Sunday, June 15, 2008

119 Minutes To Go

It has become a cliched and tiresome joke to point out that MTV no longer plays videos. I believe the "M" in MTV now stands for "Misnomer."

But dull as the joke may have become, there's no denying the truth of it. Tune in (not that I'm recommending such action) and you'll be treated to six or seven thousand consecutive episodes of "The Hills." Or if you're really lucky, maybe you'll see a delightfully endless marathon of "The Real World: Walla Walla." Or wherever the heck it's located these days.

One of the last outposts of music on MTV was also one of the best. "120 Minutes" -- mentioned on this past Saturday's Pop Culture America with John and Dave -- debuted in 1986 as a late-night dumping ground for videos in "light rotation," MTV code for videos they were contractually obligated to play, but didn't wanna. Newly hired rock journalist Dave Kendall saw an opportunity to use the platform as a showcase for the burgeoning independent-rock scene and soon, "120" became one of the best, most eclectic national sources for discovering new music.

After a parade of reluctant hosts, including original VJ's Alan Hunter and the late J. J. Jackson, Kendall took his rightful place as the show's first permanent host, a position he held for about three years. After he left, the show marshaled on with a succession of hosts before Matt Pinfield took the slot and held it down for five more years.

Bald and pudgy, Pinfield was an unlikely on-camera presence, but he brought an encyclopedic knowledge of what was then called "alternative rock" and became the show's signature face. If its possible to have a signature face.

"120" wound down as the 21st century dawned, first squeezed out of its MTV slot by (horrid) reruns of "Undressed," then relegated to MTV2. Finally, the show was canned entirely. Jim Shearer hosted it in its last days and even presided as "120 Minutes" morphed into "Subterranean," a pale shadow of its superior forebear.

"Subterranean" still airs, late on Sunday nights -- 1AM Eastern. And it has its moments. I discovered the 1990s, a band that made my Top Ten list for 2007, there. But the dedication to new music is lacking, as is the presence of a strong host, Jim Shearer having parted ways with the show not long after its inception. And the on-screen graphics are among the most intrusive on TV.

There might not be much music -- if any -- on MTV anymore, but for a brief time, not only was there music, there was genuinely cutting-edge, superior music. That brief time lasted exactly two hours every week.

Note: To see the very last episode of "120 Minutes, featuring a gathering of all three of the show's key hosts, check out our friends over at altmusictv.com. They also have the most comprehensive listing of "120" episode playlists anywhere.

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