The last few days brought forth two noteworthy events for MTV. The first one being that the network turned 30-years-old on Monday. Sure, many thought it would fade away but it expanded like Mark Goodman's hair and became a major force for entertainment and pop culture as well as helping to launch several notable and several forgettable careers regardless of charisma, talent and musical ability (ex. Mike Judge and Madonna vs. The Situation and Jimmy Ray). Congratulations to MTV and all the network has accomplished in its 30 year career despite dropping music videos and, mostly, music altogether in favor of the horribly stereotyped and idiotic reality shows that have plagued the network for the last six years (The Hard Times of R.J. Berger is an anomaly there...a humorous and pleasant anomaly).
The second notable event was the return of the long cancelled 120 Minutes. Much like the return of Headbangers Ball in 2003, 120 Minutes has been given a modern makeover from its title screen to the format to fit the current interests of the current alternative crowd. This is primarily where it falls apart. Whereas Headbangers Ball stayed closer to the original format and mainly updated the musical portion of the program, 120 Minutes provides a sad shadow of the original version's greatness with a bunch of jumpy interviews, pointless trivia and zero heart and passion. As excited as I was about its return, I am equally as disappointed in its arrival. With that said, here are five reasons the relaunch of 120 Minutes does not work.
1. New Format Structure
Actually, this is the second biggest problem I found with the show. The original run relied on a combination of music videos, humorous and/or engaging interviews and the occasional in-studio performance to fuel the program while the newer model presents an abbreviated, ADD version. Small interview snippets, brief video introductions, a handful of videos, a gratuitous news break and pointless trivia are all crammed into the two hours with a sense that there is very little time for any of it. Honestly, if not for the videos and Matt Pinfield, I would have never guessed this was 120 Minutes. Then again, we live in an age where information is faster and people are looking more toward immediate gratification and rushing to the goal than enjoying and savoring the moment. If patience is a virtue, this show says it is one you certainly have no use for.
Furthermore, when it was one artist/band hanging out in the studio for interview segments, there was always the chance of seeing or hearing something really cool as it always came back to the same artist after a block of videos. Yes, Sleigh Bells and Das Racist are very fascinating artists musically but you would not know that from their brief segments on the first episode. Instead, both received about 5-10 minutes to discuss projects and such before moving on to trivia involving Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill's first album purchase (Boyz To Men's Cooleyhighharmony) and the location of Zach Braff's Grammy (a shelf in the living room). Yes, exciting information, I know but none of this has to do with the episode's musical selection or, well, anything in general. Also, the MTV news briefing was a bit tacky and provided nothing more than filler. If the stories can be read/seen on your website in full detail, the need to see them on TV serves absolutely no purpose (much like TMZ). Not everyone will agree with me on this but a modern day Pitchfork-esque version of 120 Minutes is unnecessary, especially when you can just go to Pitchfork and see videos and read interviews. This leads me to the second reason...
2. The Show Itself
The last complaint was more about the tone of the show and this is about the feeling of the show. Simply put, the show has no heart or love, outside of the videos, toward the genre it wants to praise. Even with abbreviated cuts, the program feels very mechanical and cold. After 120 Minutes was cancelled in 2003, it essentially morphed into Subterranean which was somewhat similar except condensed to one hour and the later Jim Shearer episodes were shot on DV cameras to cut costs (think of my interviews with better lighting and much more money). Throughout the run of both of the shows, it felt like the producers truly believed in the show and it was the alternative to MTV's programming (the same goes for Yo! MTV Raps and Headbangers Ball) even when Alternative Nation was on the air. Now, there is a sense and feeling of it just being thrown together for the sake of bringing the show back to argue against the complaint that MTV does not show music videos anymore. In my interview with Jamey Jasta, he brought up that the ability to see videos whenever you want on YouTube led to the fall of the return of Headbangers Ball and I would like to add that it led to the fall of MTV as a whole. Still, if the program is engaging and shows that the people behind it really care, then people will come to it. As it is now, YouTube seems far more inviting and you can pick your own videos.
3. Matt Pinfield
Pinfield, for many, was the face of 90's era 120 Minutes just as Dave Kendall was the original face of the entire show until the early 90's. Personally, I could never get into Pinfield. I respected that he had the knowledge. loved the art, and, more to the point, represented the portion of non-sexy, average, everyday music geeks like myself who had all of this obsessive knowledge without looking like a gimmick or model or coining a catchphrase (he was the precursor to Dave Holmes). Still, there always seemed there was a bit of snobbishness behind that in a "I know your band better than you" sort of a way. This is not to say that he is like that but it was a vibe that I was always got while watching him. In reality, he doing no more than adding information on bands you would eventually get to know and love. As much as I loved the show, he was not my favorite host (see Chris Booker). After all of that, I, honestly, would be fine with him as the host if the show resembled its former glory on the facts that: one, he was a key component to the program's great 90's run and two, someone can finally educate and steer these kids away from Ke$sha and Justin Bieber with some creative rock sounds instead obsessions with glitter and putting "Xanadu" to shame with the amount of times you sing the title of your song.
The truth is that he does not fit the current format and, in reality, none of the former hosts would. If the show is going to rely on looking like a blogger's version of 120 Minutes, why not find a more charismatic, knowledgeable and youthful person to host and bring Pinfield on as a consultant or executive producer. That seems more appropriate and would at least unify the host with the horrendous format. Then again, the idea was to bring it back so people like myself would stop complaining about the network as a whole and find something familiar to enjoy. The problem is that it is not familiar and bringing someone back from its past glory only proves this point further.
4. Change In Focus
Aside from Beastie Boys, the program was not exactly known for hip hop but this was at a time when Yo! MTV Raps was a very prominent show in its own right. So, when I watch the new model and there is an interview with Lupe Fiasco and the next episode has Big Boi, as an older fan, I am a bit confused. I am also wondering why we should care about Zach Braff being interviewed on the show as well. First, let me clear up a few things. I enjoy Lupe Fiasco and Big Boi and appreciate that people are now treating music like music and not as genres or racially as I could never separate Dr. Dre from Deftones from Sade as it was all music in my head. Still, MTV, during those blocks treated them separately and with respect to the past, it should remain as such. You would not bring back the aforementioned Yo! MTV Raps and play P.O.D. or Limp Bizkit based on there being some hip hop influence in the sound. I dislike that I have to say this but it is what it is.
Some would also state that Subterranean fused the worlds of alternative and indie rock, hip hop and whatever else. This is true but that show bore its own name and identity and owed nothing to the past but the one it was creating with each episode. As mentioned in the Fiasco interview, he discussed his rock band, Japanese Cartoon, which would be perfect for the show. In his case, if this were the older version of the show, you might see a video from both of his musical projects. Even that would make sense especially alongside a video from Das Racist, who fall under the Beastie Boys category being able to fit on the program despite being hip hop at the root. If Japanese Cartoon's "Heirplanes" had played after his segment, I would have no complaint about this but since it did not, it just felt like a lame attempt at throwing different genres together since, outside of a small portion of the population, no one specifically listens to just one thing anymore. Furthermore, why are watching an interview with Zach Braff. Great, he worked as a PA on music videos but he is not directing them or a musician, himself. It was a very unnecessary fluff piece and ties him to music but given that he won his Garden State Grammy in 2005, I would hardly qualify him as relevant to music in 2011. Understand, that this complaint is no more than honoring the legacy of the show baring its name. Trust me, I would argue the same thing for any program that I used to love that returns any differently than it was.
5. Once A Month Schedule
This is, without a doubt, the biggest problem and further proof, in my eyes, that MTV has zero faith in this show succeeding. If it is an issue of the host not being available or too expensive, get a new host. If it is a concern over cost, go the Subterranean route and shoot it for cheap. If it is a concern of people of watching it, either run it on a regular basis or cancel it. The point being is that there is no way this show will succeed if it is shown once a month. Upon hearing of the show's return, I thought idea sucked then and it still sucks now except that I am less upset about it now. Nonetheless, introducing this show to a younger fanbase should require more time than once a month and the same could be said for people such as myself who used to watch it and felt underwhelmed. Airing on a regular basis would give the show the time needed to work out the kinks.
As brought up earlier, we can watch any video we want on any webpage hosting and streaming videos therefore making the concept of a music video program rather pointless in today's times. Turning it into a monthly music video magazine will not help your cause either as people will stop caring or find other things to do than wait each month for things they can see anywhere else. If you are to bring this back, bring it back correctly and turn it into a weekly show. Otherwise, this show is a pointless exercise in wasting resources, tarnishing a legacy and furthering the devolution of what was one of the greatest networks of all time.
These are the five reasons the relaunch of 120 Minutes does not work for me, personally. Feel free to drop a comment and agree or disagree with my opinion as it is only my opinion. I would love to hear what other people thought of the new version's first episode. Maybe I am wrong or maybe I am just too old to understand MTV past 2003? If you have not seen the show, here is a link to see what I am ranting about. In addition to that, here is a blog archiving and chronicling the greatness that was 120 Minutes and Subterranean.