There was one channel, run by the state.
And they knew what you were thinking.
There were around nine channels VHF, maybe
four UHF. UHF was always like "I'm Uncle Binky. I host
the children's weepy hour," all local, colorful programming.
Captain Noah, Uncle Floyd. The regular channels were just
straight-up soap operas in the morning, soap operas in the
afternoon, cartoons in the four o'clock block. Five o'clock
news. Game shows. Very similar to now, but nothing else to
watch. So we used to go outside. We used to go -- what's the
word? -- play outside.
- - -
When TV programmers ran out of shit to put
on the air, they called it like it was. They'd go, "You
know what we got? Nothing. We'd love to give you another program
-- we just can't do it." Dooooooooooooooooooo. Tone.
That was it. That was them giving up. That
was a white flag. Now people never give up. It's four in the
morning: "You want to dehydrate your meat and make it
into jerky?" That's what you're throwing on there. Just
give up. Dooooooooo.
- - -
Before cable, TV had rabbit ears antennae.
You'd try to get your brother to stand there when the game
was on. Channel 9 and channel 11 were tougher to get in. 2,
4, and 7 came in real good. But 9 and 11 where the games were
on, very tough. You had to have somebody with the rabbit ears
doing a little Baryshnikov.
When cable came in, suddenly TV didn't have
that fuzz. I remember that as being the biggest difference.
I was going, why does everybody look so clear? That's not
what TV's supposed to look like. It's supposed to look like
everybody is about to get sent off to space.
Martha Quinn, let's face facts, was America's
sweetheart. We all had a little crush on her. I don't know
if it was the dope, or how late it was, but she was a very
adorable, pixieish young lady. And could introduce a video
like nobody's business. And who else were you going to have
a crush on at the time? J. J. Jackson?
She was the girl. Nina Blackwood seemed
unattainable. Mythological if you will. Martha Quinn seemed
like the girl that would turn you down at your own college.
You Wrote It, You Watch It was
the first thing we did at MTV. It seemed like a good idea
at the time. We got letters from viewers and then our sketch
troupe acted them out. The shows got bizarre. Ninety percent
of the letters were somebody throwing up on an animal. People
didn't -- what's the word I'm looking for -- "watch it".
Basically the show could be called You Wrote It.
Because the second part was really the key, that you watch
it. People never got that.
After that show ended, I was sent to Sicily
to chill out for a while, like the Godfather. Some of us were
having dinner one night. Someone had brought beer and we were
all a little hammered. They asked if I have any ideas for
some shows for the network. I said, "Well how about this
show? Let's try and find out what happens when people stop
being polite ands start getting nervous." They didn't
go for that. Then I think I said, "How about a talk show?"
And they said, "Okay."
The first guest on the talk show was Howard
Stern. I had stayed up all night the night before. I was very
nervous. I had never met him before, but I was very excited
'cause I was a big fan. I thought of every angle he was going
to go on. I can handle this. I'm a smart guy, a funny guy.
He came on the show, walks out and he goes, "I don't
know who you are and you're going to be off the air in six
weeks." God, I was like the guy in the Maxell commercial.
Howard was just nailing me left and right.
I did the only thing I could do. I just flipped open his book
and I go, "What's this chapter on lesbians?" Woo.
He was off me. That's what I still do with every guest. Sometimes
it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Anna Nicole Smith was a very interesting
case. I was used to viewers falling asleep during the show.
This was the first time we had a guest do it. You'd ask a
question and then you'd begin to see the reflex of trying
to answer. She was definitely trying to hand in there. About
halfway through it she'd go, "What was the question?"
When we went to commercial -- I had never seen this before
-- she had like an Indy pit crew with her. All of a sudden
eight guys come out , hydraulics, put her on a jack, twisting
her head around, slapping her around, and there's just one
lady in the front going, "Come on, you can do this."
We came back and she was a little fresher.