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While MTV is now known for ‘Jersey Shore,’ it once heralded “Thriller” the biggest music video of all time

Updated: December 3, 2012 8:25PM



The letters usually stand for something.

Or stood for something.

ESPN is the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

C-SPAN is the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network.

At one point CNBC stood for Consumer News and Business Channel, WLS was an acronym for World’s Largest Store.

And MTV? That was Music Television.

The pop culture world recently observed the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” one of the 10 most seminal albums in modern music history — and the launching point for some of the most famous and influential videos ever, from “Beat It” to “Billie Jean” to the long-form “Thriller,” with that choreographed zombie dance number that kids are still emulating in flash mob videos in 2012.

Michael Jackson wasn’t just a crossover artist on MTV. He was a pioneer.

For today’s white suburban teenager whose iTunes playlist is filled with rap and hip-hop, it’s probably difficult to fathom just how Caucasian the mainstream music world was in 1982.

From a recent article in Billboard:

“In all of 1982, only two No. 1 records on the Billboard Hot 100 were by black artists: Lionel Richie’s ‘Truly’ and ‘Ebony and Ivory’ by Stevie Wonder in tandem with Paul McCartney.”

Artists such as Rick James and a young Prince were selling millions of records — but their music was played almost exclusively on “urban contemporary radio.

“Not one record by a black artist could be found [among the top 20 albums] or the Hot 100 singles chart for three consecutive weeks in October [of 1982]—a phenomenon unseen since before the creation of Top 40 radio in the 1950s.”

Such was the segregated state of the pop music world in 1982 — until “Thriller” arrived just in time for the holidays and changed everything. By the spring of 1983, Michael Jackson videos were all over MTV, opening the gates for music videos by his sister Janet, Prince, Run D.M.C, the Notorious B.I.G. and dozens of other black artists to find a home on Music Television.

Times change. Michael Jackson is gone. Teenagers no longer gather around the TV at an appointed time to see the next “World Premiere” of a music video, as they did in the early 1980s. These days when a music video becomes a worldwide phenomenon (see “Gangnam Style”), it’s more because of YouTube than constant airplay on the boob tube.

And MTV — Music Television — is now better known for turning mopes and goofballs into superstars.

Almost heaven, West Virginia

After six long, excruciating, mind-numbingly odious seasons, MTV’s “Jersey Shore” comes to an end with a series finale on Dec. 20. The show that turned Snooki and the Situation into household names, the show that turned “Gym, Tan, Laundry” into a catch phrase where previously it had been a description of prison life, the show that celebrated cartoonish stereotypes, binge drinking and obtuse narcissism, is finally going away.

In its place: “Bittersweet Symphony,” a reality show about a group of young classical musicians striving to make it in New York City.

Nah. Not really. The 9 p.m. time slot occupied by “Jersey Shore” since 2009 will be handed over to “Buckwild,” a reality show about “nine young, carefree and adventurous West Virginians who find unique ways to create their own fun,” as the MTV press release puts it.

Sure, why not. We already have reality shows about Honey Boo-Boo and those subtitle-needing relatives of hers, pawn shops and their owners and customers, bidding wars on “treasures” found in storage centers, toddler beauty pageants, teen mothers and other elements that used to invoke the term “white trash” before we were told that was offensive to…somebody. (And many of those programs are on TLC, which once stood for The Learning Channel, with the slogan “A Place for Learning Minds.” )

“From transforming a dump truck into a pool party to building a human sling shot, they live their lives loud and proud without restrictions,” says MTV of the “Buckwild” gang.

In the trailer, one of the female cast members says, “West Virginia is a place founded on freedom. For me and my friends, that means the freedom to do whatever the f--- we want.” At that moment, we’re seeing a clip in which one mud-splattered woman throws a beverage into the face of another young lass.

“Our motto around here is, ‘Whatever happens, happens,’ ” says the gal, as we see clips of those “carefree and adventurous” kids streaking, rolling around in the mud, hooking up, cursing up a storm, fighting with each other, performing “Jackass” type stunts, target shooting, blowing things up and cackling like the miscreants in “Deliverance.”

I smell a hit. I smell something else too.



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