MTV Classic: What It Is and What It Should Be

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August 1, 1981 may be one of the historical moments in television, music, and pop culture history — it was the day MTV was launched.

MTV has been part of the pop culture lexicon for 35 years — making and breaking stars in the music world, acting as the launch pad for the careers of numerous actors/comedians, revolutionizing and then becoming the standard bearer for reality television, and producing memorable, and sometimes iconic original programming.

On August 1, 2016, MTV took its VH1 Classic brand and morphed it into MTV Classic. From the onset the channel will be not unlike VH1 Classic — its focus mainly on airing classic videos. However, it will also be re-airing some of the hallmarks of MTV’s “musical” heyday like Unplugged, Beavis and Butthead, and TRL. MTV Classic (for now) has only retained three VH1 Classic original programs, Metal EvolutionBehind the Music Remastered and their version of 120 Minutes. However, repeats of current and former VH1 programs, such as Pop-Up Video and VH1 Storytellers will continue to air.

Some of the staff at Pop-Break decided to ponder of the fate and future of this channel, giving their thoughts on what they’d like to see on the channel.

In its later years, MTV has received harsh criticism, and deservedly so. The channel slowly spiraled away from its intentional purpose of connecting with youth counterculture, increasingly broadcasting scripted reality shows and less artist-driven music. Yet in many ways, the millennial generation owes much of its beloved modern programming to MTV. Between FX’s Animation Domination High-Def and Comedy Central’s TripTank, everybody is trying to mimic the success of Adult Swim’s experimentation in adult animation. However, there would be no Adult Swim had MTV not paved the way.

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I was too young to fully understand (let alone appreciate) the scope of Peter Chung’s Æon Flux and the animation block to which it belonged, Liquid Television. In the golden age of ‘90s children’s animation, the hypersexual, avant-garde insanity of the leather clad saboteur was lost on me. I was too fixated on Rocko’s Modern Life, CatDog, and ironically, Rugrats (the show Chung left to pursue Flux). The distended, elongated anatomy of Chung’s character designs and the ambiguous storytelling simply terrified and confused me.

Long after MTV’s heyday, long after the ‘90s had come and gone, I decided to revisit the cartoon in the form of a DVD box set. Instantly falling in love with what used to frighten me, I was shocked to discover just how sophisticated and complex the show was, let alone its stunning animation and artwork. Despite the brevity of each episode, the series never held back with themes challenging and proposing the constructs of gender fluidity, sexuality, morality, and free will. The characters of Trevor Goodchild and Æon have one of the all-time greatest written romances in television history. It should be considered blasphemy to mention the sloppy 2005 live-action film starring Charlize Theron.

With nostalgia, specifically ‘90s nostalgia being all the craze, from sitcom and cartoon reboots to the constant bombardment in our various feeds, Æon Flux is a true gem. Most of this obsession with reminiscing is through a rose colored glass. We’re constantly talking about the shows that made us feel good, very rarely the ones that challenged us. For what they’re worth, cartoons like Hey Arnold! were great, but perpetually generated a happy-go-lucky moral ending. Even as great as Adult Swim is, it has very few original series that actually tackle serious themes and character exploration. With the exception of Rick and Morty and Venture Bros., its programming is pretty random and nonsensical.

The launch of MTV’s classic channel seems to be mostly reruns, and it’s wishful thinking to believe Chung will ever return with original content. Yet the re-airing of Æon Flux still couldn’t have come at a better time, with adult animation on the rise. Hopefully it’s just what millennial cartoon lovers need to reconnect with our true past, warts, moral ambiguity, and all.  –Alisha Weinberger, Contributor

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A classic MTV channel isn’t just an exciting prospect for fans but it may be the perfect niche channel in an increasingly segmented entertainment ecosystem. If it’s executed properly, MTV Classic will be considered necessary on every streaming device or web browser tab throughout the day. All of the ‘80s kids who are now young adults can easily put MTV Classic on in the background and pay attention whenever they can catch a break during their busy lives. There’s nothing like a dirty, but mostly safe for work joke, involving buttholes to keep you going as the drudgery of daily life moves on.

Speaking of buttholes, let’s talk about Beavis & Butt-Head. The raunchy television show that rebellious high schoolers watched when their parents weren’t looking will now be available on a regular basis. I still think that Mike Judge’s first television show is one of the few examples of a holiday episode done properly. The writers’ ability to recreate parodies of Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life in such a ridiculous way has not been topped by anyone else. I hear random people shouting “I Am Cornholio” to this day, so the nostalgia factor is still there and we all know that nostalgia equals serious money for television network executives.

MTV Classic is coming and will most likely be here to stay for those young adults who are now slaving away in the corporate jobs that Beavis always considered to be beneath him. I’ve only got one question for those at MTV. Where are the music videos?  –Scott Clifford, Staff Writer

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MTV was not an intrinsic part of my youth as it was to most of those who are nearing their mid-to-late 30s. So, honestly the thought of a channel re-airing old videos, and old TV shows really has little-to-no appeal to me.

However, there is great opportunity to be had with MTV Classic, and the blueprint was laid out by VH1 Classic’s most popular program — That Metal Show.

That Metal Show celebrated the glory days of hard rock and heavy metal, while also focusing on what the legends (and future legends) of the genre were doing today, and what they were hopefully doing in the future. It was funny and irreverent, but still extremely reverent to the music. The line-up of guests was mind-blowing, and audience participation was always a must.

So, why not apply this formula to MTV Classic. Musical nostalgia is huge right now. So, why not develop programming dedicated to “the classic” eras of MTV?

Think about it…

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Yo! MTV Raps Revisited: How awesome would it be to bring this series back, or a series like it? Hip hop exploded on MTV, and Yo! MTV Raps was a huge platform for it.

The concept of a show that examines, explores, and celebrates hip hop’s past, while also looking at its present and future would be a phenomenal idea. Who would host? The list is endless. You can always look to bring back Ed Lover, one of the staples of Yo! MTV Raps, and a DJ on the amazing SiriusXM channel Backspin. He’s got an awesome persona, and it could be an easy transition back to the show for him. Hot 97 and ESPN Radio’s Peter Rosenberg would also make a fantastic contributor as he’s got a thorough knowledge of hip hop, and also has a knack for keeping it light. The amount of guests you can have on is endless — you can dip into any era of hip hop and have them on as guests. Why couldn’t Kendrick Lamar come on to talk about his influences? Would make perfect sense.

That Metal Show: Honestly, bring it back. It was the best and most popular show on VH1 Classic for a reason. It was funny, honest, insightful, and the amount of guests they had on was a virtual who’s who of hard rock and heavy metal legends. Bringing it back not only would bring a built-in audience, but it would also fill that void of Headbangers Ball which was a staple for MTV. Yes, they tried bringing that show back, but the results were not-so-good. Besides, Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine were an amazing team, so I think it’s time to get the band back together.

Throwback “Genre” Shows: The list of series, or one-off specials about specific genres could be fantastic. There could be shows on New Wave, Grunge/’90s Alternative, Techno/EDM, R&B, Boy Bands, Girl Bands, British music, Latin music, Emo, Punk — you name it!

So Many Documentaries: The amount of content MTV has could make for some outstanding music documentaries. Remember how amazing Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways was? That worked beautifully as a series, and MTV has the talent, resources, and source material to churn out some of the greatest music docs of all-time.  –Bill Bodkin, Editor-in-Chief

 

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.