MTV 1981-1992


In a way, a list of the 100 best TV shows misses the point of how people watch TV in the cable era: they watch networks—HGTV, ESPN, Nickelodeon—as much as they do shows. MTV, in the pre-Real World era, was the first network to teach viewers to watch this way, when the moon man planted its flag and killed the radio star in 1981. Quick-cut and compressed—video in concentrate form—music videos were not just a new way of selling music: they changed TV series (the pitch for Miami Vice was simply, “MTV cops”) and influenced movies (graduating directors like Spike Jonze, David Fincher and Michel Gondry). The best clips from MTV’s all-video ’80s heyday—from Michael Jackson to Talking Heads—captured the power of the music, rather than replacing it. MTV taught us to see with our ears and listen with our eyes.

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