NEW YORK (AP) — In the end, MTV decided to celebrate its 20th birthday by doing what it does best: throw a party.
Martha Quinn, J.J. Jackson, Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman will appear — and many current MTV viewers will wonder: Who?
Theyll stare blankly upon hearing the names of the five original VJs, and thats precisely why there was a big debate within MTV about whether to take note of the anniversary at all.
No television network is so relentlessly devoted to the pursuit of whats hip — excuse us, whats da bomb — in everything it does. And what can be more unfashionable than nostalgia? Might as well be strapped to the kitchen table and force-fed your parents stories about the good old days.
I was sort of first in line saying, what do we want to talk about this for? said Judy McGrath, president of the MTV Group.
She shuddered at the image of Beavis and Butt-Head, wholl also make a return appearance at the party, mocking the idea. McGrath was persuaded by the understanding that MTV viewers, with a median age of just under 21, are more receptive to the music of other generations than their parents were and that they enjoy behind-the-scenes looks at favorite institutions.
Even so, the celebration is fairly muted, with only the party and a 12-hour special showing some of the best music videos of 20 years. Method Man will perform at the bash, telecast live from New Yorks Hammerstein Ballroom Aug. 1 at 8 p.m., EDT (tape delayed for the West Coast), and so will SUM-41, Busta Rhymes, TLC and Janes Addiction.
MTV is where its at today — the immensely profitable first entertainment stop for millions of young people — because of two decisions that didnt seem obvious when the network blinked to life at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1981 with the video for the Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star.
One decision was not to grow old with its audience, and the other was not to be limited by the M in Music Televisions name.
The first non-music programming, fashion coverage, appeared in the mid-1980s. Now its assumed you wont see a music video on a network that once depended upon them unless its during insomniac hours or within the context of another show.
MTVs first celebrities were known for introducing music. Its latter-day figures, people like Tom Green or Johnny Knoxville of Jackass, are just as likely to have nothing to do with it.
Only the patients in a plastic surgeons waiting room have a greater need to look young than MTV. More than any other network, MTV essentially throws out its old audience for something new every few years, like a high school that fills up with an entirely new student body while only the teachers and principal remains.
Actually, its even quicker than that.
We turn over in a 21/2-year cycle, McGrath said, when we take the development and programming people and the sales staff and say, You have to start all over again. Lets take everything off. What are we going to feel like? Whats the attitude?
Everything goes under a microscope, even — figuratively speaking — each new crop of interns that arrives at MTVs Manhattan headquarters is new research material.
We look at them, McGrath said, and say, What are they doing? What are they listening to? What devices are they carrying around? Are they multi-pierced or not? Are they wearing all dark clothes? Are they introverted?
So Carson Daly is likely to find himself beached on the shoals of show biz with another former MTV sweetheart, Martha Quinn, sooner than he thinks. Quinn is now a radio host in California, pregnant with her second child.
Its been a phenomenal recipe for success. MTV has been the fastest-growing cable network of all time, and its still growing, said Jessica Reif Cohen, an analyst for Merrill Lynch.
Theyve kept it fresh, Cohen said. Theyve reformatted. It has great management. They dont have a competitor, so they completely dominate their niche. Every so often someone tries to come in and attack it, but they havent been successful.
Theres no sign of a slowdown, she said. That doesnt mean there arent challenges ahead, and MTV now feels on the verge of another turnover.
The network was early to embrace reality TV with Real World, now in its 10th season, and the next entry is Flipped, premiering Aug. 6. It will give people the chance to experience a different side of life — like when a suburban mom and her high school-age daughter swap roles for a day.
In music, the teen pop wave that MTV rode for the past few years is cresting. Whatevers next — be it the soul music revival or a new crop of hard rockers — may not be as dependent upon Total Request Live.
Ah, but those are worries for another day.
The 20th birthday is approaching. MTV is nearly of legal age. Time to party.
Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.