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Four Phases of VH-1


I’ve been thinking about VH-1 lately. More precisely, the good old VH-1 from five or ten years ago. I miss it, but there’s always hope that things will change. As this handy Wikipedia entry demonstrates, the channel has had a complex history. The interesting thing about VH-1 lies in how, unlike MTV, they never established themselves with a singular, generation-defining image. Maybe that explains why they’ve gotten away with massive personality shifts over the years. I would characterize them in four distinct cycles:

Phase One (mid ’80s) VH-1 launches in 1985 to little fanfare; in contrast to MTV, music videos skew older and snoozier (Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias); bizarre assortment of veejays include Don Imus, Rita Coolidge and John “Bowzer” Bauman.

Phase Two (late ’80s/early ’90s) Agressive marketing campaign promotes the channel as a thirtysomething MTV, complete with viewers’ icky, self-indulgent recollections of their favorite ’60s/’70s albums; videos skew toward the yuppie-ish (Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman); Stand Up Spotlight with Rosie O’Donnell marks a tentative step towards non-music programming; veejays include O’Donnell, Ellen Foley and Bobby Rivers (aka gayest veejay ever).

Phase Three (mid to late ’90s) “Music First” branding serves as a contrast to MTV’s increasingly non-music image; programming trends toward the the ironic and self-referential with Behind the Music, Pop Up Video and kitschy repeats of Solid Gold and The Midnight Special; videos skew in a mainstream pop direction (Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Eric Clapton); live performance rules with VH-1 Storytellers and VH-1 Divas In Concert.

Phase Four (’00s) Popularity of I Love the ’80s leads to avalanche of cheaply produced pop culture-themed originals; superfluous awards shows and tabloid programming (Driven, The Fabulous Life Of) abound; music videos quietly migrate to the wee hours only; increased influence from corporate owner Viacom results in synergistic nightmares such as ET on VH-1; trashy “Celebreality” programming brings gainful employment to has-been celebrities; catches up with MTV in its tenuous connection with music.

4 Thoughts on “Four Phases of VH-1

  1. The only VH-1 to watch these days is VH-1 classic.

    I’m quite addicted.

  2. Jim Kosmicki on January 31, 2006 at 12:49 pm said:

    I agree with drew in the first comment. VH-1 Classic is what you remember MTV as being when it was Music Television. Unfortunately, it’s starting to show more long-form concerts and programs, so it’s just a matter of time before it sucks too.

  3. VH-1 Classic is classic to me, too. Good stuff.

    As for the current state of VH-1 now, yeah, it’s gotten pretty sleazy. And some of the shows are self-referencing the self-referencing shows! Living in a post-modern world, indeed. I remember when the network was introduced. It was mostly a fuddy-duddy cousin to MTV. I even remember some of the dull animated ID’s they had for the network — they obviously were copying the MTV mold but missing the mark.

    But let’s get back to VH-1 Classic. Isn’t it grand?

  4. Yeah, I love VH1 Classic! We had it up until recently (it was on a satellite tier that we dropped). It was a gas to tune in and see something I almost forgot about with fresh eyes. And some of the videos on the request show are so obscure I doubt even MTV played them when they were new.

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