Way back, before the days of VEVO and YouTube, there was actually television programming whose singular purpose was to present you music videos. At one time, MTV’s entire existence was also based on showing videos, but those days are long gone. For those of you who agree that the music video is an underappreciated art form, this list, of Top 10 Late Night Music Video Shows is for you:
10. Rock N America
In the mid-80’s, NBC tried to capitalize on the music video fad with this late night entry for less than accessible music. First hosted by comedian Rick Ducommun, radio personalities Frazier Smith and Russ Parr took over in season 2. The sketches that appeared between videos were barely above the production value of public access, but for those of you who love 80’s cheese, Rock N America’s videos are a must see. (Oh, and Fee Waybill of the Tubes liked to stop by and visit.)
9. The Max Headroom Show
Great Britain’s Channel 4 late night video program hosted by the computer generated Max Headroom (Matt Frewer in real life) only lasted 16 episodes. The videos were primarily British pop and American rock, but it was the biting comedy between the songs that was the primary draw. Starting in 1986, each episode had more of Max and less of videos until 1987, when Max spun off into his own American TV show Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future. For about 4 years, Max was a cult of personality, found almost everywhere in pop culture; as a host, New Coke pitchman, and staring in his own show, song and movie. By 1990, he had disappeared entirely.
When Headbanger’s Ball was cancelled in 2003, MuchMusic (MMUSA, now Fuse), attempted to jump into the heavy metal void. Aired in the evenings and re-run late at night, Uranium was okay: I think the show aired more commercials than actual content, but it was the host, Mistress Juliya that made the show a rousing success. Sorry to be so shallow, but the Canadian entry on this list is only differentiated from other metal shows by its feisty, beautiful host. A young, metal fan interviewing a bunch of immature heavy metal musicians makes for great television!
Geared toward Christian teens and young adults, TVU started in 2001 as a commercial free video music program on the Sky Angel and KTV networks. Airing through most of the wee hours of the night, TVU plays little of what would be classified as ‘Church Music,’ focusing instead on the underplayed genres of Christian metal, rock, & rap. When it comes to the love of a show’s pure content, it’s hard to beat the scrappy bunch that produces this show.
6. Friday Night Videos
In 1983, Friday Night Videos was born out of the ashes of the live music show the Midnight Special. When MTV was born in 1981, only a small portion of American households actually had cable TV. NBC had the bright idea to take the most popular songs of the day, air them on Friday nights with a guest host, and rake in the profits. Airing after the late night local news, FNV was arguably the most popular network video program ever when the lights went dark in 2002. For a show that aired for nearly 20 years, you certainly don’t hear too much about it anymore.
5. Night Flight
Night Flight wasn’t so much a music video show as a late night state of mind. Night Flight ran in its original form from 1981 to 1988, playing videos, cult films, short films, cartoons, documentaries, and really anything on the fringes of broadcasting. Cable’s USA Network had trouble defining its own existence and Night Flight help carve out the station’s niche. Airing 4 hours a night through the wee hours of the morning, Night Flight was named the top cable video show of the 80’s by both USA Today and TV Guide. I don’t know an insomniac who lived through the 80’s that wasn’t a fan.
Now it’s time to bash on MTV for a few minutes. “I want my MTV” is part of the American lexicon, but once MTV formed in 1981, they were already looking for more profits, like every other American corporation. It only took the station a few years to figure out that original programming drives more advertising dollars than music videos. So as scripted and reality shows began to clutter the network, MTV started airing themed music video shows. In 1997, MTV debuted Amp, geared toward electronic music. It aired monthly (more or less), primarily between 2am and 4am. MTV created something awesome, abused it, mishandled it, and cancelled it in 2001.
3. BET: Uncut
There have been dozens of rap shows, but none that had the courage (or the gall, depending on your point of view) to show the raunchiest, dirtiest, and filthiest rap videos uncut. Airing at 3 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays in the late 00’s on BET, the show created a firestorm of controversy and was compared by some to soft core porn. The last episode was aired in 2006.
2. Headbangers Ball
Started on MTV in 1987, Headbangers Ball is the standard bearer of metal shows. Too bad the buffoons at MTV didn’t know how to treat it. The show almost didn’t survive its infancy with its un-metal host Adam Curry. Riki Rachtmen took the show to the peak of its popularity between 1990 and 1995 with a simple format: play metal videos, maybe interview a touring artist passing through town. Cancelled on MTV in 1995 and brought back on MTV2 in 2003, the serviceable Jamie Jasta of Hatebreed returned for the hosting duties. The show has aired at 11 pm, Midnight, 1.a.m., 3 a.m., and 4 a.m. The Ball is now on the web only. Really, how hard is it for a network called Music Television to play videos?
1. 120 Minutes
In 1986, MTV came up with the concept of 120 Minutes, mostly alternative videos played on college radio stations. Relegated to late night Sundays, 120 Minutes helped alternative music bubble up to the mainstream. When grunge broke, the show was on the cutting edge of the new musical phenomenon. By the late 90’s, pop had regained its throne and 120 Minutes was being pre-empted by re-runs of the Real World. As with all un-nurtured MTV shows, 120 Minutes was unceremoniously cancelled in 2003 and spun off into the even more abused show Subterranean, which pretty much aired randomly in the middle of the night. Last year 120 Minutes was reborn with the human music dictionary Matt Pinfield back at the helm.
What show did you watch? Let us know in the comments and we might add it to our…