‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Rock and Roll’: A Look Back at 40 Years of MTV

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MTV Turns 40 (!) Years Old This Month. We Celebrate With A Retrospective Of Culturally Relevant Moments From The Network That’s Been Corrupting America’s Youth For Four Decades. By Ryan A. Berenz, Paul Doro And Jeff Pfeiffer


Aug. 1, 1981: “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” With these words, MTV: Music Television launched just after midnight Eastern Time, accompanied by footage of a rocket blasting off and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing — with an astronaut planting the MTV flag on the surface.

MTV’s First Hour of Videos
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles
“You Better Run” by Pat Benatar
“She Won’t Dance With Me” by Rod Stewart
“You Better You Bet” by The Who
“Little Suzi’s on the Up” by Ph.D.
“We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard
“Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders

March 1982: “I Want My MTV” advertising campaign debuts with Pete Townsend, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, The Police and David Bowie.

Dec. 2, 1983: The world premiere of Michael Jackson’s 13-minute-long “Thriller” video was as hyped and anticipated as any blockbuster movie opening, and it helped solidify MTV as a pop-culture force.

Sept. 14, 1984: MTV’s Video Music Awards touched viewers for the very first time when Madonna performed “Like a Virgin” while wearing a bustier/wedding gown combo, with her infamous “Boy Toy” belt buckle.

Jan. 1985: MTV spearheads a safe-sex PSA initiative in response to the AIDS epidemic.

July 13, 1985: MTV broadcasts 16 hours of coverage of the Live Aid concerts held to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Feb. 17, 1986: Dial MTV, a video countdown show with a toll-free number for requesting a video.

March 1986: MTV begins Spring Break coverage, broadcasting live from Daytona Beach for eight hours a day over a week.

March 10, 1986: 120 Minutes, MTV’s first genre program, premieres, introducing a wider audience to alternative acts that previously had limited exposure.

1987: The MTV News division launches with the series The Week in Rock, hosted by the network’s first official news correspondent, Kurt Loder.

April 18, 1987: Headbangers Ball debuts, focusing on heavy metal videos.

Aug. 31, 1987: Popular VJ Downtown Julie Brown (Julie Dorne Brown) begins hosting the new American Bandstand-like dance show Club MTV.

Dec. 7, 1987: MTV enters the game show arena with Remote Control, which introduces comedian/actor Colin Quinn to many viewers.

Aug. 6, 1988: The launch of Yo! MTV Raps brings hip-hop videos to mainstream America.

May 1989: House of Style, one of the first shows to capitalize on the popular interest in fashion and supermodels’ lives, begins, with original host Cindy Crawford.

Nov. 26, 1989: MTV Unplugged, a concert showcase for musical artists usually playing acoustic instruments, premieres with Squeeze, Syd Straw and Elliot Easton.


May 21, 1992: Reality TV is changed forever when the first season of The Real World hits television, following seven strangers living in a SoHo loft in New York City.

June 10, 1992: The inaugural MTV Movie Awards (later renamed the MTV Movie & TV Awards), hosted by Dennis Miller, names Terminator 2: Judgment Day its Best Movie.

March 8, 1993: Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head animated series debuts, making fun of just about everything airing on MTV.

Oct. 25, 1993: Howard Stern is the first guest on the inaugural edition of MTV’s first talk show, The Jon Stewart Show.

July 19, 1994: The first season of the docu-adventure series Road Rules debuts, centering on five strangers who travel around the world trying to overcome challenges.

March 31, 1998: The Emmy Award-winning documentary series True Life premieres with an investigation into heroin use among young people in Plano, Texas.

Oct. 14, 1997: The weekly live performance series Live From the 10 Spot launches with a performance from David Bowie.

Sept. 14, 1998: Carson Daly is unleashed on the world in the new a live daily top 10 countdown show Total Request Live.

July 22-25, 1999: Woodstock 1999 was an unusual experience. Attending the festival was better in theory than practice. I made the trip to the venue in Rome, New York, with four friends who never left their tents. They paid a lot of money to attend a three-day musical festival without witnessing any of the music. Flying solo, I remember walking between the two main stages, which were on opposite ends of a large field in the middle of nowhere. Everclear put on a great show. The Offspring’s lead singer, Dexter Holland, was the only musician to discourage unruly behavior from the crowd. It got pretty rambunctious in those seas of people. Limp Bizkit was very noisy and wild. It was extremely hot all weekend and bottled water was exorbitantly expensive and in short supply. I was a hot, sweaty mess for 72 hours. Mainly what I remember is the heat, the walking and people sliding through human waste after the Porta Johns were pushed over on Sunday. Sheryl Crow once said it was her single worst gig, and that is easy to believe. (Fun fact: My future wife was also there, many years before we met.) — PD


Oct. 1, 2000: Prank and stunt show Jackass begins its wildly successful run of warning kids to not try this at home.

Oct. 5, 2000: MTV Cribs opens the doors to celebrities’ houses that are — Redman’s house excepted — way better than yours.

March 5, 2002: Doddering dad Ozzy, his wife Sharon, kids Jack and Kelly, and their poorly housebroken dogs make The Osbournes more funny and entertaining than it ever aspired to be.

March 17, 2003: Punk’d, the hidden camera/practical joke series produced by Ashton Kutcher, begins its reign of terror.

March 4, 2004: Pimp My Ride and host Xzibit begin America’s vehicular-pimpin’ craze.

Sept. 28, 2004: Lauren Conrad and her pals star in docu-drama Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, which would later be spun off into The Hills.

June 11, 2009: Documentary series 16 and Pregnant is born. A few months later, it spawns the spinoff Teen Mom, which continues to breed its own spinoffs.

July 6, 2009: All MTV channels around the world broadcast Michael Jackson’s memorial service live.

Sept. 13, 2009: Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift’s award acceptance at the VMAs. “Imma let you finish, but …” enters the vernacular.

Dec. 3, 2009: The world is introduced to Snooki, Pauly D, the Situation and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast. Earth still hasn’t recovered.


June 6, 2011: To lure Twilight fans, MTV morphs beloved ’80s comedy film Teen Wolf into a dour drama series.

July 19, 2011: Ashley Rickards stars in the critically acclaimed comedy Awkward. It runs for five seasons.

Aug. 29, 2011: Viral video clip show Ridiculousness debuts. Odds are good that MTV is airing it right now.

Nov. 12, 2012: Catfish, a documentary film of questionable authenticity about the dangers of online dating, gets its own TV series.

Aug. 25, 2013: Miley Cyrus is all growns up and in her skivvies twerking on Robin Thicke at the VMAs.

April 21, 2016: MTV makes its logo purple for a day and airs music videos again following the death of Prince.

1 Comment

  1. Teen Was not a “dour” drama series but a fun horror/drama/comedy series which your magazine praised on more than one occasion. You should try to stay even with your other writers

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