In fact, MTV permanently changed the face of television and also helped revolutionize the music industry, giving artists a visual platform and allowing audiences to connect with their favorite musicians 24/7.
The station had a huge impact on culture, introducing us to VJs, and providing a venue through which the public could get more entertainment, as well as the latest music news and events.
The station originally played music videos 24 hours a day. Eventually, new shows were introduced, but these focused closely on music. Later, MTV would divorce itself from its 80s TV music roots and expand its programming, primarily with reality shows that had nothing to do with music.
Video Killed the Radio Star
It happened at just one minute after midnight on August 1, 1981. The words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” were spoken by co-founder John Lack. Next, the MTV guitar theme played as viewers were treated to a montage of public domain footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
The Apollo video with the theme song became an MTV staple.
Unlike the Apollo 11 moon landing, the launch of MTV was only witnessed by a few thousand people through a single cable system located in New Jersey. Hey, that’s how 80s TV worked!
Immediately after the first-ever promotion for MTV itself, the station aired its first video. The aptly chosen “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles has since become a historic video, both for being the first video to play on MTV and for its eerily ironic and predictive lyrics:
In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.
Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR.
As it grew, MTV shook up the music industry. Artists could no longer get by with studio recordings and radio airplay. Establishing an image and a presence on MTV became essential to commercial success, and MTV even gained control over genre and artist popularity, helping some careers and genres (while being accused of hurting others) by putting them into heavier (or lighter) rotation.
Indeed, the radio star was dying.
“I Want My MTV”
After knocking the radio star out of its way, MTV embarked on over a decade of 80s TV domination before it slowly started moving away from music programming, a move that is now near completion (the station hardly ever plays music videos anymore).
Throughout the 80s, MTV grew to iconic status. Its core slogan “I want my MTV” could be heard uttered in homes and high schools across America as teens urged their parents to add the channel to cable packages. The slogan and MTV logo appeared on t-shirts, jackets, hats, buttons, and stickers, and even in one famous song (and music video) by Dire Straights, “Money for Nothing,” featuring Sting crooning the MTV slogan in the background.
80s TV for Teens and Music Lovers
MTV had a broad appeal, but mostly targeted teens and avid music lovers. Its original format was closely modeled after pop radio with young men and women, coined as VJs (for video jockeys) hosting and introducing videos.
The original MTV VJs were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, and Martha Quinn.
The VJs became celebrities in their own right, and MTV soon became a powerhouse in the music industry. First, the studios realized that the video medium had a positive impact on artists’ brand recognition and ultimately, could increase album sales. It didn’t take long before the record companies started investing in videos, creating clips that were designed and produced specifically for MTV.
Music videos have increasingly become accessible online. You can download them on iTunes or watch them on YouTube. It would, however, be wrong to assume that MTV shifted away from music programming because of the accessibility of videos online. In fact, one of the earliest shows to drive a wedge between music and music television was “The Real World,” which was first broadcast in 1992, long before the Internet had made its way into every home in America.
The station has received harsh criticism since it broke its promise to air music videos 24 hours a day. Based on reviews, it appears that artists and audiences alike are displeased with MTV’s modern programming, which has been criticized both for its lack of quality and its lack of music. Most people seem to prefer MTV in its 80s TV incarnation.
However, MTV did recently launch something that might be better than music television, and that is music internet. MTV Music allows website visitors to search and play videos at their leisure. And yes, it’s available 24 hours a day.
As for this 80s TV lover, I still want my old MTV back. I want MTV News at the top of every hour. I want better VMAs, live concerts, and up-close interviews with the hottest artists. Of the 80s.
“The music has magic.
You know you can catch it.
If you let the songs take control,
the sound starts to glisten,
the more that you listen,
and slowly it turns into gold.”
Solid Gold 80s TV
80s TV would have been nothing without the weekly top ten music countdown that was Solid Gold. Few other 80s TV shows captured the essence of the 80s the way Solid Gold did, featuring hit 80s music, hot Solid Gold dancers, performances from the biggest artists of the decade, and some of the most popular 80s music videos.
The show started out as a one-time special in 1980, with a countdown of the top 40 songs from 1979. It was such a huge hit that a regular, weekly show launched, featuring a countdown of the top ten hits of each week. Most songs were played in clips as the famous and totally sexy Solid Gold dancers performed awesome choreographed routines. Each week, special guests came to perform their hit songs and all the biggest 80s stars stood on the Solid Gold stage during the course of the show’s run.
There were also Solid Gold specials throughout the year, which gave credence to older pop hits but followed the show’s regular format. An annual special honored the show’s humble beginnings with a yearly top 40 countdown. Unfortunately, Solid Gold came a end in 1988, which was the show’s final season.
Solid Gold Dancers
There were plenty of other 80s TV shows that mimicked Solid Gold – other countdown shows and programs that featured popular artists performing their latest hits – but none could rival the show’s truly golden offering: the Solid Gold dancers.
Their routines were complex and their outfits were risqué. They were total 80s icons, with big hair, leotards, and sometimes leg warmers. They danced to the hits and to the artists’ performances. They even danced in the show’s opening and closing segments. Every little girl (including me) wanted to grow up to be a Solid Gold dancer, but none had the chance since the show went off the air before the decade was over (and before we were all grown up).
Ironically, the Solid Gold dancers gave their final performance together, not on Solid Gold, but in the 1988 motion picture, Scrooged, which was filmed before the show had officially been canceled.
Solid Gold Hosts and Solid Gold Theme Song
According to Wikipedia:
At the start of Solid Gold’s first season (1980), Michael Miller was chosen by Dionne Warwick to be the show’s Musical Director – a role he continued on with for the entire run of the series. Michael also composed the Solid Gold theme song, along with Academy Award-winning lyricist, Dean Pitchford, who wrote the theme’s words.
Dionne Warwick and Marty Cohen hosted most of the first season, setting the stage for a revolving door of Solid Gold hosts. During the 1982-1983 season, hosting duties were transferred to Marilyn McCoo (of the Fifth Dimension) and Andy Gibb. McCoo hosted the following season solo. Other hosts that appeared included Rick Dees, Arsenio Hall, and Nina Blackwood, who later went on to become an MTV veejay.
Lip Syncing on 80s TV Shows
Live performances were unheard of on Solid Gold. Other 80s TV shows may have offered a venue for performing a song live, but Solid Gold wanted audiences to hear the hits just as they sounded on the radio. So, artists lip synced their performances – all artists except one. Stevie Nicks refused to lip sync and instead did her two Solid Gold performances (Stand Back and Nightbird) live. She even brought in her own dancers.
NOTE: One commentator stopped by to say that he was the musical director for Solid Gold and wanted to clarify that about half of the performances were, in fact, live. Scroll down to view the comment.
Mad Love for 80s TV Shows
If we were counting down the top ten shows of the 80s – or the top 40 80s TV shows for that matter – Solid Gold would totally be number one. The music. The dancers. The hosts and the videos! The theme song and the special guests. We loved all of it back then and we totally still do. Long live 80s TV!
80s TV ushered in an entirely new era of home entertainment. Networks like HBO and Showtime brought movies and other special programming right into your living room. MTV was born and changed music and television. Sitcoms, dramas, animations, and variety shows clogged the airwaves. And we totally loved all of it.
The 80s TV Family
70s shows like The Brady Bunch broke the mold of how families were depicted on television. 80s TV shows carried on the tradition and an entire spectrum of shows that featured nontraditional families became regular fare.
The kids on Full House had one biological father plus two bonus dads. Diff’rent Strokes featured a widowed white dad with two adopted black sons. And the girls on The Facts of Life didn’t live with family at all – their sisters were fellow boarding school students and the role of mother was fulfilled by their housemother, Mrs. Garrett.
But the nuclear family was alive and well, as we could see whenever we tuned into 80s TV shows like Family Ties or The Cosby Show, both of which featured two parents, several kids, and everything but the white picket fence.
80s TV Drama
Dynasty and Falcon Crest were nighttime soap operas that kept viewers coming back week after week to find out who would sleep with who. Hospital dramas like St. Elsewhere gained success while cops and lawyer shows such as Law and Order and Hill Street Blues were instant smashes.
Detectives were special favorites. Remember Moonlighting? Miami Vice?
And the drama wasn’t for nighttime only. Soap operas were as popular in the 80s as they were in any other decade, with General Hospital leading the early 80s TV pack thanks to daytime television’s most famous wedding: Luke and Laura. Later in the decade, Days of Our Lives became television’s most popular daytime drama.
Variety Shows and MTV
It was more a weekly countdown of the top ten hits than an actual variety show. Solid Gold went from ten to one, showing off the week’s greatest hits and featured scantily clad dancers (with totally amazing moves) as well as performances from some of the decade’s biggest hitmakers.
But in 80s TV, it was MTV that took the cake for making the biggest splash, lasting the longest, and having the biggest impact on our culture. Twenty-four hours of music videos. The kids raved and the parents whined. Musicians rallied to the cry of “I want my MTV!” and a new type of star was born – the video star (because the radio star was dead).
Comedy and Animation
Married with Children enjoyed word-of-mouth success and the viewers followed the buzz and laughed at one of the quirkiest families television had ever seen. Roseanne also featured family laughs and depicted a less-than-perfect model family .
The Simpsons hit the little screen late in the decade, slipping onto the airwaves in 1989 and never has an animated show enjoyed so much success (or so many adult viewers).
Saturday Night Live enjoyed its first full decade of success, continuing from its launch in the 70s and dishing out skits and giggles right into the 90s.
80s TV in a Nutshell
There were so many great 80s TV shows and yep, there were some pretty bad ones too. Television totally exploded during the decade with new cable networks popping up, fresh stations with exciting formats, and a bunch of shows that saw the dreams of sixties and seventies liberation realized – television started showing a more realistic portrayal of real life. Gone were the Donna Reeds and Carol Bradys, replaced with working moms, single dads, and confused, misbehaving kids. We found out that the public enjoys getting a peek at what cops and doctors do, and we also learned that grownups still like cartoons. Music television might have stolen the decade, but 80s TV was good entertainment all around.