On August 1st, 1981 television and music was changed forever. MTV debuted with The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star. That’s probably one of the most well known answers to a trivia question if not the most overly asked. You might as well say, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Since the dawn of music television network, viewers and musicians made the declaration “I Want My MTV!” Soon, they got their wish and soon after, that wish was destroyed.
Not wanting to sit on their laurels and wait for someone to move the cheese, MTV branched out into more original programming by adding shows to their schedule. One of which was a game show for the collegiate crowd called Remote Control, which as I write this I am just finding out that the host, Ken Ober has died at age 52. Remote Control was a pop culture trivia game show with a quirky sense of humor that featured a few now familiar faces in their pre-celebrity-due-paying years. Adam Sandler showed off his goofy pre SNL characters like The Stud Boy. Colin Quinn, also pre SNL was the sidekick and announcer and Kari Wurher was the Vanna White in Ken’s Mom’s basement.
Also, who could forget Downtown Julie Brown, wubba wubba, wubba, as the host of Club MTV? The dance show was styled after American Bandstand set to the hottest music of the moment. Often, a pubescent male viewer would hope for just the right shot from the sky cam or floor cam to show a glint of forbidden skin on the female dancers or at least I did, at that age.
And long before Jeff Probst held tribal councils, roommates were kicking each other out of the house on one of the first successful reality shows, The Real World. Forget Richard Hatch and Jeri Manthey, who could forget Puck and Eric Nies?
But somewhere around the new millennium, MTV started to develop more and more reality and other crap shows and played less and less music videos and great shows like 120 Minutes and Headbanger's Ball. By the year 2000 there was up to eight hours of music videos being played on the network whereas by 2008, an average of three hours of music videos were being shown, yet each year they showcased the best of the best with the Video Music Awards. You have to wonder if, somewhere, Adam Curry is chomping on his gums, muttering "Damn Kids" while adjusting his long blonde 80's hair toupee to keep the liver spots covered on his forehead?
The reason I bring all of this up is that MTV was a niche network, much like its sister channel VH1. However, they stopped being what they originally were and became something else. The trend isn’t lost on other networks. For instance, The Weather Channel (guess what they show) has always been a niche network.
I remember the early days where you really couldn’t do much more than give the forecast and the current conditions. And to that end, how much can the weather really change in the course of an hour? But still, over time, TWC began to expand its horizons and offer other programming like Storm Stories and Weather Center. But regardless of what the evening block held for prime time, you could always count on Local on the 8's. Sometimes, intentions aside, TWC can be the butt of jokes, as a sort of NPR of television almost taking itself too seriously.
I used to make such jokes at the expense of my wife who loved watching The Weather Channel. I would ask how she could be so addicted to a channel that pretty much repeats itself every ten minutes? Then I began watching like a weather zombie. Must see extended forecast. Every eight minutes we would be tuned in waiting for the trippy music as if we were watching a Joy of Painting marathon with the soporific tones of light jazz playing in the background. Although, I did get a kick out of hearing "Classical Gas" accompanying the Doppler Radar. When we would go on vacation you could tell how our week was going to go based on the availability and ease of locating The Weather Channel on the hotel room television. Sometimes we’d spend more time watching the weather on television instead of enjoying it up close and personal.
It would get so bad that we would become such idiots as to say, “What’s up with Jim Cantore’s hair? Is he going bald or just thinking that it’s a good look, regardless?” or “Mish Michaels is pretty sexy but that outfit isn’t good for her.” My personal favorite was Paul Kocin. My wife would always know when Winter was in full force because the Extreme Weather correspondent, Paul, was showing up in the rotation or meteorologists.
But like MTV, The Weather Channel kind of jumped the shark and started playing movies with a weather themed plot. The first one was The Perfect Storm. Now, you could not be more appropriate than kicking off your new direction with this film that is based in meteorological reality. However, one has to wonder how they are going to keep finding good movies to show which will keep in line with the topic of weather. Already announced are Twister (tornadoes), understandable, and March of the Penguins (snow), um OK. Then it kind of breaks down into a ridiculous mess with Deep Blue Sea and Misery. Misery has little to do with Snow as say maybe Avalanche does and Deep Blue Sea is not so much about tropical storms as it is psychopathic killer sharks eating Samuel Jackson and sparing L.L. Cool J. While I can see perhaps lining up Hard Rain for floods and even The River would be a good choice, I just hope they don’t decide to choose The Day After Tomorrow for a sense of reality surrounding global climate change. Of course, they probably will, though. In that case you might as well get ready for The Core to be shown as well.
To this end, I can see other niche networks deciding to play more movies that are themed in their offering. Perhaps HGTV will show The Money Pit or Mouse Hunt. G4 could actually get back to showing video game related content and put the Fred Savage classic, The Wizard on or even the technology reality based Hackers, because everyone knows that the hardest thing to hack is a Gibson. How about The Food Network showing Simply Irresistible or at least Ratatouille? That would be good. In a couple of years they could show Julie and Julia, although I would refrain from getting the rights to Titus based on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, although one should really know what temperature you need to have your oven on in order to properly cook your enemies into a pie.
All kidding aside, I miss the good old days when television was a landscape of 57 channels and nothin’ on instead of today’s format of 900 channels and all the same thing is on. I yearn to escape the doldrums of regular broadcast television’s lame ass programming for a little bit of jazz and current conditions and possibly even a music video once in awhile, but alas, I find myself mired in Another Shot At Hepatitis C With Skanky Ho or Washed Up Music Artist or watching Batman and Robin because the character of Mr. Freeze represents the real possibility of global cooling. Where’s the remote? Let's see if the test pattern is still around.