signaled this reduction.
As the decade progressed, MTV continued to play some music videos instead of relegating them exclusively to its sister channels, but around this time, the channel began to air music videos only in the early morning hours or in a condensed form on Total Request Live. As a result of these programming changes, Justin Timberlake implored MTV to "play more damn videos!" while giving an acceptance speech at the 2007 Video Music Awards.
Despite the challenge from Timberlake, MTV continued to decrease its total rotation time for music videos in 2007, and the channel eliminated its long-running special tags for music videos such as "Buzzworthy" (for under-represented artists), "Breakthrough" (for visually stunning videos), and "Spankin' New" (for brand new videos). Additionally, the historic Kabel typeface, which MTV displayed at the beginning and end of all music videos since 1981, was phased out in favor of larger text and less information about the video's record label and director. The classic font can still be seen in "prechyroned" versions of old videos on sister network MTV Classic, which had their title information recorded onto the same tape as the video itself.
FNMTV and AMTV (2008–present)
Prior to its finale in 2008, MTV's main source of music videos was Total Request Live, airing four times per week, featuring short clips of music videos along with VJs and guests. MTV was experimenting at the time with new ideas for music programs to replace the purpose of TRL but with a new format.
In mid-2008, MTV premiered new music video programming blocks called FNMTV and a weekly special event called FNMTV Premieres, hosted from Los Angeles by Pete Wentz of the band Fall Out Boy, which was designed to premiere new music videos and have viewers provide instantaneous feedback.
The FNMTV Premieres event ended before the 2008 Video Music Awards in September. With the exception of a holiday themed episode in December 2008 and an unrelated Spring Break special in March 2009 with the same title, FNMTV Premieres never returned to the channel's regular program schedule, leaving MTV without any music video programs hosted by VJs for the first time in its history.
, the name of MTV's music video programming from 2009 to 2013
Music video programming returned to MTV in March 2009 as AMTV, an early morning block of music videos that originally aired from 3 am to 9 am on most weekdays. It was renamed Music Feed in 2013 with a reduced schedule. Unlike the FNMTV block that preceded it, Music Feed features many full-length music videos, including some older videos that have been out of regular rotation for many years on MTV. It also features music news updates, interviews, and performances. Music Feed is the only current program on MTV's main channel that is dedicated to music videos.
During the rest of the day, MTV also plays excerpts from music videos in split screen format during the closing credits of most programs, along with the address of a website to encourage the viewer to watch the full video online. MTV has positioned its website, MTV.com, as its primary destination for music videos.
Recent music programs (2009–present)
MTV again resurrected the long-running series MTV Unplugged in 2009 with performances from acts such as Adele and Paramore. However, unlike past Unplugged specials, these new recordings usually only aired in their entirety on MTV's website, MTV.com. Nevertheless, short clips of the specials are shown on MTV during the AMTV block of music videos in the early morning hours. On June 12, 2011, MTV aired a traditional television premiere of a new installment of MTV Unplugged instead of a web debut. The featured artist was rapper Lil Wayne and the show debuted both on MTV and MTV2. The channel followed up with a similar television premiere of MTV Unplugged with Florence and the Machine on April 8, 2012.
MTV launched 10 on Top in May 2010, a weekly program airing on Saturdays and hosted by Lenay Dunn, that counts down the top 10 most trending and talked about topics of the week (generally focused on entertainment). Dunn also appeared in segments between MTV's shows throughout the day as a recognizable personality and face of the channel in the absence of traditional VJs aside from its MTV News correspondents.
The animated series Beavis and Butt-head returned to MTV in October 2011, with new episodes. As with the original version of the series that ran from 1993 to 1997, the modern-day Beavis and Butt-head features segments in which its main characters watch and criticize music videos.
Sometime in 2012, MTV debuted Clubland, which previously existed as an hour of EDM videos during the AMTV video block. The show has no host, but most editorial content is pushed online by the show's Tumblr and other social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
MTV launched a new talk show based on hip hop music on April 12, 2012, called Hip Hop POV, hosted by Amanda Seales, Bu Thiam, Charlamagne,
Devi Dev, and Sowmya Krishnamurthy. The show featured hosted commentary on the headlines in hip hop culture, providing opinions on new music, granting insider access to major events, and including artist interviews. Hip Hip POV lasted several episodes before going on hiatus. The show was supposed to return in Fall 2012, but was moved to MTV2 instead, where it was rebranded and merged with Sucker Free Countdown. The new show debuted as The Week in Jams on October 28, 2012.
Post-TRL live shows (2009–present)
MTV launched a live talk show, It's On with Alexa Chung, on June 15, 2009. The host of the program, Alexa Chung, was described as a "younger, more Web 2.0" version of Jimmy Fallon. Although it was filmed in the same Times Square studio where TRL used to be broadcast, the network stated that "the only thing the two shows have in common is the studio location." It's On was cancelled in December of the same year, which again eliminated the only live in-studio programming from MTV's schedule, just one year after TRL was also cancelled.
Shortly after Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, the channel aired several hours of Jackson's music videos, accompanied by live news specials featuring reactions from MTV personalities and other celebrities. The temporary shift in MTV's programming culminated the following week with the channel's live coverage of Jackson's memorial service. MTV aired similar one-hour live specials with music videos and news updates following the death of Whitney Houston on February 11, 2012, and the death of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys on May 4, 2012.
The channel tried its hand again at live programming with the premiere of a half-hour program called The Seven in September 2010. The program counted down seven entertainment-related stories of interest to viewers (and included some interview segments among them), having aired weekdays at 5 pm with a weekend wrap-up at 10 am ET. Shortly after its debut, the show was slightly retooled as it dropped co-host Julie Alexandria but kept fellow co-host Kevin Manno; the Saturday recap show was eliminated as well. The Seven was cancelled on June 13, 2011. Manno's only assignment at MTV post-Seven was conducting an interview with a band which only aired on MTV.com. Manno is no longer employed with MTV and has since appeared as an occasional correspondent on the LXTV-produced NBC series 1st Look.
Presently, MTV airs sporadic live specials called MTV First. The short program, produced by MTV News, debuted in early 2011 and continues to air typically once every couple of weeks on any given weekday. The specials usually begin at 7:53 pm. ET, led by one of MTV News' correspondents who will conduct a live interview with a featured artist or actor who has come to MTV to premiere a music video or movie trailer. MTV starts its next scheduled program at 8:00 pm, while the interview and chat with fans continues on MTV.com for another 30 to 60 minutes. Since its debut in 2011, MTV First has featured high-profile acts such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Usher and Justin Bieber. In the absence of daily live programs such as TRL, It's on with Alexa Chung and The Seven to facilitate such segments, the channel now uses MTV First as its newest approach to present music video premieres and bring viewers from its main television channel to its website for real-time interaction with artists and celebrities.
On April 21, 2016, MTV announced that new Unplugged episodes will begin airing as well as a weekly performance series called Wonderland. On that same day, immediately after the death of Prince, MTV interrupted its usual programming to air Prince's music videos. However, Wonderland was short lived. In 2017, the network shifted focus away from scripted to reality while keeping the notion from 2016 to incorporate more music. In July 2017, it was announced that TRL would be returning to the network on October 2, 2017.