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MTV: More Than Just Music Videos

Lee Masters can’t predict what MTV will look like in 2001. “It’s hard to say what we’re even going to look like in 1990,” the video channel’s general manager says. “But things are definitely going to be very different. TV is a slick medium, but if you get too slick, you lose your edge. So we’re constantly trying to reinvent ourselves.”

Talk about reinvention. Once the Land of 1,000 Snoozy Videos, MTV has set its sights on a diverse new array of feature programming. It already has a game show (“Remote Control”), a video request line (“Dial MTV”), a film program (“The Big Picture”) and oldies clips (“Classic MTV” with original vid-sex kitten Martha Quinn). By next January, Masters predicts the channel will have a block of shows extending from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. each night.

“Most of the shows will still be music video based,” said Masters. “But they’re all going to have a special theme. It’s not just going to be clip after clip anymore.” A few highlights:

“Yo MTV Raps Today” 4:30 p.m. weekdays: Originally a once-a-week show, “Yo” was such a huge ratings hit that it’s encouraged MTV to expand the show to a daily format. “We’ve had an incredible response,” Masters said. “ ‘Yo’ doubled the normal ratings in its time slot. Whether it’s rap or heavy metal, we’re programming for more specialized audiences.”

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“Just Say Julie” 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays: A half-hour comedy with dizzy comedian Julie Brown, “Julie” plays like a nighttime version of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” with video clips. It also offers a glimpse of upcoming programming strategy: “It’s a model show for us. It’s a way of showing really interesting people that they can come work at MTV in an environment that’s comfortable for them.”

Due January 1990: An MTV soap opera. “We’ll have a five-episode pilot on the air by September,” said Masters, who’s hired a consultant from the “Santa Barbara” soap to help design the story lines. “We’re aiming for a comedic daily serial, with younger, more irreverent and edgier characters than you’d see on network TV.”

Due in May: An untitled inter-active video variety show. MTV’s talk show, “Mouth to Mouth,” was canceled after six weeks (and disasterous reviews). The new show will incorporate a few of “Mouth’s” successful elements--but with more focus. “It’s essentially an MTV-version of a variety show with a studio audience,” said Masters. “We’ll have contests, live music performances, stand-up comedy and lots of audience participation. And when someone wins a contest, they’ll win right away--we’ll send a Lear jet to their home and pick them up.”

Fall 1989: “Buzz.” A weekly international pop-culture video show. With MTV broadcasting all around the globe (it just debuted in Hungary Wednesday), why not visit the global village--video style. MTV recently ran a “Buzz” pilot, which had all the depth of a Sunday sports highlight reel. “I’m very fond of the concept because I think we can show the cross-pollinization of culture among kids around the world without looking like a PBS show,” Masters said. “Unfortunately, the pilot was all form, no content--so we’re going to work on making it more linear.”

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Despite record industry grumbling that MTV is spending more time creating TV stars than breaking new bands, Masters insists the video channel hasn’t neglected the music business, which still sees videos as a key promotional tool. But MTV is reacting to a waning interest in rock video pyrotechnics, especially among its key 12- to 25-year-old audience.

“The original MTV theory was homogenized programming--it would look the same, regardless of whether you turned on the channel at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m.,” said Masters. “But for us, these new programming blocks give us a chance to be special--to have everyone talk about us. I call it the ‘water cooler factor.’ ‘Saturday Night Live’ had it in its heyday. So did ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘Moonlighting’ when it was going strong. Everyone talked about those shows. And that’s what makes TV great--you need that sense of the unexpected.”

THE BIG SPIN: Madonna isn’t on every magazine cover in the world--it just seems that way. The latest: the upcoming 4th anniversary issue of Spin, popland’s most raucous and adventuresome magazine. Despite the gorgeous Herb Ritts glamour shots, the Madonna piece is a throwaway (geez, not even an interview). In fact, the issue’s true highlight is a bizarre “Greatest Records of All Time” list that is as ditzy and eccentric as Rolling Stone’s similar compilation last year was dreary and predictable. We have no quarrel with James Brown, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin making the 25 Greatest Albums chart--but Depeche Mode, Big Daddy Kane, Sinead O’Connor and (gasp) Prefab Sprout! (All more timeless, no doubt, than the Beatles, Bowie, Bruce or Prince.) Compiled by a panel of in-house writer-editors, the All Time 100 Greatest Singles List is wackier still, offering irrefutable evidence that rock criticism is in its final death throes. Chuck Berry is nowhere to be found, yet the Top 40 offers such dubious drivel as Pebbles’ “Mercedes Boy,” Lloyd Price’s “Just Because,” two Madonna songs (including “Where’s the Party”), and the Rolling Stones “Tumblin’ Dice” (as dazzling as “Satisfaction”? as def as “Jumping Jack Flash”?). Take a seat and we’ll tell you what ranked No. 1: Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.” A buggin’ song, but not even the best rap jam of ’88, much less all time. Back to the drawing board, guys.

AND FINALLY: Kudo’s to KLOS-FM morning brats Mark & Brian, who pulled off a coup Tuesday--a live on-air chat with Sylvester Stallone. The occasion? A listener sent in outtakes from a hilariously inept Stallone recording session. Reached by phone on the film set of “Hard Time,” Sly graciously played along with the gag, cracking self-deprecating jokes (“Geez, was I ever in tune on this song?”) as the impish jocks aired his ghastly pop crooning.


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