Legends of the Fall: Going Not Particularly Far Behind the Music
In the early 1980s, the cable network MTV attracted attention because of its novel format of showing nothing but music videos. By the late 1990s, MTV was attracting attention because of its novel new policy of actually showing music videos in prime time. Clearly, in the two decades of its existence, significant changes have occurred in the concept of "music television."
The problem facing MTV and its sister network, VH1, has always been simple enough: Nonstop presentations of music videos attracted relatively low ratings, as likely viewers were regularly drawn away from videos to watch more appealing programs on other stations. The music networks, then, needed "event" programs that would attract viewers to watch at particular times. While videos themselves might be transformed into event programs--an hour devoted to the top ten videos of the week, or a compilation of videos by one major artist--other types of programming also had to be created to boost ratings.
The responses of MTV and VH1 to this challenge have been highly variegated. Filmed concerts--MTV Unplugged, VH1's Duets and Storytellers series--were obvious options. MTV developed unique "reality" shows that brought together some carefully selected "typical" teenagers, placed them in interesting environments, and filmed their actions, reactions, and interactions: the stationary The Real World and the peripatetic Road Rules. VH1, during one period, strangely emphasized comedy programs. Variations of almost every type of television program, with a music angle, have been tried with mixed success, including game shows ( VH1 My Generation and Rock'n 'Roll Jeopardy), talk shows (ranging from the serious sex talk of MTV Lovelines to the celebrity fluff of VH1 The RuPaul Show), awards shows ( MTV Video Awards, MTV Movie Awards, VH1 Fashion Awards), news programs ( MTV News), theatrical movies ( VH1 Rock'n 'Roll Picture Show), and animated programs ( MTV Liquid Television, Beavis and Butthead, and Daria).