Michael Kaplan of The New York has written a column about what transpired behind the scenes of MTV, during the height of its popularity, excerpts from the article appear below.

In the early days of MTV, life often imitated art…

…Back when MTV debuted on Aug. 1st, 1981, it seemed destined that business and pleasure would mix. The channel played rock ’n’ roll videos 24 hours a day, after all. It revolutionized not only pop culture but also cable TV — making music a visual commodity and delivering a crop of hard-partying role models into homes across America.

And at MTV headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, the off-screen hijinks were often just as wild as the videos that the network played until the early aughts, when reality shows became the new normal.

Sex on the elevator, cocaine in the offices, stars melting down — it all used to be par for the course at MTV…

KISS bassist Gene Simmons, was known for roaming the offices and, as [Ken R]. Clark, [who managed on-air talent] said, “[and] hitting on staff.” On at least one occasion, however, the entreaties got out of hand.

“A woman who worked in the office got flirty with Gene,” Clark added. “She said she would do anything for a backstage pass. He picked her up and put her on [the green room’s] pool table.” It’s unclear what happened next but, “She came out of the room, screaming.”

As one of the network’s original VJs, Mark Goodman had a front-row seat for rock stars being outrageous.

He remembers conducting a backstage interview with David Lee Roth at the 1983 Us Festival, which his band Van Halen headlined.

“They got paid a ton of money, had a huge backstage compound and David was completely drunk and coked,” said Goodman, sounding not at all surprised by the behavior. “He’s the funniest guy in the world and kept laughing at his own jokes.”

Goodman also admitted he did his fair share of playing along.

“I didn’t do any cocaine with him that night,” he said of Roth. “But I have on many occasions.”

“I went out for a week or so on tour with him,” Goodman added. “While high on coke and pot, we talked about Chinese art. David makes crazy associations and his mind moves quickly.”

…after a 1987 New Year’s Eve run-in. MTV’s five VJs were hosting the night’s coverage from various bashes around the city.

“I bought a bunch of coke and a bottle of Cristal,” said Goodman who sipped champagne during breaks. “I was about to light a cigarette when [The Cult’s] Ian [Astbury] and the Beastie Boys came out of a bathroom. They were partying and drunk. Ian walked by and flipped the cigarette out of my mouth. I grabbed him by the lapels, threw him to the floor and said, ‘What the f–k?’”

Before things escalated, Goodman added, “People pulled me off of him.”

The incident took place off-camera, but that wasn’t always the case…

…Over the years — when MTV still focused on music and before reality shows became the channel’s bread and butter — it grew more and more common for bands to drop by to promote new music. That led to opportunities for shenanigans  both behind-the-scenes and on-air.

Whenever Mötley Crüe came in, they “were a mobile party,” recalled Clark. “They’d set up in the green room, with babes or groupies, and do coke off of the pool table.”

A decade older than most of the Crüe guys, Ozzy Osbourne, meanwhile, had a different set of needs. “The make-up artists had to hide his facelift scars,” Clark said.

Howard Stern knew how to stir up trouble. During a Thanksgiving appearance in the 1980s, he showed up with a freshly killed turkey and tried to hand it off to Middle Eastern cab drivers outside of MTV’s Midtown headquarters.

In 1992, Stern made an even more outrageous appearance during the Video Music Awards: Dropping from the UCLA Pauley Pavilion’s ceiling as a gas-blowing superhero called Fartman. The whole thing promised to be off-putting enough that an insider told The Post, “We had to ask 10 or 15 people to co-present with Howard before Luke Perry agreed to do it. Luke was not our first choice.”

In the late ’90s, MTV launched its afternoon countdown show Total Request Live, which aired live, with a studio audience, from the Times Square studios…

…Madonna, put on an exclusive for MTV staffers ahead of the release of her controversial 1989 video Like a Prayer, which featured her kissing a black Jesus and dancing in front of burning crosses — and cost her a Pepsi sponsorship.

For the sneak peek, [Madonna’s team] “brought [the video] in a Brink’s truck, like they were afraid one of us would steal it,” said Clark. Turns out, the fears were warranted.

Before the clip showed, “Somebody drilled a hole through the wall [of the room where the video would be viewed] and ran a cable into a back-office with a VHS recorder. While they were screening the video, a copy was made.”

Did Madonna care? “Give us a break. She would not have a career if not for MTV.” Another time, Madonna herself was challenged by a rival diva. It was the 1995 Video Music Awards and MTV News anchor Kurt Loder was doing a serious interview with the singer who had just won her first “real” — Loder’s words — VMA trophy: Female Video of the Year for Take a Bow. (Her previous awards were for technical categories like Cinematography.)

Suddenly, Courtney Love began lobbing containers of makeup at Madonna from beneath the interview platform.

Madonna asked that Love be kept at bay but Loder, recognizing a juicy moment, invited her up anyway. “Courtney Love is in dire need of attention,” Madonna said drolly. Love then scrambled up to the interview spot and accused Madonna of being “mean to me.”

“Courtney was wasted and taking it out on Madonna,” said an MTV producer who was there.

[Why was this and other incidences allowed to happen?] As the producer put it, “In the early days of MTV, the standards of traditional television did not exist.”

Read more at the New York Post.

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  • T on

    Way back in the day, album covers were the only real visual element the band projected (other than live shows, if you were able to go to one). Video changed that, and if you recall, videos even involved short stories (for lack of a better term) that accompanied the videos. Remember there was a minute of story set up before the song even started. (remember the RATT video with Milton Berle at the beginning?).
    Hair metal bands took this to the next level (especially bands like Poison) who projected the Party that they wanted fans to associate with them. What a decade, I still haven’t fully recovered;)

    • Dana on


      I think the hard rock that band that really typified making videos into mini movies was Guns N’ Roses. The trilogy from the Illusion albums (Don’t Cry, November Rain and Estranged) must have cost a small fortune.

      D 🙂

    • Rattlehead on

      Ugh! G ‘n R….a two album overrated band…”Appetite..” and “..Illusion…” that gets inducted into the RRHOF….go figure……

      But I do like their songs “Don’t Cry” and “Civil War” and maybe…..nope, that’s it, just those two. :o)

    • Dana on

      LOL!! I was discussing their videos being mini movies, not really addressing the music, per se. 😉

  • Doug R. on

    True story – first time I heard KI⚡⚡, the first album, I had no idea what they looked like, or anything about them. Walked by brother’s room, asked him who he was listening to, he said this new band called KI⚡⚡, this was in 1974, I was 8? My brother was 13, anyway, he started the album over so I could hear it from the beginning, I loved it, every song! Let me listen to it twice before he showed me the album cover, I was like (remember I was only around 8) wow, they look like clowns! 😉 Where’s Alice Cooper?! – thinking he was in the band too! – 8 year olds, you know? Then came Hotter Than Hell, Dressed To Kill, and of course Alive! Which blew the f–king roof off! I remember being in awe over the Alive! Photos, but it wasn’t until Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, or was it the Midnight Special? (Can’t believe I can’t remember) that I first saw KI⚡⚡ perform, and the rest is KI⚡⚡tory! BUT, if it wasn’t for connecting with the music, none of the imagery, stage show or any of the other shenanigans would’ve mattered or meant anything to me.

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