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MTV logo
Launched August 1, 1981 (1981-08-01)
Owned by Viacom Media Networks (Viacom)
Picture format 1080i (HDTV)
480i (SDTV)
Country United States
Language English
Headquarters New York, NY
Formerly called MTV: Music Television (August 1, 1981–February 8, 2010)[1]
Timeshift service MTV East
MTV West
DirecTV 331 (SD & HD)
1331 (On Demand)
Dish Network 160 (SD)
1333 (HD)
Tata Sky (India) 655
Available on many U.S. cable providers Check local listings for channel numbers
Verizon FiOS 210 (SD)
710 (HD)
AT&T U-verse 1502 (HD)
502 (SD)

MTV (an initialism of Music Television) is an American basic cable and satellite television channel owned by the MTV Networks Music & Logo Group, a unit of the Viacom Media Networks division of Viacom. The channel itself is headquartered in Los Angeles, CA, and is a subsidiary of Viacom Inc. Launched on August 1, 1981,[2] the original purpose of the channel was to play music videos guided by television personalities known as "video jockeys," or VJs.[3] In its early years, MTV's main target demographic were young adults, but today, MTV's programming is primarily targeted at adolescents and teenagers.

MTV has spawned numerous sister channels in the U.S. and affiliated channels internationally, some of which have gone independent. MTV's influence on its audience, including issues related to censorship and social activism, has been a subject of debate for years.

As of August 2013, approximately 97,654,000 American households (85.51% of households with television) received MTV.[4]


  • Launch 1
    • Previous concepts (1964–1977) 1.1
    • Pre-history (1977–1981) 1.2
    • Music Television debuts 1.3
    • Following concepts (1981–1992) 1.4
  • Music videos 2
    • Original VJs and format (1980–1994) 2.1
    • Breaking the "color barrier" (1981-1983) 2.2
    • Video Music Awards (1984–present) 2.3
    • Special, annual events (1986–present) 2.4
    • Live concert broadcasts (1985–2005) 2.5
    • Formatted music series (1986–2008) 2.6
    • Rise of the directors (1990–1993) 2.7
    • Alternative is mainstream (1991–1997) 2.8
    • Electronica and pop (1997–1999) 2.9
    • Return of the Rock (1997–2004) 2.10
    • Total Request Live (1998–2008) 2.11
    • Milestones and specials (1999–2011) 2.12
    • Fewer music videos (2000–2008) 2.13
    • FNMTV and AMTV (2008–present) 2.14
    • Recent music programs (2009–present) 2.15
    • Post-TRL live shows (2009–present) 2.16
  • Other programs 3
    • First format evolution (1985–1991) 3.1
    • Reality programs (1992–present) 3.2
    • Animated programs (1991–2011) 3.3
    • Scripted programs (1989–present) 3.4
    • Rebroadcast programs 3.5
    • Impact and recognition (2010) 3.6
  • Image and branding 4
    • Original logos and IDs 4.1
    • 1990s and 2000s updates 4.2
    • 2010 rebranding 4.3
  • Influence and controversies 5
    • Censorship of videos 5.1
    • Andrew Dice Clay 5.2
    • Beavis and Butt-head "Fire" 5.3
    • Dude, This Sucks 5.4
    • Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show 5.5
    • Moral criticism 5.6
    • Jersey Shore 5.7
  • Social activism 6
    • Choose or Lose 6.1
    • Fight For Your Rights 6.2
    • think MTV 6.3
    • MTV Act and Power of 12 6.4
  • Beyond MTV 7
    • Sister channels in the U.S. 7.1
    • Internet 7.2
    • MTV around the world 7.3
  • See also 8
  • References 9
    • Bibliography 9.1
  • External links 10


Previous concepts (1964–1977)

Several concepts for music video television programming had been around since the early 1960s.

The Beatles had used music videos to promote their records starting in the mid-1960s. The creative use of music videos within their 1964 debut film A Hard Day's Night, particularly the performance of "Can't Buy Me Love", led MTV decades later to honor the film's director, Richard Lester, with an award for "basically inventing" the music video.[5]

In his book The Mason Williams FCC Rapport, author Mason Williams states that he pitched an idea to CBS for a television program that featured "video-radio," where disc jockeys would play avant-garde art pieces set to music on the air. CBS cancelled the idea, but Williams premiered his own musical composition, "Classical Gas", on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where he was head writer.

In 1970, Philadelphia-based disk jockey Bob Whitney created The Now Explosion, a television series filmed in Atlanta and broadcast in syndication to other local television stations throughout the United States. The series, which featured promotional clips from various popular artists, was canceled by its distributor in 1971.

Several music programs originating outside of the United States, including Australia's Countdown and the United Kingdom's Top of the Pops, which had initially aired music videos in lieu of performances from artists who were not available to perform live, began to feature them regularly by the mid-1970s.

In 1974, Gary Van Haas, Vice President of Televak Corporation introduced a concept to distribute a music video channel to record stores across the United States, and promoted the channel, Music Video TV, to distributors and retailers in a May 1974 issue of Billboard.[6][7] The channel, which featured video disc jockeys, signed a deal with US Cable in 1978 to expand its audience from retail to cable television. The service was no longer active by the time MTV launched in 1981.

Pre-history (1977–1981)

MTV's pre-history began in 1977, when Warner Cable (a division of Warner Communications from Warner Bros.), and an ancestor of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment (WASEC) launched the first two-way interactive cable television system, QUBE, in Columbus, Ohio. The QUBE system offered many specialized channels. One of these specialized channels was Sight On Sound, a music channel that featured concert footage and music-oriented television programs; with the interactive QUBE service, viewers could vote for their favorite songs and artists.

The original programming format of MTV was created by media executive Robert W. Pittman, who later became president and chief executive officer (CEO) of MTV Networks.[8] Pittman had test-driven the music format by producing and hosting a 15-minute show, Album Tracks, on New York City television station WNBC in the late 1970s.

Pittman's boss, WASEC Executive Vice President John Lack, had shepherded PopClips, a television series created by former Monkee-turned solo artist Michael Nesmith, whose attention had turned to the music video format by the late 1970s.[9] The inspiration for PopClips came from a similar program on New Zealand's TVNZ network, Radio with Pictures, which premiered in 1976. The concept itself had been in the works since 1966, when major record companies began supplying the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation with promotional music clips to play on the air at no charge (few artists made the long trip to New Zealand to appear live).

Music Television debuts

The first images shown on MTV were a montage of the Apollo 11 moon landing

On Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time, MTV launched with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," spoken by John Lack, and played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia, which took place earlier that year, and of the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, a crunching rock tune composed by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV's logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. MTV producers Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert used this public domain footage as a conceit.[10] Seibert said they had originally planned to use Neil Armstrong's "One small step" quote, but lawyers said Armstrong owns his name and likeness, and Armstrong had refused, so the quote was replaced with a beeping sound.[11]

The first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star". This was followed by the video for Pat Benatar's "You Better Run". Sporadically, the screen would go black when an employee at MTV inserted a tape into a VCR.[12] MTV's lower third graphics that appear near the beginning and end of music videos would eventually use the recognizable Kabel typeface for about 25 years, but these graphics differed on MTV's first day of broadcast; they were set in a different typeface and included record label information such as the year and label name.

As programming chief, Robert W. Pittman recruited and managed a team for the launch that included Tom Freston (who succeeded Pittman as CEO of MTV Networks), Fred Seibert, John Sykes, Carolyn Baker (original head of talent and acquisition),[13] Marshall Cohen (original head of research),[14] Gail Sparrow (of talent and acquisition), Sue Steinberg (executive producer),[15] 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),[16] Marcy Brahman, Ronald E. "Buzz" Brindle, and Robert Morton. Kenneth M. Miller is credited as being the first technical director to officially launch MTV from its New York City-based network operations facility.[16]

MTV's effect was immediate in areas where the new music video channel was carried. Within a couple of months, record stores in areas where MTV was available were selling music that local radio stations were not playing, such as Men at Work, Bow Wow Wow and the Human League.[17] MTV sparked the Second British Invasion, with British acts, who had been accustomed to using music videos for half a decade, featuring heavily on the channel.[18][19]

Following concepts (1981–1992)

HBO also had a 30-minute program of music videos, called Video Jukebox, that first aired around the time of MTV's launch and would last until late 1986. Also around this time, HBO, as well as other premium channels such as Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel, would occasionally play 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 received airplay that MTV initially ignored. 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.[20]

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.[21]

Shortly after its launch, The Disney Channel aired a program called D-TV, a play on the MTV acronym. The program used music cuts, both from current and past 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 various times between 1984 and 1999. In 2009, Disney Channel revived the D-TV concept with a new series of short-form segments called Re-Micks.

Music videos

The original purpose of MTV was to be "Music Television", playing music videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week, guided by on-air personalities known as VJs, or video jockeys. The original taglines of the channel were "You'll never look at music the same way again," and "On cable. In stereo." Although the original MTV channel no longer plays music videos 24/7, several of its spin-off channels do, including MTV Hits and MTV Jams. In addition, viewers can play music videos on-demand at MTV continues to support a broad selection of music videos on its international channels as well.

MTV's logo with the caption "Music Television", which was used in various forms from August 1, 1981 to February 8, 2010. It is still used in other countries.

Original VJs and format (1980–1994)

MTV's earliest format was modeled after AOR (album-oriented rock) radio; MTV would transition to mimic a full top 40 station in 1984. Fresh-faced young men and women were hired to host the channel's programming and to introduce music videos that were being played. The term VJ (video jockey) was coined, which was a play on the initialism DJ (disc jockey). Many VJs eventually became celebrities in their own right. The original five MTV VJs in 1980 were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and Martha Quinn.[22]

The VJs would record "intro" and "outro" segments to music videos, along with music news, interviews, concert dates and promotions. These segments would appear to air "live" and debut across the MTV program schedule 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though the segments themselves were pre-taped within a regular work week at MTV's studios.[23]

The early music videos that made up the bulk of MTV's programming in the 1980s were promotional videos (or "promos", a term that originated in the United Kingdom) that record companies had commissioned for international use or concert clips from any available sources.

Rock bands and performers of the 1980s who had airplay on MTV ranged from new wave to hard rock or heavy metal bands[24] such as Adam Ant, Blondie, Eurythmics,[25] Culture Club,[26] Mötley Crüe, Split Enz, Prince, Ultravox, Duran Duran,[27] Van Halen,[28] Bon Jovi, RATT,[29] Def Leppard,[30] The Police and The Cars. The channel also rotated the music videos of "Weird Al" Yankovic, who made a career out of parodying other artists' videos.[31] MTV also aired several specials by "Weird Al" in the 1980s and 1990s under the title Al TV.

MTV also played some Michael Stanley Band, Shoes, Blotto and Taxxi. The hard rock band Kiss publicly appeared without their trademark makeup for the first time on MTV in 1983.

During the early days of the channel, MTV would occasionally let other stars take over the channel within an hour as "guest VJs"; these guests included musicians such as Adam Ant, Billy Idol, Phil Collins, Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, Tina Turner; and comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, and Steven Wright; as they chose their favorite music videos.

The 1983 film Flashdance was the first film in which its promoters excerpted musical segments from it and supplied them to MTV as music videos, which the channel then aired in regular rotation.[32]

In addition to bringing lesser-known artists into view, MTV was instrumental in adding to the booming eighties dance wave. Videos' budgets increased, and artists began to add fully choreographed dance sections. Michael Jackson's music became synonymous with dance. In addition to learning the lyrics, fans also learned his choreography so they could dance along. Madonna capitalized on dance in her videos, using classically trained jazz and break-dancers. Along with extensive costuming and make-up, Duran Duran used tribal elements, pulled from Dunham technique, in "Wild Boys", and Kate Bush used a modern dance duet in "Running Up That Hill". MTV brought more than music into public view, it added to the ever-growing resurgence of dance in the early 1980s that has carried through to today.

In 1984 more record companies and artists began making video clips for their music, than in the past; realizing the popularity of MTV and the growing medium. In keeping with the influx of videos, MTV announced changes to its playlists in the November 3, 1984 issue of Billboard Magazine, that would take effect the following week. The playlist categories would be expanded to 7, from 3 (light, medium, heavy); including New, Light, Breakout, Medium, Active, Heavy and Power. This would ensure artists with hit records on the charts would be get the exposure they deserved, with Medium being a home for the established hits still on the climb up to the top 10; and Heavy being a home for the big hits - without the bells and whistle - just the exposure they commanded.[33]

Breaking the "color barrier" (1981-1983)

Michael Jackson, whose discography included music videos such as "Beat It", "Billie Jean", and "Thriller".

During MTV's first few years on the air, very few black artists were included in rotation on the channel. The select few who were in MTV's rotation were Prince, Eddy Grant, Donna Summer, Musical Youth, and Herbie Hancock. The very first non-white act played on MTV was the British band The Specials, which featured an integrated line-up of white and black musicians and vocalists. The Specials' video "Rat Race" was played as the 58th video on the station's first day of broadcasting.[34]

MTV rejected other black artists' videos, such as Rick James' "Super Freak", because they didn't fit the channel's carefully selected AOR format at the time. The exclusion enraged James; he publicly advocated the addition of more black artists' videos on the channel. Rock legend David Bowie also questioned MTV's 'lack of negro artists' during an on-air interview with VJ Mark Goodman in 1983.[35] MTV's original head of talent and acquisition, Carolyn B. Baker, who was black, had questioned why the definition of music had to be so narrow, as had a few others outside the network. "The party line at MTV was that we weren't playing black music because of the "research"," said Baker years later. "But the research was based on ignorance... we were young, we were cutting edge. We didn't have to be on the cutting edge of racism." Nevertheless, it was Baker who had personally rejected Rick James' video for Super Freak "because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV."[36]

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 (which were, nonetheless, the consequence of a long history of racism)."[37] 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."

Before 1983, Michael Jackson also struggled to receive airtime on MTV.[38] To resolve the struggle and finally "break the color barrier," the president of CBS Records at the time, Walter Yetnikoff, denounced MTV in a strong, profane statement, threatening to take away MTV's ability to play any of the record label's music videos.[38][39] However, Les Garland, then acquisitions head, said he decided to air Jackson's "Billie Jean" video without pressure from CBS.[35] This was contradicted by CBS head of Business Affairs David Benjamin in Vanity Fair.[11]

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."[40] But change was not immediate. "Billie Jean" was not added to MTV's "medium rotation" playlist (two to three airings per day) until after it had already reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A month later, it was bumped up into "heavy rotation," one week before the MTV debut of Jackson's "Beat It" video. Both videos were played several times a day for the next two months; by early summer, the channel had ceased playing either song. But the impact was permanent as by that point the videos by other black artists such as "Little Red Corvette" and "1999" by Prince and "She Works Hard For The Money" by Donna Summer were in heavy rotation on the channel . When Jackson's elaborate video for "Thriller" was released late in the year, which raised the ambition bar for what a video could be; the network's support for it was total, subsequently more pop and R & B videos were played on MTV. [41]

Eventually, videos from the emerging genre of rap and hip hop would also begin to enter rotation on MTV. A majority of the rap artists appearing on MTV in the mid-1980s, such as Run-DMC, The Fat Boys, Whodini, L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys, were from the East Coast.

Video director Don Letts has a different view of the timeline, saying, "People often say "Billie Jean" was the first black music video on MTV. "Pass the Dutchie" was first. Because they were little and spoke in funny British accents, Musical Youth were deemed as non-threatening, and therefore non-black."

Regardless of the timeline, many black artists had their videos played in "heavy" rotation the following year (1984). Along with Prince, Michael Jackson and Donna Summer, other black artists such as Billy Ocean, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Lionel Ritchie, Ray Parker Jr, Rockwell, The Pointer Sisters, Kool and the Gang, Diana Ross, Shannon, and Deniece Williams all had videos played in heavy rotation on MTV.

Video Music Awards (1984–present)

In 1984, the channel produced its first MTV Video Music Awards show, or VMAs. The first award show, in 1984, was punctuated by a live performance by Madonna of "Like A Virgin". The statuettes that are handed out at the Video Music Awards are of the MTV moonman, the channel's original image from its first broadcast in 1981. Presently, the Video Music Awards are MTV's most watched annual event.[42]

Special, annual events (1986–present)

MTV began its annual Spring Break coverage in 1986, setting up temporary operations in Daytona Beach, Florida, for a week in March, broadcasting live eight hours per day. "Spring break is a youth culture event," MTV's vice president Doug Herzog said at the time. "We wanted to be part of it for that reason. It makes good sense for us to come down and go live from the center of it, because obviously the people there are the kinds of people who watch MTV."[43] The channel's coverage featured numerous live performances from artists and bands on location. The annual tradition would continue into the 2000s, when it would become de-emphasized and handed off to mtvU, the spin-off channel of MTV targeted at college campuses.

The channel would later expand its beach-themed events to the summer, dedicating most of each summer season to broadcasting live from a beach house at various locations away from New York City, eventually leading to channel-wide branding throughout the summer in the 1990s and early 2000s such as Motel California, Summer Share, Isle of MTV, SoCal Summer, Summer in the Keys, and Shore Thing. MTV VJs would host blocks of music videos, interview artists and bands, and introduce live performances and other programs from the beach house location each summer.[44] In the 2000s, as the channel reduced its airtime for music videos and eliminated much of its in-house programming, its annual summer-long events came to an end.

MTV would also hold week-long music events that would take over the presentation of the channel. Examples from the 1990s and 2000s include All Access Week, a week in the summer dedicated to live concerts and festivals; Spankin' New Music Week, a week in the fall dedicated to brand new music videos; and week-long specials that culminated in a particular live event, such as Wanna be a VJ and the Video Music Awards.[45]

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.[46]

Live concert broadcasts (1985–2005)

Throughout its history, MTV has covered global benefit concert series live. For most of July 13, 1985, MTV showed the 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.[47]

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.[48] 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.[49] 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.[50] 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."[49] He also blamed the Pink Floyd interruption on a mandatory cable affiliate break.[50] MTV averaged 1.4 million viewers for its original July 2 broadcast of Live 8.[49] Consequently, MTV and VH1 aired five hours of uninterrupted Live 8 coverage on July 9, with each channel airing different blocks of artists.[51]

Formatted music series (1986–2008)

MTV introduced 120 Minutes in 1986, a show that would feature low-rotation, alternative rock and other "underground" videos for the next 14 years on MTV and three additional years on sister channel MTV2. The program then became known as Subterranean on MTV2. Eight years later, on July 31, 2011, 120 Minutes was resurrected with Matt Pinfield taking over hosting duties once again and airing monthly on MTV2.

Another late night music video show was added in 1987, Headbangers Ball which featured heavy metal music and news. Before its abrupt cancellation in 1995, it featured several hosts including Riki Rachtman and Adam Curry. A weekly block of music videos with the name Headbangers Ball aired from 2003 to 2011 on sister channel MTV2, before spending an additional two years as a web-only series on MTV2's website, until Headbangers Ball was discontinued once again in 2013.

In 1988, MTV debuted Yo! MTV Raps, a hip hop/rap formatted program. The program continued until August 1995. It was renamed to simply Yo! and aired as a one hour program from 1995 to 1999. The concept was reintroduced as Direct Effect in 2000, which became Sucker Free in 2006 and was cancelled in 2008, after briefly celebrating the 20th anniversary of Yo! MTV Raps throughout the months of April and May 2008. Despite its cancellation on MTV, a weekly countdown of hip hop videos known as Sucker Free still airs on MTV2 through the present day.

By the end of the 1980s, the channel had debuted Dial MTV, a daily top ten music video countdown show for which viewers could call the toll-free telephone number 1-800-DIAL-MTV to request a music video. Although Dial MTV ended in the 1990s, the phone number remained in use for video requests until 2006.

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.

Rise of the directors (1990–1993)

By the early 1990s, MTV was playing a combination of pop-friendly hard rock acts, chart-topping metal and hard rock acts such as Metallica, Nirvana and Guns N' Roses, pop singers such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, 2 Unlimited and New Kids on the Block, and R&B quartets such as New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe, Tony Toni Tone, and Boyz II Men, while introducing hit rappers Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. MTV progressively increased its airing of hip hop acts, such as LL Cool J, Naughty By Nature, Onyx and Sir-Mix-A-Lot, and by 1993, the channel added West Coast rappers previously associated with gangsta rap, with a less pop-friendly sound, such as Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, Warren G, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

To accompany the new sounds, a new form of music videos came about: more creative, funny, artistic, experimental, and technically accomplished than those in the 1980s. Several noted film directors got their start creating music videos. After pressure from the Music Video Production Association, MTV began listing the names of the videos' directors at the bottom of the credits by December 1992. As a result, MTV's viewers became familiar with the names of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, David Fincher, Mary Lambert, Samuel Bayer, Matt Mahurin, Mark Romanek, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Anton Corbijn, Mark Pellington, Tarsem, Hype Williams, Jake Scott, Jonathan Glazer, Marcus Nispel, F. Gary Gray, Jim Yukich, Russell Mulcahy, Steve Barron and Marty Callner, 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."[52]

Alternative is mainstream (1991–1997)

Nirvana led a sweeping transition into the rise of alternative rock music on MTV in 1991 with their video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit". By late 1991 going into 1992, MTV began frequently airing videos from their heavily promoted "Buzz Bin", such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos, PM Dawn, Arrested Development, Björk, and Gin Blossoms. MTV increased rotation of its weekly alternative music program 120 Minutes and added the daily Alternative Nation to play videos of these and other underground music acts. Subsequently, grunge and alternative rock had a rise in mainstream tastes, while 1980s-style hair bands and traditional rockers were phased out, with some exceptions such as Aerosmith and Tom Petty. Older acts such as R.E.M. and U2 remained relevant by making their music more experimental or unexpected.

In 1993, more hit alternative rock acts were on heavy rotation, such as Stone Temple Pilots, Soul Asylum, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Beck, Therapy?, Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins. Other hit acts such as Weezer, Collective Soul, Blind Melon, The Cranberries, Bush and Silverchair would follow in the next couple of years. Alternative bands that appeared on Beavis and Butt-head included White Zombie.

By the next few years, 1994 through 1997, MTV began promoting new power pop acts, most successfully Green Day and The Offspring, and ska-rock acts such as No Doubt, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Sublime. Pop singers were added to the rotation with success as long as they were considered "alternative," such as Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan.

Electronica and pop (1997–1999)

By 1997, MTV focused heavily on introducing electronica acts into the mainstream, adding them to its musical rotation including The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Aphex Twin, 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 did not meet with much success.

However, in late 1997, MTV began shifting more progressively towards pop music, inspired by the success of the Spice Girls and the rise of boy bands in Europe. Between 1998 and 1999, MTV's musical content consisted heavily of videos of boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync as well as teen pop "princesses" such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson. Airplay of rock, electronica, and alternative acts was reduced. Hip-hop music continued in heavy rotation, through the likes of Puff Daddy, Master P, DMX, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Eminem, Ja Rule, Nas and their associates. R&B was also heavily represented with acts such as Destiny's Child and Brandy.

Return of the Rock (1997–2004)

Beginning in late 1997, MTV progressively reduced its airing of rock music videos, leading to the slogan among skeptics, "Rock is dead."[53] The fact that at the time rock music fans were less materialistic and bought less music based on television suggestion were cited as reasons that MTV abandoned its once staple music. MTV instead devoted its musical airtime mostly to pop and hip hop/R&B music. All rock-centric shows were eliminated and the rock-related categories of the Video Music Awards were pared down to one.

From this time until 2004, MTV made some periodic efforts to reintroduce pop rock music videos to the channel. By 1998 through 1999, the punk-rock band Blink-182 received regular airtime on MTV due in large part to their "All the Small Things" video that made fun of the boy bands that MTV was airing at the time. Meanwhile, some rock bands that were not receiving MTV support, such as Korn and Creed, continued to sell albums. Then, upon the release of Korn's rock/rap hybrid album Follow the Leader, MTV began playing Korn's videos "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash".

A band sponsored by Korn, 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,[54] in which new rock acts received airtime, after which a compilation album was released. System of a Down, Staind, Godsmack, Green Day, Incubus, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Sevendust, Powerman 5000, Slipknot, Kittie, Static X, And CKY were among the featured bands. These bands received some airtime on MTV and more so on MTV2, though both channels gave emphasis to the rock/rap acts.

By 2000, Sum 41, Linkin Park, Jimmy Eat World, Mudvayne, Cold, At the Drive-In, Alien Ant Farm, and other acts were added to the musical rotation. MTV also launched digital cable channel MTVX to play rock music videos exclusively, an experiment that lasted until 2002.[55] A daily music video program on MTV that carried the name Return of the Rock ran through early 2001, replaced by a successor, All Things Rock, from 2002 until 2004.

Total Request Live (1998–2008)

Also by 1997, MTV was criticized heavily for not playing as many music videos as it had in the past. In response, MTV created four shows that centered around music videos: MTV Live, Total Request, Say What? and 12 Angry Viewers. Also at this time, MTV introduced its new studios in Times Square.

A year later, in 1998, MTV merged Total Request and MTV Live into a live daily top ten countdown show, Total Request Live, which would become known as TRL (the original host being Carson Daly) and secure its place as the channel's unofficial flagship program. In the fall of 1999, a live studio audience was added to the show. By spring 2000, the countdown reached its peak. The program enjoyed success playing the top ten pop, rock, R&B, and hip hop music videos, and featuring live interviews with artists and celebrities.

Korn's "Got the Life" is considered to be the first "retired" video from TRL.[56][57]

From 1998 to 2001, MTV also aired several other music video programs from its studios in Times Square and on location at various beach-themed locations each summer. These programs included Say What? Karaoke, a game show hosted by Dave Holmes that evolved from Say What?, MTV's earlier program that ran the lyrics of music videos across the screen. TRL Wannabes aired from 1999 to 2000 and featured a selection of music videos that just missed the TRL top ten. VJ for a Day, hosted by Raymond Munns, continued this concept in early 2001. VJ for a Day was an extension of an annual event, Wanna be a VJ, which aired each spring from 1998 to 2000 to select a new VJ to host programs on MTV.

MTV also aired Hot Zone, hosted by Ananda Lewis, which featured pop music videos during the midday time period and was a casual alternative to TRL; it later became MTV Hits. Other programs were Direct Effect, Return of the Rock, MTV Jams, BeatSuite, MTV Soul, and blocks of music videos hosted by VJs simply called Music Television in the spirit of the channel's original purpose.

During the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, MTV suspended all of its programming, along with its sister cable channel VH1, and it began simulcasting coverage from CBS News (the news division of CBS, which was acquired by MTV parent Viacom two years earlier) until about 11:00 p.m. ET that night. The channels then played a looped set of music videos without commercial interruption until an MTV News special edition of TRL aired on September 14, 2001.

In 2002, Carson Daly left MTV and TRL to pursue a late night talk show on NBC. After his departure, the relevance and impact of Total Request Live slowly diminished. TRL ultimately remained a part of MTV's regular program schedule for ten years. The series came to an end with a special finale episode, Total Finale Live, which aired November 16, 2008, and featured all the show's hosts from over the years, many special guests from the history of the show, and played its last music video, "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears.[58]

Milestones and specials (1999–2011)

Around 1999 through 2001, as MTV aired fewer music videos throughout the day, it regularly aired compilation specials from its then 20-year history to look back on its roots. An all-encompassing special, MTV Uncensored, premiered in 1999 and was later released as a book.[59][60]

MTV celebrated its 20th anniversary on August 1, 2001, beginning with a 12-hour retrospective called MTV20: Buggles to Bizkit, which featured over 100 classic videos played chronologically, hosted by various VJs in reproductions of MTV's old studios. The day of programming culminated in a three-hour celebratory live event called MTV20: Live and Almost Legal, which was hosted by Carson Daly and featured numerous guests from MTV's history, including the original VJs from 1981. Various other related MTV20 specials aired in the months surrounding the event.

Janet Jackson became the inaugural honoree of the "mtvICON" award, "an annual recognition of artists who have made significant contributions to music, music video and pop culture while tremendously impacting the MTV generation."[61] Subsequent recipients included Aerosmith, Metallica and The Cure.

Five years later, on August 1, 2006, MTV celebrated its 25th anniversary. On their website,, 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, 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."[62]

Fewer music videos (2000–2008)

From 1995 to 2000, MTV played 36.5% fewer music videos. MTV president Van Toeffler explained: "Clearly, the novelty of just showing music videos has worn off. It's required us to reinvent ourselves to a contemporary audience."[63] 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.[64] 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 the internet as a convenient outlet for the promotion and viewing of music videos signaled this reduction.[65]

As the decade progressed, MTV continued to play some music videos instead of relegating them exclusively to its sister channels, but around this time, the channel began to air music videos only in the early morning hours or in a condensed form on Total Request Live. As a result of these programming changes, Justin Timberlake implored MTV to "play more damn videos!" while giving an acceptance speech at the 2007 Video Music Awards.[66]

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 VH1 Classic, which had their title information recorded onto the same tape as the video itself.

FNMTV and AMTV (2008–present)

Prior to its finale in 2008, MTV's main source of music videos was Total Request Live, airing four times per week, featuring short clips of music videos along with VJs and guests. MTV was experimenting at the time with new ideas for music programs to replace the purpose of TRL but with a new format.[67]

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.[68]

The FNMTV Premieres event ended before the 2008 Video Music Awards in September. With the exception of a holiday themed episode in December 2008 and an unrelated Spring Break special in March 2009 with the same title, FNMTV Premieres never returned to the channel's regular program schedule, leaving MTV without any music video programs hosted by VJs for the first time in its history.

AMTV, the name of MTV's music video programming since 2009.

Music video programming returned to MTV in March 2009 as AMTV, an early morning block of music videos that originally aired from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. on most weekdays (see AMTV for current schedule).[69] Unlike the FNMTV block that preceded it, AMTV features many full-length music videos, including some older videos that have been out of regular rotation for many years on MTV. It also features music news updates, interviews, and performances.[69] AMTV is the only current program on MTV's main channel that is dedicated to music videos.

During the rest of the day, MTV also plays excerpts from music videos, usually the hook, in split screen format during the closing credits of most programs, along with the address of a website to encourage the viewer to watch the full video online. MTV has positioned its website,, as its primary destination for music videos.

Recent music programs (2009–present)

MTV again resurrected the long-running series MTV Unplugged in 2009 with performances from acts such as Adele and Paramore.[70] However, unlike past Unplugged specials, these new recordings usually only aired in their entirety on MTV's website, Nevertheless, short clips of the specials are shown on MTV during the AMTV block of music videos in the early morning hours. On June 12, 2011, MTV aired a traditional television premiere of a new installment of MTV Unplugged instead of a web debut. The featured artist was rapper Lil Wayne and the show debuted both on MTV and MTV2. The channel followed up with a similar television premiere of MTV Unplugged with Florence and the Machine on April 8, 2012.[71]

MTV launched 10 on Top in May 2010, a weekly program airing on Saturdays and hosted by Lenay Dunn, that counts down the top 10 most trending and talked about topics of the week (generally focused on entertainment). Dunn also appeared in segments between MTV's shows throughout the day as a recognizable personality and face of the channel in the absence of traditional VJs aside from its MTV News correspondents.[72]

The animated series Beavis and Butt-head returned to MTV in October 2011 with new episodes. As with the original version of the series that ran from 1993 to 1997, the modern-day Beavis and Butt-head features segments in which its main characters watch and criticize music videos.[73]

Sometime in 2012, MTV debuted Clubland, which previously existed as an hour of EDM videos during the AMTV video block. The show has no host, but most editorial content is pushed online by the show's Tumblr and other social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. The show, which leads off the channel's music video programming during the early morning hours on Tuesdays through Thursdays and also airs on MTV Hits, was hosted by DJ Hardwell on July 5, 2012, but 'Clubland remains hostless and as a source the best new and old EDM tracks.

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, grant insider access to major events and included artist interviews.[74] Hip Hip POV lasted several episodes before going on hiatus. The show was supposed to return in Fall 2012, but was moved to MTV2 instead, where it was rebranded and merged with Sucker Free Countdown. The new show debuted as The Week in Jams on October 28, 2012.

Post-TRL live shows (2009–present)

MTV launched a live talk show, It's On with Alexa Chung, on June 15, 2009. The host of the program, Alexa Chung, was described as a "younger, more Web 2.0" version of Jimmy Fallon.[75] 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."[76] 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.[77] The temporary shift in MTV's programming culminated the following week with the channel's live coverage of Jackson's memorial service.[78] 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.[79][80]

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 p.m. with a weekend wrap-up at 10 a.m. ET. Shortly after its debut, the show was slightly retooled as it dropped co-host Julia Alexander 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 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 p.m. 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 p.m., while the interview and chat with fans continues on 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.[81][82][83][84]

Other programs

MTV HD logo

As MTV expanded, music videos were no longer the centerpiece of its programming. Conventional television shows came to replace the VJ-guided music video programming. Today, MTV presents a wide variety of non-music-related television shows aimed primarily at the 12 to 18-year-old demographic.

First format evolution (1985–1991)

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.

Ken Ober, host of the early MTV game show Remote Control.

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. Programs like these did not feature music videos, but they were still largely based around the world of 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 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 would be 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. In the early 1990s, MTV debuted its first reality shows, The Real World and Road Rules.

Reality programs (1992–present)

Christina, a contestant on the pilot episode of MTV's Fear.

During the latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s, MTV placed a stronger focus on reality shows and related series, building on the success of The Real World and Road Rules. The first round of these shows came in the mid-1990s, 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.

The next round of these shows came in approximately the late 1990s, as MTV shifted its focus to prank/comedic shows such as The Tom Green Show and Jackass, and game shows such as Real World/Road Rules Challenge, The Blame Game, webRIOT and Say What? Karaoke. A year later, in 2000, MTV's Fear became one of the first scare-based reality shows 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 New 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 bleeped for broadcast.[85] It also kick-started a musical career for Kelly Osbourne,[86] while Sharon Osbourne went on to host her own self-titled talk show on U.S. television.[87] Production ended on The Osbournes in November 2004.[88] 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 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.[89] It was the #2 show airing on MTV at that time, behind The Hills.[90] 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.[91] 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.

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.[92]

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."[93] 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 University of Dreams and at the end of each episode one candidate lands the job of their dreams.[94][95]

In 2011, MTV premiered an amateur video clip show Ridiculousness, in the vein of Tosh.0 on Comedy Central. 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 stand-up comedians Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer. The program is slated to be aired weekly from MTV's studios in Times Square.[96]

Animated programs (1991–2011)

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 sister channel Nickelodeon (Nicktoons) in the early 1990s.

MTV has a history of cartoons with mature themes including Beavis and Butt-head, Æon Flux, The Brothers Grunt, Celebrity Deathmatch, Undergrads, Clone High and Daria. 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.

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.

Scripted programs (1989–present)

MTV has a long history of airing both comedy and drama programs with scripted or improvised premises. Examples from the 1990s and 2000s include sketch-based comedies such as Just Say Julie, The Ben Stiller Show, The State, The Jenny McCarthy Show, The Lyricist Lounge Show and Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, as well as soap operas such as Undressed and Spyder Games.

The channel expanded its programming focus in late 2000s and early 2010s to include more scripted programs.[97] 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.[98]

Rebroadcast programs

In recent years, MTV has re-aired other programs from other Viacom-owned networks, such as BET's College Hill and VH1 programs I Love New York and Flavor of Love.[99] Other programs from non-Viacom networks include reruns of the shows Fastlane (from Fox),[100] Life As We Know It (from ABC),[101] Scrubs (from ABC and NBC), and CW programs America's Next Top Model, Beauty and the Geek,[102] and Hidden Palms.

MTV also began showing movies targeted toward the young adult demographic, including 8 Mile,[103] My Boss's Daughter, Shaun of the Dead and Napoleon Dynamite (the latter of which the network had a hand in producing). The channel has also broadcast several of its own films from its production division MTV Films, such as Crossroads and Jackass: The Movie,[104] and airs original made-for-television movies from MTV Studios such as Super Sweet 16: The Movie.

Impact and recognition (2010)

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 transgendered people. This was the highest in the industry and the highest percentage ever.[105]

Image and branding

Original logos and IDs

An early MTV station ID by Henry Selick.

The MTV logo was designed in 1981 by Manhattan Design, a collective formed by Frank Olinsky,[106] Pat Gorman and Patty Rogoff, under the guidance of MTV's original creative director, Fred Seibert. The 'M' was sketched by Rogoff, with the 'TV' spray painted by Olinksky.[107]

Throughout MTV's early days, the channel's main logo was a large yellow "M" with red letters "TV," but unlike most networks' logos, the MTV logo constantly morphed and adapted with different colors, patterns and images filling in the large block letter. The very first moments of MTV featured an adaptation of the first landing on the moon, directly from NASA still images (a concept of Seibert's, executed by Buzz Potamkin and Perpetual Motion Pictures).[108] After the "moon landing," as well as the top of every hour until at least the mid-1980s (which ran "more than 15,000" times each year, according to Seibert),[108] featured a rapidly changing network ID logo that changed its appearance several times per second. The only constant aspects of MTV's logo at the time were its general shape and proportions; everything else was dynamic.[109]

The channel's "I want my MTV!" image and branding campaign was launched in 1982. The media strategy and creative executions were developed by George Lois, based on a cereal commercial from the 1950s, "I want my Maypo!" that George created.[110] Over the years the campaign featured known 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, encouraging viewers to call their cable or satellite providers and request that MTV be added to their local channel lineups.[109] Eventually, the slogan became so ubiquitous it became incorporated as a sung (by Sting) lyric in the Mark Knopfler penned Dire Straits' record "Money for Nothing."

1990s and 2000s updates

MTV's original 1981 logo features dynamic patterns and images; MTV's 2010 logo features dynamic photographs.

Once MTV's original morphing logo had run its course, the channel began to use a solid color white logo that was otherwise the same as the original. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, MTV updated its on-air appearance at the beginning of every year and again 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. At this time, MTV introduced a static, single-color digital on-screen graphic during all of its other programming.

2010 rebranding

Since the premiere of the short-lived FNMTV in 2008, MTV has used a revised, chopped version of its traditional logo during most of its on-air programming. This new logo was finalized and formally became MTV's official brand mark on February 8, 2010, when it debuted on MTV's website.[111] The channel's long-running official tagline "Music Television" was officially dropped at this time.[112] The revised logo is largely the same as MTV's original logo, but it excludes the "Music Television" caption, the bottom section of the "M" block letter, and the trailing letter "V" that branched off to the side of the original logo.[112] However, much like the ever-changing patterns that filled MTV's original 1981 logo, the new 2010 logo is designed to be filled in with an unlimited variety of pictures and images. It is used worldwide, but not in all countries. It was first adopted for MTV Films with the 2010 release Jackass 3D. MTV's rebranding was overseen by Popkern.[113]

Influence and controversies

The channel has been a target of criticism by various groups about programming choices, social issues, political correctness, sensitivity, censorship, and a perceived negative social influence on young people.[114] 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 the 1985 album Frankenchrist just as MTV's influence over the music industry was being solidified.[115] MTV was also the major influence on the growth of music video during the 80s.[116]

Censorship of videos

MTV has edited a number of music videos to remove references to drugs,[117] sex, violence, weapons, racism, homophobia or advertising.[118] Many music videos aired on the channel were 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 criticized MTV over certain music videos that were claimed to have explicit imagery of satanism. MTV developed a strict policy on refusal to air videos that may depict devil worship or anti-religious themes.[119] This policy led MTV to ban music videos such as "Jesus Christ Pose" by Soundgarden in 1991[120] and "Megalomaniac" by Incubus in 2004.[121]

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), where 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.[122]

Beavis and Butt-head "Fire"

In the wake of controversy that followed a child burning down his house after allegedly watching Beavis and Butt-head, producers moved the show from its original 7 p.m. time slot to a late night, 11 p.m. slot. Also, Beavis' insane tendency to flick a lighter and scream the word "fire" was removed from new episodes, and controversial scenes were removed from existing episodes before rebroadcast.[123] Some of the edits were so extensive that when series creator Mike Judge compiled his Collection DVDs, he found out that "some of those episodes may not even exist actually in their original form."[124]

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 liquid fecal matter by the group The Shower Rangers. The teens later sued.[125] MTV later apologized and said that the segment would not air.[126][127]

Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show

On the heels of parent company Viacom's purchase of CBS, MTV was selected to produce the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXV in 2001, airing on CBS and featuring Britney Spears, 'N Sync and Aerosmith.[128] Due to its success, MTV was invited back to produce another Super Bowl halftime show in 2004, which would spark a nationwide debate and lead to sweeping changes in Super Bowl halftime shows, MTV's own programming, and even music played on the radio.

When CBS aired Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, its sister network was again chosen to produce the halftime show, with performances by such artists as Nelly, Diddy, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The show became controversial after Timberlake tore off part of Jackson's outfit while performing his hit song "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."[129]

Michael Powell, then-chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, ordered an investigation of the show the day after its broadcast.[129] In the weeks following the controversial halftime show, MTV censored much of its programming. Several music videos, including "This Love" by Maroon 5 and "I Miss You" by Blink-182, were edited for sexual content.[121] In September 2004, the FCC ruled that the halftime show was indecent and fined CBS $550,000.[130] The FCC upheld its decision in 2006,[131] but federal judges reversed the fine in 2008.[132]

The Super Bowl itself would not feature another modern act for its halftime show until The Black Eyed Peas performed at Super Bowl XLV in 2011.

Moral criticism

The American Family Association has also criticized MTV from perceptions of negative moral influence,[133] even going as far as to describe MTV as promoting a "pro-sex, anti-family, pro-choice, drug culture."[134]

In 2005, the Parents Television Council released a study titled MTV Smut Peddlers, which sought to expose what PTC believed was excessive sexual, profane, and violent content on the channel, based on MTV's Spring Break programming from 2004.[135] 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 that "the incessant sleaze on MTV presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice," referring to the practice of cable and satellite companies to allow consumers to pay for channels à la carte.[136]

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.[137][138]

Jersey Shore

MTV received a significant amount of criticism from Jersey Shore, which premiered in 2009.[139] 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,"[140] 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."[141]

Prior to the series debut, NIAF and the Order Sons of Italy in America.[145][146][147]

MTV responded to the controversy 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."[139] Following the calls for the show's removal, several sponsors requested that their ads not be aired during the show. These sponsors include Dell, Domino's Pizza and American Family Insurance.[148] 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.

Social activism

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

MTV Choose or Lose logo.

In 1992, MTV started a pro-democracy campaign called Choose or Lose, to encourage up to 20 million people to register to vote, and the channel hosted a town hall forum for then-candidate Bill Clinton.[149]

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 U.S. 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.[150] MTV worked with P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign, designed to encourage young people to vote.[151]

Additionally, MTV aired a documentary covering a trip by the musical group Sum 41 to the Democratic Republic of 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.[152]

The channel also began showing presidential campaign commercials for the first time during the 2008 U.S. presidential election.[153] This has led to criticism from the right, with Jonah Goldberg opining that "MTV serves as the Democrats' main youth outreach program."[154]

Fight For Your Rights

In the 1990s and early 2000s, MTV promoted annual campaigns known as Fight For Your Rights, with the slogan "Speak Out/Stand Up Against Violence," to bring forth awareness on America's crime, drugs and violence issues.

On April 6, 2001, MTV voluntarily ceased regular programming for 24 hours as part of the year's hate crimes awareness campaign. On that night, MTV aired a made-for-TV movie Anatomy of a Hate Crime, based on a true story of the 1998 murder of 21-year old Matthew Shepard, a gay college student. After the film and a discussion, MTV went dark and showed names of hate crime victims.

think MTV

MTV's next activism campaign was think MTV, which discussed current political issues such as same-sex marriage, U.S. elections, and war in other countries. The original slogan of the program was "Reflect. Decide. Do." As part of think MTV, the channel also aired a series of pro-conservation ads called Break The Addiction, as a way of encouraging their viewers to find ways to use less fossil fuels and energy.

think MTV addressed twelve major issue areas: discrimination, environment, politics, health and self, crime and violence, poverty and disease, human rights, war and peace, relationships and sex, faith, substance abuse, and education. Young people were encouraged to choose the issues that resonate most and take action to make a positive change. The subsequent motto was, "Your cause. Your effect." think MTV was also integrated into MTV's programming.

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,[155] while Power of 12 was a replacement for MTV's Choose or Lose and focused on the 2012 U.S. presidential election.[156]

Beyond MTV

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 U.S., dozens of affiliated channels around the world, and an Internet presence through and related websites.

Sister channels in the U.S.

MTV operates a group of channels under the name MTV Networks – a name that continues to be used for the individual units of the since renamed Viacom Media Networks, a division of its corporate parent, Viacom. In 1985, MTV saw the introduction of its first true sister channel, VH1, which was originally an acronym for "Video Hits One" and was designed to play adult contemporary music videos. Today, VH1 is aimed at celebrity and popular culture programming. 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 MTV Tr3́s (now Tr3́s), which initially played music videos exclusively but now focus on other programming. Music videos still occupy most of the schedule on two additional channels, MTV Hits and MTV Jams. MTV also broadcasts mtvU, a college-oriented channel on campus at various universities.

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 filmed for high definition presentation, 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 when available, depending on director's preference. Jersey Shore, despite being shot with widescreen HD cameras, is also presented with SD windowboxing. Pay television providers such as DirecTV, Dish Network, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T U-verse, and Verizon FiOS carry the HD channel.

MTV Networks also operates Palladia, a high-definition channel that features original HD programming and HD versions of programs from MTV, VH1 and CMT. The channel was launched in January 2006 as MHD (Music: High Definition). The channel was officially rebranded as Palladia on September 1, 2008 to coincide with the shift to more exclusive HD programming.[157]

In 2005 and 2006, MTV launched a series of channels for Asian Americans. The first channel was MTV Desi, launched in July 2005, dedicated toward South-Asian 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 U.S. programming, promos, and packaging. All three of these channels ceased broadcasting on April 30, 2007.

Internet in 2008.

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 "" 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.[158]

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 "" and served as the internet home base for all MTV and MTV News content. 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 website.[159] Shortly after the 2006 Video Music Awards, which were streamed on and heavily utilized the MTV Overdrive features, MTV introduced a massive change for, transforming the entire site into a Flash video-based entity.[160] 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 reverted to a traditional HTML-based website design with embedded video clips, in the style of YouTube and some other video-based websites.[161]

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, a website that features 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.[162] The programming is available to viewers via personal computers, cell phones, iPods, and other digital devices.[163]

In the summer of 2012, MTV launched a music discovery web site called Artists.MTV. MTV says, "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 Artists.MTV 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."[164]

Today, remains the official website of MTV, and it expands on the channel's broadcasts by bringing additional content to its viewers. The site's features include an online version of MTV News, podcasts, a video streaming service supported by commercials, movie features, profiles and interviews with recording artists and from MTV's television programs.

MTV around the world

MTV Networks has launched numerous native-language regional variants of MTV-branded channels to countries around the world. For a complete list of these international MTV channels in Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas, see List of MTV channels.

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  • MTV (2001). MTV Uncensored. MTV. ISBN 0-7434268-2-7.
  • Prato, Greg (2011). MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video. Createspace. ISBN 0-5780719-7-5.
  • Tannenbaum, Rob/Marks, Craig (2012). I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. Plume. ISBN 0-4522985-6-3.

External links

  • Official website (Mobile)
  • Directory of MTV sites
  • MTV on Google+
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