|Headquarters||One Astor Plaza, 1515 Broadway, Times Square, Manhattan, New York|
|Picture format||1080i HDTV|
(downscaled to letterboxed 480i for the SDTV feed)
|Owner||Warner Communications (1981–1985; 50%)|
American Express (1981–1985; 50%)
Viacom (1985–2006, 2005–2019)
(National Amusements (1985–present))
|Parent||MTV Entertainment Group (1996–present)|
(Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment (1981–1985)
MTV Networks (1985–2011)
Viacom Media Networks (2011–2019)
ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks (2019–present))
|Key people||Bob Bakish (CEO)|
|Launched||August 1, 1981|
|Available on most cable providers||Channel slots vary on each service|
|Dish Network||Channel 160 (HD/SD)|
|DirecTV Caribbean||Channel 260|
|Verizon Fios||Channel 210 (SD)|
Channel 710 (HD)
|AT&T U-verse||Channel 502 (SD)|
Channel 1502 (HD)
|Part of a series on|
MTV in the United States
|Programs on MTV|
|Censorship on MTV|
MTV (originally an initialism of Music Television) is an American cable channel that launched on August 1, 1981. Based in New York City, it serves as the flagship property of the MTV Entertainment Group, part of ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks, a division of ViacomCBS. Prior to launch, the network was first tested on December 1, 1977, as Sight on Sound.
The channel originally aired music videos and related programming as guided by television personalities known as video jockeys. In the years since its inception, it significantly toned down its focus on music in favor of original reality programming for teenagers and young adults.
MTV has spawned numerous sister channels in the US and affiliated channels internationally, some of which have gone independent. Approximately 90.6 million households in the United States receive MTV as of January 2016.
1964–1977: Previous concepts
Ideas for music television began in the 1960s. The Beatles used music videos to promote their records starting in the mid-1960s. Their 1964 film A Hard Day's Night, and particularly its performance of the song "Can't Buy Me Love", led MTV to later honor the film's director Richard Lester with an award for "basically inventing the music video".
In 1967, a Los Angeles company called Charlatan Productions began producing promotional films for rock groups, with a unique approach that involved interpreting individual songs by crafting original scripts and artistic scenarios to match. Charlatan was founded by filmmakers Peter Gardiner and Allen Daviau, both of whom were special effects producers that year for the film, The Trip. Tom Rounds, former program director for San Francisco Top 40 radio station KFRC, was brought on board later in 1967 as Charlatan president. Under Rounds’ leadership, and on contract to record companies, Charlatan produced the short, song-length promo films and then distributed them on videotape to TV stations around the country. By mid-1968, Charlatan had already completed forty films for fifteen record companies, for artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, Steppenwolf, Aretha Franklin, Richie Havens, The Who, The Rascals, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Connie Francis, The Cowsills, and Ricky Nelson.
In his book The Mason Williams FCC Rapport, Mason Williams states that he pitched an idea to CBS for a television program featuring "video-radio", where disc jockeys played avant-garde art pieces set to music. CBS rejected it, but Williams premiered his own musical composition "Classical Gas" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he was head writer, and the song became a major hit. In 1970, Philadelphia-based disc jockey Bob Whitney created The Now Explosion, a television series filmed in Atlanta and broadcast in syndication by local television stations throughout the United States, featuring promotional clips from various popular artists; it was canceled by its distributor in 1971. Several music programs originating outside the US, including Australia's Countdown and the United Kingdom's Top of the Pops, which initially aired music videos by artists who were not available to perform live, began to feature them regularly by the mid-1970s.
In 1974, Gary Van Haas, vice president of Televak Corporation, created Music Video TV, a channel with video disc jockeys, to be shown in record stores across the United States, and promoted it to distributors and retailers in a May 1974 issue of Billboard. Van Haas signed a deal with US Cable in 1978 to expand its audience from retail stores to cable TV. However, it was no longer active by the time MTV launched in 1981.
Pre-launch as "Sight on Sound"
In 1977, Warner Cable, a division of Warner Communications and the precursor of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, launched the first two-way interactive cable TV system, QUBE, in Columbus, Ohio. It offered many specialized channels – one of which was "Sight on Sound", a music channel featuring concert footage and music-oriented programs where viewers could vote for their favorite songs and artists.
MTV's original format was created by media executive Robert W. Pittman, later president and CEO of MTV Networks. He tested the format by producing and hosting a 15-minute show, Album Tracks, on New York City's WNBC-TV in the late 1970s.
Pittman's boss, Warner executive vice president John Lack, had shepherded PopClips, a TV series created by Monkee-turned-solo-artist Michael Nesmith, whose attention has turned to the music video format in the late 1970s. PopClips' inspiration came from a similar program on New Zealand's TVNZ network, Radio with Pictures, which premiered in 1976. New Zealand was no stranger to music videos; in 1966, record companies began supplying the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation with promotional video clips, as few artists made the long trip there to appear live.
On Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time, MTV was officially 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 the launch of Apollo 11. The words were followed by the original MTV theme song, a vivid rock tune composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over the American flag changed to show MTV's logo changing into different 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 different forms, from MTV's first day until it was pulled in early 1986 in the wake of the Challenger disaster.
The first music video on MTV, which at the time was available only to homes in New Jersey, was the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star". It was followed by Pat Benatar's "You Better Run". Occasionally the screen went black when an employee at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR. MTV's lower third graphics near the beginnings and ends of videos eventually used the recognizable Kabel typeface for about 25 years; but they varied on MTV's first day, speaking in a different typeface, and including details such as the song's year and record label.
As programming chief, Robert W. Pittman recruited and managed a team of co-founders for the launch that included Tom Freston (who succeeded Pittman as CEO of MTV Networks), Fred Seibert and John Sykes. They were joined by 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, Richard Schenkman, Ronald E. "Buzz" Brindle, and Robert Morton. Kenneth M. Miller is credited as MTV's first technical director at its New York City-based network operations facility.
MTV's effect was immediate. Within two months, record stores where MTV was available were selling music local radio stations were not playing, such as Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow and the Human League. MTV also sparked the Second British Invasion, featuring existing videos by UK acts who had used the format for several years (for example, on BBC's Top of the Pops).
MTV targeted an audience of ages 12 to 34. However its self-conducted research showed that over 50% of its audience was 12–24, and that this group watched for an average of 30 minutes to two hours a day.
Original VJs and format
MTV's original purpose was to be "music television", playing music videos 24/7, guided by on-air personalities known as VJs, or video jockeys (inspired by DJ, for "disc jockey"). Its original slogans 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. It underwent a transition to emulate a full Top 40 station in 1984. Fresh-faced young men and women hosted its programming and introduced videos. Many VJs became celebrities in their own right. MTV's five original VJs in 1981 were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and Martha Quinn. Popular New York DJ Meg Griffin was going to be a VJ, but decided against it at the last minute. The VJs were hired to fit certain demographics the channel was trying to obtain: Goodman was the affable everyman; Hunter, the popular jock; Jackson, the hip radio veteran; Blackwood, the bombshell vixen; and Quinn, the girl next door. Due to uncertainty around the channel's success, the VJs were told not to buy permanent residences and to keep their second jobs.
The VJs recorded intro and outro voiceovers before broadcast, along with music news, interviews, concert dates and promotions. These segments appeared to air live and debut on MTV 24/7, but the they were pre-taped within a regular work week at MTV's studios.
The earlier music videos that comprised most of MTV's programming in the 1980s were promotional videos (or "promos", a term that originated in the UK) that record companies had commissioned for international use, or concert clips from any available sources.
Rock bands and performers of the 1980s who appeared on MTV ranged from new wave to soft rock and heavy metal including Adam Ant, Bryan Adams, Pat Benatar, Blondie, the Cars, Culture Club, Def Leppard, Dire Straits (whose 1985 song and video "Money for Nothing" included the slogan "I want my MTV" in its lyrics), Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Billy Idol, Billy Joel, John Mellencamp, Mötley Crüe, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Prince, Ultravox, U2, Van Halen and ZZ Top, Ratt, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Guns N' Roses. MTV also played classic rock acts from the 1980s and earlier decades, including Aerosmith, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Journey, Rush, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Squier, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart, Styx, the Who; newly solo acts such as Robert Plant, Phil Collins, David Lee Roth, and Pete Townshend; supergroup acts such as Asia, the Power Station, Yes, the Firm, and Traveling Wilburys; as well as revivals of acts such as Michael Stanley Band, Shoes, Blotto, PhD, Rockpile, Bootcamp, Silicon Teens and Taxxi. The '70s hard rock band Kiss appeared without their trademark makeup for the first time on MTV in 1983. The first country-music video on MTV was "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, which first aired on MTV's premiere date. (It was the third video by a solo female artist to air on MTV, after Pat Benatar and Carly Simon.)
In addition to giving exposure to lesser-known artists, MTV was instrumental in the booming '80s dance wave. Video 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 often learned the choreography. Madonna capitalized on dance in her videos, using classically trained jazz and breakdancers. Along with extensive costuming and makeup, 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's influence on dance as well as music has carried through to this day.
In 1984, more record companies and artists began making video/promo clips for their music, realizing the popularity of MTV and the growing medium. To accommodate the influx of videos, MTV announced changes to its playlists in the November 3, 1984, issue of Billboard that took effect the next week. Playlist rotation categories were expanded from three (Light, Medium, Heavy) to seven: New, Light, Breakout, Medium, Active, Heavy and Power. This ensured that artists with chart hits got the exposure they deserved, with Medium being a home for established hits still on the climb up to the top 10; and Heavy a home for the big hits – without the bells and whistles – just the exposure they commanded.
In its early days, MTV occasionally let celebrity "guest VJs" take over the channel for an hour to host their favorite music videos. They 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 and Dan Aykroyd.
The channel also rotated the music videos of "Weird Al" Yankovic, who made a career out of parodying other artists' videos. It also aired several of Yankovic's specials in the 1980s and 1990s, under the title Al TV.
PSAs and promotion of charitable causes and NFPs were woven into the MTV fabric. In 1985, MTV spearheaded a safe-sex initiative, in response to the AIDS epidemic, when it was perceived that many teens might be more receptive to the message there than from their parents. Its safe-sex campaign continues today as "It's Your Sex Life".
Breaking the 'color barrier'
During MTV's first few years, very few black artists were featured. The select few in MTV's rotation were Michael Jackson, Prince, Eddy Grant, Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, Sade, Janet Jackson, Joan Armatrading, Musical Youth, The Specials, The Selecter, Grace Jones and Herbie Hancock. Mikey Craig of Culture Club, Joe Leeway of Thompson Twins and Tracy Wormworth of The Waitresses were also black. The Specials, which included black and white vocalists and musicians, were also the first act with people of color to perform on MTV; their song "Rat Race" was the 58th video on the station's first broadcast day.
MTV refused 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, who publicly advocated the addition of more black artists to 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, questioned why the definition of music had to be so narrow, as did a few others outside the network. Years later, Baker said, "The party line at MTV was that we weren't playing black music because of the research' – 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 rejected Rick James' Super Freak video "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 defence pointed out that record companies were not funding videos for black artists because they knew they would have difficulty persuading MTV to play them.
In celebrating the 40th anniversary of the network's launch in 2021, current MTV Entertainment Group president Chris McCarthy acknowledged that "(o)ne of the bigger mistakes in the early years was not playing enough diverse music...but the nice thing that I’ve always learned at MTV is we have no problem owning our mistakes, quickly correcting them and trying to do the right thing and always follow where the audience is going."
Before 1983, Michael Jackson also struggled for MTV airtime. To resolve the struggle and finally "break the color barrier", the president of CBS Records, Walter Yetnikoff, denounced MTV in a strong, profane statement, threatening to take away its right to play any of the label's music. However, Les Garland, then acquisitions head, said he decided to air Jackson's "Billie Jean" video without pressure from CBS, a statement later 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 it reached No. 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 joined "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" were placed in heavy rotation at the end of October and the beginning of November respectively. In the final week of November, Donna Summer's "Unconditional Love" was in heavy rotation. When Jackson's elaborate video for "Thriller" was released late that year, raising the 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.
Following Jackson's and Prince's breakthroughs on MTV, Rick James did several interviews where he brushed off the accomplishment as tokenism, saying in a 1983 interview, in an episode of Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus on James, that "any black artist that [had] their video played on MTV should pull their [videos] off MTV."
Regardless of the timeline, many black artists had their videos played in "heavy" rotation the following year (1984), including Herbie Hancock, Prince, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Sade, Janet Jackson, Donna Summer, Billy Ocean, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Ray Parker Jr., Rockwell, the Pointer Sisters, the Jacksons, Sheila E, and Deniece Williams.
Eventually, videos from the emerging genre of rap and hip hop also entered MTV's rotation. A majority of rap artists 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
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
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 continued into the 2000s, when it became de-emphasized and handed off to mtvU, the spin-off channel of MTV targeted at college campuses.
The channel later expanded its beach-themed events to the summer, dedicating most of each summer season to broadcasting live from a beach house at different 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 hosted blocks of music videos, interview artists and bands, and introduced 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 also held week-long music events that took 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
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 other blocks of artists.
Formatted music series
MTV had debuted Dial MTV in 1986, a daily top 10 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 was 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.
1986 also brought the departures of three of the five original VJs, as J.J. Jackson moved back to Los Angeles and returned to radio, while Nina Blackwood moved on to pursue new roles in television. Martha Quinn's contract wasn't renewed in late 1986 and she departed the network. She was brought back in early 1989 and stayed until 1992. Downtown Julie Brown was hired as the first new VJ as a replacement. In mid-1987, Alan Hunter and Mark Goodman ceased being full-time MTV veejays.
Also in 1986, the channel introduced 120 Minutes, a show that featured 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. Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter departed the network in 1987.
In 1988, MTV debuted Yo! MTV Raps, a hip hop/rap formatted program. MTV progressively increased its airing of hit rappers by way of this program, such as MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa, Tone Loc, Naughty By Nature, MC Lyte, and Sir-Mix-A-Lot. The channel also played R&B artists such as Janet Jackson, New Edition, En Vogue, Bell Biv Devoe, SWV, Tony! Toni! Toné!, TLC, New Kids on the Block, and Boyz II Men. 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 was reformatted into the better known MTV Jams the following year, which incorporated mainstream hip-hop into the playlist. Bill Bellamy became the new and ongoing host. The show became so successful it spawned its own Most Wanted spinoff titled Most Wanted Jams.
First format evolution
In 1985, Viacom bought Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, which owned MTV and Nickelodeon, renaming the company MTV Networks and beginning this expansion. Before 1987, MTV featured almost exclusively music videos, but as time passed, they introduced a variety of other shows, including some that were originally intended for other channels.
Non-music video programming began in the late 1980s, with the introduction of a music news show The Week in Rock, which was also the beginning of MTV's news division, MTV News. Around this time, MTV also introduced a fashion news show, House of Style; a dance show, Club MTV; and a game show, Remote Control. Despite these programs not being music video-based, all three shows were based around the world of popular music.
Following the success of the MTV Video Music Awards, in an effort to branch out from music into movies and broader pop culture, MTV started the MTV Movie & TV Awards in 1992, which continues presently. MTV also created an award show for Europe after the success of the Video Music Awards. The MTV Europe Music Awards, or the EMAs, were created in 1994, ten years after the debut of the VMAs.
These new shows were just the beginning of new genres of shows to make an impact on MTV. As the format of the network continued to evolve, more genres of shows began to appear.
Alternative is mainstream
Nirvana led a sweeping transition into the rise of alternative rock and grunge 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 cultures, while 1980s-style glam bands and traditional rockers were phased out, with a few 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 contemporary. MTV also played many hard rock acts such as Pantera, Death and other death/heavy metal acts at the time period, which saw rotation especially in Headbangers Ball, a program equipped for the genre.
Over the next few years, 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 followed in the next couple of years. Alternative bands that appeared on Beavis and Butt-Head included White Zombie. Also at this time, MTV began promoting new pop punk acts, most successfully Green Day and the Offspring, and ska punk acts such as No Doubt, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Sublime. Alternative singers that were more pop-oriented were also added to the rotation with success, such as Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Fiona Apple, and Sarah McLachlan.
In the early-mid 1990s, MTV added gangsta rappers with a less pop-friendly sound to its rotation, such as Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Ice Cube, Warren G, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Nas, and Snoop Doggy Dogg. In 1992, Dr. Dre's G-funk single "Nuthin' but a "G" Thang" became a crossover hit, with its humorous House Party-influenced video becoming an MTV staple despite the network's historic orientation towards rock music.
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, 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 were not met with much success.
Rise of the directors
To accompany the new sounds that were appearing on MTV, a new form of music videos came about: more artistic, experimental, and technically-accomplished than those of 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."
First reality programs
In the early-mid 1990s, MTV debuted its first reality shows, Real World and Road Rules. Building on the success of The Real World and Road Rules, MTV placed a stronger focus on reality shows and related series at this time. The first round of these shows came with game shows such as Singled Out, reality-based comedy shows such as Buzzkill, and late-night talk shows such as The Jon Stewart Show and Loveline.
First animated programs
In a continuing bid to become a more diverse network focusing on youth and culture as well as music, MTV added animated shows to its lineup in the early 1990s. The animation showcase Liquid Television (a co-production between BBC and MTV produced in San Francisco by Colossal Pictures) was one of the channel's first programs to focus on the medium. In addition to airing original shows created specifically for MTV, the channel also occasionally aired episodes of original cartoon series produced by Viacom's sister channel Nickelodeon (Nicktoons) in the early 1990s.
MTV has a history of cartoons with mature themes including Beavis and Butt-Head, Æon Flux, and The Brothers Grunt. Although the channel has gone on to debut many other animated shows, few of MTV's other cartoon series have been renewed for additional seasons, regardless of their reception.
First comedy and drama programs
MTV has a long history of airing both comedy and drama programs with scripted or improvised premises. Examples from the early-mid 1990s include sketch-based comedies such as Just Say Julie, The Ben Stiller Show, The State, and The Jenny McCarthy Show.
In late 1997, MTV began shifting more progressively towards teen pop music, inspired by the international success of the Spice Girls, the Backstreet Boys, and NSYNC in Europe. Between 1998 and 1999, MTV's musical content composed heavily of videos of boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, girl groups such as the Spice Girls, and teen pop "princesses" such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore. Airplay of rock, electronica, and alternative acts was reduced.
Bling-era hip hop
Bling-era hip hop played in heavy rotation on MTV at this time, through the likes of Puff Daddy, Mase, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, DMX, Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Eminem, 50 Cent, Jadakiss, the Game, Kanye West, Foxy Brown, Ja Rule, Timbaland, and their associates. In contrast to the old gangsta rap era, this era of hip hop had a more polished sound and materialist subject matter. R&B was also heavily represented with acts such as Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Destiny's Child, 702, Monica, and Brandy.
Return of the Rock
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 core 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. Pop punk band Blink-182 received regular airtime on MTV at this time, 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 rap rock album Follow the Leader, MTV began playing their videos "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash".
A band promoted by Korn, Limp Bizkit, received airtime for their 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, Linkin Park, Sum 41, Jimmy Eat World, Mudvayne, Cold, At the Drive-In, Alien Ant Farm, and other acts were added to the musical rotation. MTV also launched subscription 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
In 1997, MTV introduced its new studios in Times Square. MTV created four shows in the late 1990s that centered on music videos: MTV Live, Total Request, Say What?, and 12 Angry Viewers. A year later, in 1998, MTV merged Total Request and MTV Live into a live daily top 10 countdown show, Total Request Live, which became known as TRL. The original host was Carson Daly. The show included a live studio audience and was filmed in a windowed studio that allowed crowds to look in. According to Nielsen, the average audience for the show was at its highest in 1999 and continued with strong numbers through 2001. The program played the top ten pop, rock, R&B, and hip hop music videos, and featured live interviews with artists and celebrities. In 2003, Carson Daly left MTV and TRL to focus on his late night talk show on NBC. The series came to an end with a special finale episode, Total Finale Live, which aired November 16, 2008, and featured hosts and guests that previously appeared on the show.
From 1998 to 2003, MTV also aired several other music video programs from its studios. These programs included Say What? Karaoke, a game show hosted by Dave Holmes. In the early 2000s MTV aired VJ for a Day, hosted by Ray Munns. MTV also aired Hot Zone, hosted by Ananda Lewis, which featured pop music videos during the midday time period. Other programs at the time included Sucker Free, BeatSuite, and blocks of music videos hosted by VJs simply called Music Television.
Milestones and specials
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 "MTV Icon" 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
From 1995 to 2000, MTV played 36.5% fewer music videos. MTV president Van Toeffler stated: "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 led to this reduction. During this time, MTV hired Nancy Bennett as Senior VP of creative and content development for MTV Networks Music.
As the decade progressed, MTV continued to play some music videos instead of relegating them exclusively to its sister channels, but nevertheless began to air the 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 MTV 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.
Further reality programs
MTV's next round of reality shows came in the late 1990s to early 2000s, as the channel shifted its focus to prank/comedic shows such as The Tom Green Show, Jackass, and Wildboyz, and game shows such as The Challenge (aka Real World/Road Rules Challenge), The Blame Game, webRIOT, and Say What? Karaoke. A year later, in 2000, MTV's Fear became the first scare-based/supernatural reality show and the first reality show in which contestants filmed themselves. MTV continued to experiment with late night talk shows in the early 2000s with relatively short-lived programs such as Kathy's So-Called Reality, starring Kathy Griffin; and The Tom Green Show.
Some of the reality shows on the network also followed the lives of musicians. The Osbournes, a reality show based on the everyday life of Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, his wife Sharon, and two of their children, Jack and Kelly, premiered on MTV in 2002. The show went on to become one of the network's biggest-ever successes and was also recognized for the Osbourne family members' heavy use of profanity, which MTV censored for broadcast. It also kick-started a musical career for Kelly Osbourne, while Sharon Osbourne went on to host her own self-titled talk show on US television. Production ended on The Osbournes in November 2004. In the fall of 2004, Ozzy Osbourne's reality show Battle for Ozzfest aired; the show hosted competitions between bands vying to play as part of Ozzfest, a yearly heavy metal music tour across the United States hosted by Osbourne.
In 2003, MTV added Punk'd, a project by Ashton Kutcher to play pranks on various celebrities, and in 2004 they added Pimp My Ride, a show about adding aesthetic and functional modifications to cars and other vehicles. Another show was Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, a reality series that followed the lives of pop singers Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, a music celebrity couple. It began in 2003 and ran for four seasons, ending in early 2005; the couple later divorced. The success of Newlyweds was followed in June 2004 by The Ashlee Simpson Show, which documented the beginnings of the music career of Ashlee Simpson, Jessica Simpson's younger sister.
In 2005 and 2006, MTV continued its focus on reality shows, with the debuts of shows such as 8th & Ocean, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, Next, The Hills, Two-A-Days, My Super Sweet 16, Parental Control, and Viva La Bam, featuring Bam Margera.
In 2007, MTV aired the reality show A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, chronicling MySpace sensation Tila Tequila's journey to find a companion. Her bisexuality played into the series – both male and female contestants were vying for love – and was the subject of criticism. It was the No. 2 show airing on MTV at that time, behind The Hills. A spin-off series from A Shot at Love, titled That's Amoré!, followed a similar pursuit from previous A Shot at Love contestant Domenico Nesci.
MTV also welcomed Paris Hilton to its lineup in October 2008, with the launch of her new reality series, Paris Hilton's My New BFF. In 2009, MTV aired Snoop Dogg's second program with the channel, Dogg After Dark, and the show College Life, based at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Further animated programs
Further comedy and drama programs
MTV continued to air both comedy and drama programs with scripted or improvised premises at this time. Examples from the late 1990s and early-mid 2000s include sketch-based comedies such as The Lyricist Lounge Show and Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, as well as soap operas such as Undressed and Spyder Games.
FNMTV and AMTV
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 MTV 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.
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 featured many full-length music videos, including some older videos that had been out of regular rotation for many years on MTV. It also featured music news updates, interviews, and performances. For many years, Music Feed was the only program on MTV's main channel that was dedicated to music videos.
During the rest of the day, MTV used to play 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 positioned its website, MTV.com, as its primary destination for music videos, but this strategy was abandoned.
Recent reality programs
In late 2009, MTV shifted its focus back to Real World-style reality programming with the premiere of Jersey Shore, a program that brought high ratings to the channel and also caused controversy due to some of its content.
With backlash towards what some consider too much superficial content on the network, a 2009 New York Times article also stated the intention of MTV to shift its focus towards more socially conscious media, which the article labels "MTV for the Obama era." Shows in that vein included T.I.'s Road to Redemption and Fonzworth Bentley's finishing school show From G's to Gents.
The channel also aired a new show around this time titled 16 and Pregnant, which documented the lives of teenagers expecting babies. This had a follow-up show after the first season titled Teen Mom, which follows some of the teens through the first stages with their newborns.
MTV found further success with The Buried Life, a program about four friends traveling across the country to check off a list of "100 things to do before I die" and helping others along the way. Another recent reality program is MTV's Hired, which follows the employment interviewing process; candidates meet with career coach Ryan Kahn from Dream Careers and at the end of each episode one candidate lands the job of their dreams. In 2012, Punk'd returned with a revolving door of new hosts per episode. Meanwhile, spin-offs from Jersey Shore such as The Pauly D Project and Snooki & Jwoww were produced. MTV announced plans to re-enter the late-night comedy space in 2012, with Nikki & Sara Live, an unscripted series by comedians Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer. The program initially aired weekly from MTV's studios in Times Square.
Recent music programs
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 were 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 with little promotion throughout its run, a weekly program airing on Saturdays and hosted by Lenay Dunn, that counted 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 featured segments in which its main characters watch and satirize music videos, as well as the newer addition of reality TV shows such as Jersey Shore.
In 2012, MTV debuted Clubland, which previously existed as an hour of EDM videos during the AMTV video block. The show had no host, but most editorial content was 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
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.
In April 2016, then-appointed MTV president Sean Atkins announced plans to restore music programming to the channel. On April 21, 2016, MTV announced that new Unplugged episodes will begin airing, as well as a new 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. In July 2017, it was announced that TRL would be returning to the network on October 2, 2017. As of 2019, the show currently airs on Saturday mornings as TRL Top 10. Beginning in the mid-2010s and continuing after, MTV shifted to heavy marathons of two to three shows, including Ridiculousness for most hours of programming.
Recent animated programs
In September 2009, the channel aired Popzilla, which showcased and imitated celebrities in an animated form. MTV again reintroduced animated programming to its lineup with the return of Beavis and Butt-Head in 2011 after 14 years off the air, alongside brand new animated program Good Vibes. In January 2016, MTV returned to animation with Greatest Party Story Ever.
Recent comedy and drama programs
The channel expanded its programming focus in late 2000s and early 2010s to include more scripted programs. The resurgence of scripted programming on MTV saw the introduction of comedy shows such as Awkward. and The Hard Times of RJ Berger, and dramas such as Skins and Teen Wolf. In June 2012, MTV confirmed that it would develop a series based on the Scream franchise. The series is now in its third season. On June 24, 2019, it was announced that Scream would be moving to VH1 ahead of the premiere of the third season.
As MTV expanded, music videos and VJ-guided programming were no longer the centerpiece of its programming. The channel's programming has covered a wide variety of genres and formats aimed at adolescents and young adults. In addition to its original programming, MTV has also aired original and syndicated programs from ViacomCBS-owned siblings and third-party networks.
MTV is also a producer of films aimed at young adults through its production label, MTV Films, and has aired both its own theatrically-released films and original made-for-television movies from MTV Studios in addition to acquired films.
In 2010, a study by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that of 207.5 hours of prime time programming on MTV, 42% included content reflecting the lives of gay, bisexual and transgender people. This was the highest in the industry and the highest percentage ever.
In 2018, MTV launched a new production unit under the "MTV Studios" name focused on producing new versions of MTV's library shows.
Logo and branding
MTV's now-iconic logo was designed in 1981 by Manhattan Design (a collective formed by Frank Olinsky, Pat Gorman and Patty Rogoff) under the guidance of original creative director Fred Seibert. The block letter "M" was sketched by Rogoff, with the scribbled word "TV" spraypainted by Olinksky. The primary variant of MTV's logo at the time had the "M" in yellow and the "TV" in red. But unlike most television networks' logos at the time, the logo was constantly branded with different colors, patterns and images on a variety of station IDs. Examples include 1988's ID "Adam And Eve", where the "M" is an apple and the snake is the "TV". And for 1984's ID "Art History", the logo is shown in different art styles. The only constant aspects of MTV's logo at the time were its general shape and proportions, with everything else being dynamic.
MTV launched on August 1, 1981, with an extended network ID featuring the first landing on the moon (with still images acquired directly from NASA), which was a concept of Seibert's executed by Buzz Potamkin and Perpetual Motion Pictures. The ID then cut to the American flag planted on the moon's surface changed to show the MTV logo on it, which rapidly changed into different colors and patterns several times per second as the network's original guitar-driven jingle was played for the first time. After MTV's launch, the "moon landing" ID was edited to show only its ending, and was shown at the top of every hour until early 1986, when the ID was scrapped in light of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The ID ran "more than 75,000 times each year (48 times each day), at the top and bottom of every hour every day" according to Seibert.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, MTV updated its on-air appearance at the beginning of every year and each summer, creating a consistent brand across all of its music-related shows. This style of channel-wide branding came to an end as MTV drastically reduced its number of music-related shows in the early to mid 2000s. Around this time, MTV introduced a static and single color digital on-screen graphic to be shown during all of its programming.
Starting with the premiere of the short-lived program FNMTV in 2008, MTV started using a revised and chopped down version of its original logo during most of its on-air programming. It became MTV's official logo on February 8, 2010, and officially debuted on its website. The channel's full name "Music Television" was officially dropped, with the revised logo largely the same as the original logo, but without the initialism, the bottom of the "M" being cropped and the "V" in "TV" no longer branching off. This change was most likely made to reflect MTV's more prominent focus on reality and comedy programming and less on music-related programming. However, much like the original logo, the new logo was designed to be filled in with a seemingly unlimited variety of images. It is used worldwide, but not everywhere existentially. The new logo was first used on MTV Films logo with the 2010 film Jackass 3D. MTV's rebranding was overseen by Popkern.
On June 25, 2015, MTV International rebranded its on-air look with a new vaporwave and seapunk-inspired graphics package. It included a series of new station IDs featuring 3D renderings of objects and people, much akin to vaporwave and seapunk "aesthetics". Many have derided MTV's choice of rebranding, insisting that the artistic style was centered on denouncing corporate capitalism (many aesthetic pieces heavily incorporate corporate logos of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, which coincidentally include MTV's original logo) rather than being embraced by major corporations like MTV. Many have also suggested that MTV made an attempt to be relevant in the modern entertainment world with the rebrand. In addition to this, the rebrand was made on exactly the same day that the social media site Tumblr introduced Tumblr TV, an animated GIF viewer which featured branding inspired by MTV's original 1980s on-air look. Tumblr has been cited as a prominent location of aesthetic art, and thus many have suggested MTV and Tumblr "switched identities". The rebrand also incorporated a modified version of MTV's classic "I Want My MTV!" slogan, changed to read "I Am My MTV". Vice has suggested that the slogan change represents "the current generation's movement towards self-examination, identity politics and apparent narcissism." MTV also introduced MTV Bump, a website that allows Instagram and Vine users to submit videos to be aired during commercial breaks, as well as MTV Canvas, an online program where users submit custom IDs to also be aired during commercial breaks.
On February 5, 2021, MTV began to use a revised logo in tandem with the 2010 version, doing away with the 3D effect inherited from its predecessors (much akin to the current MTV Video Music Awards variant). This logo is currently being used on most on-air promos for its current programming, as well as the Paramount+ streaming service and the Entertainment Group and Entertainment Studios divisions, and it replaced the 2010 logo on August 1, 2021. Additionally, there is no black letter "M", and it is colored white instead of black, and there is no white "TV" lettering, and sometimes it appeared red, blue, pink, yellow, purple, turquoise or orange instead of white. The M's shape was also more asymmetrical, and the "TV" lettering was usually larger.
"I Want My MTV!"
The channel's iconic "I want my MTV!" advertising campaign was launched in 1982. It was first developed by George Lois and was based on a cereal commercial from the 1950s with the slogan "I Want My Maypo!" that Lois adapted unsuccessfully from the original created by animator John Hubley.
Lois's first pitch to the network was roundly rejected when Lois insisted that rock stars like Mick Jagger should be crying when they said the tag line, not unlike his failed 'Maypo' revamp. His associate, and Seibert mentor Dale Pon took over the campaign, strategically and creatively, and was able to get the campaign greenlit when he laughed the tears out of the spots. From then on –with the exception of the closely logos on the first round of commercials– Pon was the primary creative force.
The campaign featured popular artists and celebrities, including Pete Townshend, Pat Benatar, Adam Ant, David Bowie, the Police, Kiss, Culture Club, Billy Idol, Hall & Oates, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Lionel Richie, Ric Ocasek, John Mellencamp, Peter Wolf, Joe Elliot, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, and Mick Jagger, interacting with the MTV logo on-air and encouraging viewers to call their pay television providers and request that MTV be added to their local channel lineups. Eventually, the slogan became so ubiquitous that it made an appearance as a lyric sung by Sting on the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing", whose music video aired in regular rotation on MTV when it was first released in 1985.
Influence and controversies
The channel has been a target of criticism by different groups about programming choices, social issues, political correctness, sensitivity, censorship, and a perceived negative social influence on young people. Portions of the content of MTV's programs and productions have come under controversy in the general news media and among social groups that have taken offense. Some within the music industry criticized what they saw as MTV's homogenization of rock 'n' roll, including the punk band the Dead Kennedys, whose song "M.T.V. – Get Off the Air" was released on their 1985 album Frankenchrist, just as MTV's influence over the music industry was being solidified. MTV was also the major influence on the growth of music videos during the 1980s.
HBO also had a 30-minute program of music videos called Video Jukebox, that first aired around the time of MTV's launch and lasted until late 1986. Also around this time, HBO, as well as other premium channels such as Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel, occasionally played one or a few music videos between movies.
SuperStation WTBS launched Night Tracks on June 3, 1983, with up to 14 hours of music video airplay each late night weekend by 1985. Its most noticeable difference was that black artists that MTV initially ignored received airplay. The program ran until the end of May 1992.
A few markets also launched music-only channels including Las Vegas' KVMY (channel 21), which debuted in the summer of 1984 as KRLR-TV and branded as "Vusic 21". The first video played on that channel was "Video Killed the Radio Star", following in the footsteps of MTV.
Shortly after TBS began Night Tracks, NBC launched a music video program called Friday Night Videos, which was considered network television's answer to MTV. Later renamed simply Friday Night, the program ran from 1983 to 2002. ABC's contribution to the music video program genre in 1984, ABC Rocks, was far less successful, lasting only a year.
TBS founder Ted Turner started the Cable Music Channel in 1984, designed to play a broader mix of music videos than MTV's rock format allowed. But after one month as a money-losing venture, Turner sold it to MTV, who redeveloped the channel into VH1.
Shortly after its launch, the Disney Channel aired a program called DTV, a play on the MTV acronym. The program used music cuts, both from past and upcoming artists. Instead of music videos, the program used clips of various vintage Disney cartoons and animated films to go with the songs. The program aired in multiple formats, sometimes between shows, sometimes as its own program, and other times as one-off specials. The specials tended to air both on the Disney Channel and NBC. The program aired at several times between 1984 and 1999. In 2009, Disney Channel revived the DTV concept with a new series of short-form segments called Re-Micks.
MTV has edited a number of music videos to remove references to drugs, sex, violence, weapons, racism, homophobia, and/or advertising. Many music videos aired on the channel were either censored, moved to late-night rotation, or banned entirely from the channel.
In the 1980s, parent media watchdog groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) criticized MTV over certain music videos that were claimed to have explicit imagery of satanism. As a result, MTV developed a strict policy on refusal to air videos that may depict Satanism or anti-religious themes. This policy led MTV to ban music videos such as "Jesus Christ Pose" by Soundgarden in 1991 and "Megalomaniac" by Incubus in 2004; however, the controversial band Marilyn Manson was among the most popular rock bands on MTV during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
On September 28, 2016, on an AfterBuzz TV live stream, Scout Durwood said that MTV had a "no appropriation policy" that forbid her from wearing her hair in cornrows in an episode of Mary + Jane. She said, "I wanted to cornrow my hair, and they were like, 'That's racist.'"
Magyar Televízió, Hungary's public broadcaster who has a trademark on the initials MTV, registered with the Hungarian copyright office, sued the American MTV (Music Television) network for trademark infringement when the Hungarian version of the music channel was launched in 2007. The suit is still ongoing.
Andrew Dice Clay
During the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, comedian Andrew Dice Clay did his usual "adult nursery rhymes" routine (which he had done in his stand-up acts), after which the network executives imposed a lifetime ban. Billy Idol's music video for the song "Cradle of Love" originally had scenes from Clay's film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane when it was originally aired; scenes from the film were later excised. During the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, Clay was in attendance where he confirmed that the channel lifted the ban.
Beavis and Butt-head
In the wake of controversy that involved a child burning down his house after allegedly watching Beavis and Butt-head, MTV moved the show from its original 7 p.m. time slot to an 11 p.m. time slot. Also, Beavis' tendency to flick a lighter and yell "fire" was removed from new episodes, and controversial scenes were removed from existing episodes before their rebroadcast. Some extensive edits were noted by series creator Mike Judge after compiling his Collection DVDs, saying that "some of those episodes may not even exist actually in their original form."
Dude, This Sucks
A pilot for a show called Dude, This Sucks was canceled after teens attending a taping at the Snow Summit Ski Resort in January 2001 were sprayed with liquidized fecal matter by a group known as "The Shower Rangers". The teens later sued, with MTV later apologizing and ordering the segment's removal.
Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show
After Viacom's purchase of CBS, MTV was selected to produce the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show in 2001, airing on CBS and featuring Britney Spears, NSYNC, and Aerosmith. Due to its success, MTV was invited back to produce another halftime show in 2004; this sparked a nationwide debate and controversy that drastically changed Super Bowl halftime shows, MTV's programming, and radio censorship.
When CBS aired Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, MTV was again chosen to produce the halftime show, with performances by such artists as Nelly, P. Diddy, Janet Jackson, and Justin Timberlake. The show became controversial, however, after Timberlake tore off part of Jackson's outfit while performing "Rock Your Body" with her, revealing her right breast. All involved parties apologized for the incident, and Timberlake referred to the incident as a "wardrobe malfunction".
Michael Powell, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, ordered an investigation the day after broadcast. In the weeks following the halftime show, MTV censored much of its programming. Several music videos, including "This Love" and "I Miss You", were edited for sexual content. In September 2004, the FCC ruled that the halftime show was indecent and fined CBS $550,000. The FCC upheld it in 2006, but federal judges reversed the fine in 2008.
Timberlake and Jackson's controversial event gave way to a "wave of self-censorship on American television unrivaled since the McCarthy era". After the sudden event, names surfaced such as nipplegate, Janet moment, and boobgate, and this spread politically, furthering the discussion into the 2004 presidential election surrounding "moral values" and "media decency".
The Christian right organization American Family Association has also criticized MTV from perceptions of negative moral influence, describing MTV as promoting a "pro-sex, anti-family, pro-choice, drug culture".
In 2005, the Parents Television Council (PTC) released a study titled "MTV Smut Peddlers", which sought to expose excessive sexual, profane, and violent content on the channel, based on MTV's spring break programming from 2004. Jeanette Kedas, an MTV network executive, called the PTC report "unfair and inaccurate" and "underestimating young people's intellect and level of sophistication", while L. Brent Bozell III, then-president of the PTC, stated: "the incessant sleaze on MTV presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice", referring to the practice of pay television companies to allow consumers to pay for channels à la carte.
In April 2008, PTC released The Rap on Rap, a study covering hip-hop and R&B music videos rotated on programs 106 & Park and Rap City, both shown on BET, and Sucker Free on MTV. PTC urged advertisers to withdraw sponsorship of those programs, whose videos PTC stated targeted children and teenagers containing adult content.
MTV received significant criticism from Italian American organizations for Jersey Shore, which premiered in 2009. The controversy was due in large part to the manner in which MTV marketed the show, as it liberally used the word "guido" to describe the cast members. The word "guido" is generally regarded as an ethnic slur when referring to Italians and Italian Americans. One promotion stated that the show was to follow, "eight of the hottest, tannest, craziest Guidos," while yet another advertisement stated, "Jersey Shore exposes one of the tri-state area's most misunderstood species ... the GUIDO. Yes, they really do exist! Our Guidos and Guidettes will move into the ultimate beach house rental and indulge in everything the Seaside Heights, New Jersey scene has to offer."
Prior to the series debut, Unico National formally requested that MTV cancel the show. In a formal letter, the company called the show a "direct, deliberate and disgraceful attack on Italian Americans." Unico National President Andre DiMino said, "MTV has festooned the 'bordello-like' house set with Italian flags and red, white and green maps of New Jersey while every other cutaway shot is of Italian signs and symbols. They are blatantly as well as subliminally bashing Italian Americans with every technique possible." Around this time, other Italian organizations joined the fight, including the NIAF and the Order Sons of Italy in America.
MTV responded by issuing a press release which stated in part, "The Italian American cast takes pride in their ethnicity. We understand that this show is not intended for every audience and depicts just one aspect of youth culture." Following the calls for the show's removal, several sponsors requested that their ads not be aired during the show. These sponsors included Dell, Domino's Pizza, and American Family Insurance. Despite the loss of certain advertisers, MTV did not cancel the show. Moreover, the show saw its audience increase from its premiere in 2009, and continued to place as MTV's top-rated programs during Jersey Shore's six-season run, ending in 2012.
Resolutions for White Guys
In December 2016, MTV online published a social justice-oriented New Year's resolution-themed video directed towards white men. The video caused widespread outrage online, including video responses from well-known online personas, and was deleted from MTV's YouTube channel. The video was then reuploaded to their channel, with MTV claiming the new video contained "updated graphical elements". The new video quickly received over 10,000 dislikes and fewer than 100 likes from only 20,000 views, and MTV deleted the video for a second time.
In addition to its regular programming, MTV has a long history of promoting social, political, and environmental activism in young people. The channel's vehicles for this activism have been Choose or Lose, encompassing political causes and encouraging viewers to vote in elections; Fight For Your Rights, encompassing anti-violence and anti-discrimination causes; think MTV; and MTV Act and Power of 12, the newest umbrellas for MTV's social activism.
Choose or Lose
In 1992, MTV started a pro-democracy campaign called Choose or Lose, to encourage over 20 million people to register to vote, and the channel hosted a town hall forum for then-candidate Bill Clinton.
In recent years, other politically diverse programs on MTV have included True Life, which documents people's lives and problems, and MTV News specials, which center on very current events in both the music industry and the world. One special show covered the 2004 US presidential election, airing programs focused on the issues and opinions of young people, including a program where viewers could ask questions of Senator John Kerry. MTV worked with P. Diddy's "Citizen Change" campaign, designed to encourage young people to vote.
Additionally, MTV aired a documentary covering a trip by the musical group Sum 41 to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, documenting the conflict there. The group ended up being caught in the midst of an attack outside of the hotel and were subsequently flown out of the country.
The channel also began showing presidential campaign commercials for the first time during the 2008 US presidential election. This has led to criticism, with Jonah Goldberg opining that "MTV serves as the Democrats' main youth outreach program."
Rock the Vote
MTV Act and Power of 12
In 2012, MTV launched MTV Act and Power of 12, its current social activism campaigns. MTV Act focuses on a wide array of social issues, while Power of 12 was a replacement for MTV's Choose or Lose and focused on the 2012 US presidential election.
In 2016, MTV continued its pro-democracy campaign with Elect This, an issue-oriented look at the 2016 election targeting Millennials. Original content under the "Elect This" umbrella includes "Infographica," short animations summarizing MTV News polls; "Robo-Roundtable," a digital series hosted by animatronic robots; "The Racket," a multi-weekly digital series; and "The Stakes," a weekly political podcast.
Since its launch in 1981, the brand "MTV" has expanded to include many additional properties beyond the original MTV channel, including a variety of sister channels in the US, dozens of affiliated channels around the world, and an Internet presence through MTV.com and related websites.
Sister channels in the US
MTV operates a group of channels under MTV Networks – a name that continues to be used for the individual units of the now ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks, a division of corporate parent ViacomCBS. In 1985, MTV saw the introduction of its first regular sister channel, VH1, which was originally an acronym for "Video Hits One" and was designed to play adult contemporary music videos. From now on, VH1 is aimed at celebrity and popular culture programming which include many reality shows. Another sister channel, CMT, targets the country music and southern culture market.
The advent of satellite television and digital cable brought MTV greater channel diversity, including its current sister channels MTV2 and Spanish-speaking MTV Tr3́s (now Tr3́s), which initially played music videos exclusively but now focus on other programming. MTV also formerly broadcast MTVU on campuses at various universities until 2018, when the MTV Networks on Campus division was sold, and the channel remained as a digital cable channel only. MTV used to also have MTV Hits and MTVX channels until these were converted into NickMusic and MTV Jams, respectively. MTV Jams was later rebranded as BET Jams in 2015.
In the 2000s, MTV launched MTV HD, a 1080i high definition simulcast feed of MTV. Until Viacom's main master control was upgraded in 2013, only the network's original series after 2010 (with some pre-2010 content) are broadcast in high definition, while music videos, despite being among the first television works to convert to high definition presentation in the early 2000s, were presented in 4:3 standard definition, forcing them into a windowboxing type of presentation; since that time all music videos are presented in HD, and are framed to their director's preference. Jersey Shore, despite being shot with widescreen HD cameras, was also presented with SD windowboxing (though the 2018 Family Vacation revival is in full HD). The vast majority of providers carry MTV HD.
MTV Networks also operates MTV Live, a high-definition channel that features original HD music programming and HD versions of music related programs from MTV, VH1 and CMT. The channel was launched in January 2006 as MHD (Music: High Definition). The channel was officially rebranded as MTV Live on February 1, 2016.
In 2005 and 2006, MTV launched a list of channels for Asian Americans. The first channel was MTV Desi, launched in July 2005, dedicated towards Indian Americans. Next was MTV Chi, in December 2005, which catered to Chinese Americans. The third was MTV K, launched in June 2006 and targeted toward Korean Americans. Each of these channels featured music videos and shows from MTV's international affiliates as well as original US programming, promos, and packaging. All three of these channels ceased broadcasting on April 30, 2007.
On August 1, 2016, the 35th anniversary of the original MTV's launch, VH1 Classic was rebranded as MTV Classic. The channel's programming focused on classic music videos and programming (including notable episodes of MTV Unplugged and VH1 Storytellers), but skews more towards the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The network aired encores of 2000s MTV series such as Beavis and Butt-Head and Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. The network's relaunch included a broadcast of MTV's first hour on the air, which was also simulcast on MTV and online via Facebook live streaming. MTV Classic only retained three original VH1 Classic programs, which were That Metal Show, Metal Evolution, and Behind the Music Remastered, although repeats of current and former VH1 programs such as Pop-Up Video and VH1 Storytellers remained on the schedule. However, the rebranded MTV Classic had few viewers, and declined quickly to become the least-watched English-language subscription network rated by Nielsen at the end of 2016. At the start of 2017, it was reorganized into an all-video network.
In the late 1980s, before the World Wide Web, MTV VJ Adam Curry began experimenting on the Internet. He registered the then-unclaimed domain name "MTV.com" in 1993 with the idea of being MTV's unofficial new voice on the Internet. Although this move was sanctioned by his supervisors at MTV Networks at the time, when Curry left to start his own web-portal design and hosting company, MTV subsequently sued him for the domain name, which led to an out-of-court settlement.
The service hosted at the domain name was originally branded "MTV Online" during MTV's first few years of control over it in the mid-1990s. It served as a counterpart to the America Online portal for MTV content, which existed at AOL keyword MTV until approximately the end of the 1990s. After this time, the website became known as simply "MTV.com" and served as the Internet hub for all MTV and MTV News content.
MTV.com experimented with entirely video-based layouts between 2005 and 2007. The experiment began in April 2005 as MTV Overdrive, a streaming video service that supplemented the regular MTV.com website. Shortly after the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, which were streamed on MTV.com and heavily used the MTV Overdrive features, MTV introduced a massive change for MTV.com, transforming the entire site into a Flash video-based entity. Much of users' feedback about the Flash-based site was negative, demonstrating a dissatisfaction with videos that played automatically, commercials that could not be skipped or stopped, and the slower speed of the entire website. The experiment ended in February 2006 as MTV.com reverted to a traditional HTML-based website design with embedded video clips, in the style of YouTube and some other video-based websites.
From 2006 to 2007, MTV operated an online channel, MTV International, targeted to the broad international market. The purpose of the online channel was to air commercial-free music videos once the television channels started concentrating on shows unrelated to music videos or music-related programming.
The channel responded to the rise of the Internet as the new central place to watch music videos in October 2008 by launching MTV Music (later called MTV Hive), a website that featured thousands of music videos from MTV and VH1's video libraries, dating back to the earliest videos from 1981.
A newly created division of the company, MTV New Media, announced in 2008 that it would produce its own original web series, in an attempt to create a bridge between old and new media. The programming is available to viewers via personal computers, cell phones, iPods, and other digital devices.
In the summer of 2012, MTV launched a music discovery website called the MTV Artists Platform (also known as Artists.MTV). MTV explained, "While technology has made it way easier for artists to produce and distribute their own music on their own terms, it hasn't made it any simpler to find a way to cut through all the Internet noise and speak directly to all of their potential fans. The summer launch of the platform is an attempt to help music junkies and musicians close the gap by providing a one-stop place where fans can listen to and buy music and purchase concert tickets and merchandise."
MTV.com remains the official website of MTV, and it expands on the channel's broadcasts by bringing additional content to its viewers. The site features an online version of MTV News, podcasts, a commercial streaming service, movie features, profiles and interviews with recording artists and from MTV's television programs.
MTV Networks has launched numerous native-language regional variants of MTV-branded channels in countries around the world.
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