Monday, August 1, 2011

We Got Our MTV

Courtesy of MTV

Some anniversaries are more shocking than others. This one blew our minds. Thirty years ago today the universe-changing network MTV debuted. We remember television milestones like some people connect to graduations or winning the big game. For us the day we got cable was a victory — all those shows at our fingertips.

We were lucky back in Braintree, Massachusetts, prior to getting the official music television station, we had access to a local network called V-66 that showed shorts from a range of artists from international acts to Boston-based bands. It was amazing, but it didn’t have rock stars like Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend imploring us to get it.

Once we got it, MTV was always on in our house and we loved every overly hairsprayed, spandex-clad pop singer or metal band that came our way. We remember gathering with our friends when Thriller premiered — and watching it every time it aired on our sets.

Then the unimaginable happened. We had just accepted a summer internship at HBO’s marketing department in New York City when the phone rang. The voice on the other end said she had an unpaid gig working at MTV and if we could do an interview in Manhattan the next day, we might be able to work at our television and music-melded mecca.

Thanks to a mother who reinforced following our dreams over the commitment we had made minutes earlier to HBO, we found ourselves on the road to the Big Apple. We were hired on the spot and, after an uncomfortable call to back out of the other job, we started on a path to what might have been the most exciting five weeks we could ever have imagined.

As it turned out, the internship was even better than we expected. Our job was to assist on MTV’s first non-music video series. The theme of The Big _____ Show changed every night. For example there was The Big and Tall Men’s Show and The Big Organ Photo Show. Yes the latter episode featured blow-ups of spleens and kidneys.

The hosts also rotated. Weeks one and two were emceed by the doughy-everyman VJ Kevin Seal. He turned the mantel over to Yahoo Serious (who hit the Hell’s Kitchen soundstage with his wife Lulu Serious and their manager Stu at his side). Finally MTV darling Weird Al Yankovic took over the show. If that doesn’t set the time frame to 1989, we don’t know what does.  

Working at MTV was everything we had hoped it would be and more. It felt like starring in the movie Wild in the Streets — there was hardly a grown-up to be found. The executive producers couldn’t have been more than 30 years old.

The live band that played on the series, would entertain us via closed-circuit TV as we all gathered in the green room to have lunch. Interns went into the subways during the day and brought back acts, like what would become the Blue Man Group, to spontaneously perform on the show.

And the guests were so perfectly of the moment they couldn’t have thrilled us more. Our job quickly became talent wrangling. So we got to do things like buy honey roasted peanuts for a stage-fright riddled Andy Partridge from XTC and keep an eye on Julian Lennon, who had a penchant for wandering off when he was supposed to be heading to the stage. We did lose Julian briefly but found him just in time.

Sadly MTV’s Big ______ Show was not an instant hit. Just five weeks after our summer internship started, the network pulled the plug. Some of the other college kids went on to work on other emerging series at the network and we actually went out to L.A. to work on the way-less-cool short-lived Lindsay Wagner series Peaceable Kingdom — but that’s another story for another blog.

The Big ______ Show has become our personal Brigadoon. The life changing turn seems to live only in a shadowy spot in our memories. You can’t find it on YouTube. It doesn’t appear on the long list of MTV shows on Wikipedia. And practically nobody ever saw a single episode. But we know The Big _____ Show was real and it will live on in our pop culture loving hearts.

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