‘Biography: I Want My MTV’ Delivers ‘Intense’ Nostalgia

MTV's Original VJs in 1983 - Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, and Mark Goodman
Mark Weiss/WireImage

Once upon a pre-YouTube time, a fledgling cable channel presumed to shake up the TV and music industries with its 24-hour schedule of then-innovative music videos. The launch, on August 1 of 1981, in cable TV’s infancy, wasn’t promising.

The network’s founders headed to a dingy bar in New Jersey to watch because MTV wasn’t yet available in Manhattan. They’d borrowed the opening moon-shot footage from NASA because it was free. “Let’s take man’s greatest moment and rip it off. That’s kind of a rock ‘n’ roll thing to do,” recalls then–marketing director (and future Viacom CEO) Tom Freston.

With the help of some of the original VJs (clockwise from top: Mark Goodman, J.J. Jackson, Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter and Nina Blackwood), I Want My MTV colorfully depicts the scrappy early days. A youth culture, neglected too long by mainstream TV, demanded the channel, driven by a brilliant rock star–laden “I Want My MTV” ad campaign (Mick Jagger read the line for $1).

Biography I Want My MTV

(Credit: Courtesy of A&E)

Eventually, MTV superstars were born — Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna — and a skeptical recording industry that once insisted music should be heard but not seen began to regard MTV as a lifeline. The launch of a music video became a watershed pop-culture moment, never more than when Michael Jackson — who challenged MTV’s shameful aversion to Black artists — galvanized the world with “Thriller.”

The nostalgia is so intense I started thinking, “I want my MTV back.” But if “Video Killed the Radio Star” (the first song played on MTV), the internet killed the video star machine. With the pioneering reality show The Real World, MTV changed with the times. It had to.

Biography: I Want My MTV, Tuesday, September 8, 9/8c, A&E