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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  • robert davenport on

    Where is the book !

  • Rattlehead on

    The 80’s….what a great time for music! The NWOBHM was in full speed, the rise of thrash metal, the birth of countless metal bands, landmark albums were released, etc….

    MTV catapulted many bands to success, particularly the “hair metal” bands since “look” now made a difference to a viewing audience. People began enjoying music with their eyes in addition to their ears.

    • Dana on


      That is an excellent point and makes one wonder just how many bands/musicians got popular soley on their looks/image versus their sound?

      D 🙂

  • Doug R. on

    I must be in the minority here, because I swear I never really cared what the artist or the video looked like, If I didn’t like the song, their appearance or the video didn’t mean anything to me. When I first heard Madonna’s “Holiday,” (which there was no video for) I didn’t even know anything about her, what she looked liked, if she was black or white, it didn’t matter to me, all I knew was that I liked the song, went out and bought the 45, I admit it, and then about a month or 2 later went out and bought that first album. It wasn’t until seeing the “Burning Up” video that I even knew what she looked like, but again, I didn’t care, only cared about the music. Yes, MTV helped alot of artists get discovered, but remember the ’70s? Way before music videos on MTV? When you heard a song on the radio that you really liked, did you really care or even think about what the artist looked like? I didn’t, all that mattered to me was the music. MTV helped, but in my opinion, MTV also hurt ALOT of artists from the ’80s, I guess it’s just like everything else in life, you have to take the good with the bad.

    • Rattlehead on

      Many music fans first heard their favorite songs on MTV, not the radio. The visual stimulation of the music video was a powerful tool to absorb and enjoy the music, just like a concert stage show. The glitter of MTV helped bands portray an image that the radio could not and still can’t. Like the first ever premiered MTV video, video killed the radio star.

      The only band MTV hurt was Winger cuz of their negative portrayal on the Beavis and Butthead show.

    • Dana on

      Well, I also wonder if many musicians’ “image” had a lot do with popularity? For example some 80s new wave bands?

    • Rattlehead on

      Dana, I think image helps the popularity of many bands, as Robert notes below. It’s one of the reasons the original KI$$ is my favorite band of all time. But, IMO, the band that gained the most stardom due to image was Poison. I think the musicianship in that band is simply terrible (excluding Richie Kotzen’s short lived stint with the band) and they used a visual image to overcome/compensate for it. They were originally from Pennsylvania, but they were wise to relocate to Los Angeles where the glitter and spotlight of Hollywood would brighten a glam image.

      I think some of Poison’s songs and videos are fun, but I also think they are the most significant band lacking real musicianship that gained the most from image. And, IMO, Poison owes their success to MTV for the visuals it provided.

    • Dana on


      Fair enough, but I guess in my mind I was picturing bands like Kajagoogoo or Culture Club. We all know that Duran Duran was a huge hit due their image, but in their case, I think they were talented.

      CC was okay, but I always wondered if Boy George wasn’t so unique looking, if the quality of their songs would have been good enough to carry them through.


    • Doug R. on

      I used to have that 45 – “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles as well, long before I ever saw the video, I still have the song, but it’s on my “Pure ’80s” compilation CD. Wasn’t a regular viewer of MTV until 1984, cable was late being available in my area. Caught a few videos here and there occasionally on “Friday Night Videos,” or over at a friend’s or relative’s house who was lucky enough to already have cable. No, I guess I’m just an old school fool, don’t get me wrong, there probably were a few songs/artists that might’ve slipped through my radar had it not been for MTV, but overall, it’s all about the music first and foremost with me, always has been, and always will be. As far as “Beavis and Sh-thead” go, never watched it, never was a fan of cartoons, especially stupid childish idiotic ones like that one.

    • Dana on


      To each their own, butI think that song is terrible, regardless of how it helped MTV.

      D 🙂

    • Doug R. on

      It’s just a fun song, I guess that’s why I like it. Early on with Duran Duran, (before I became exposed to MTV) their songs were all over the radio, I don’t even think I seen a Duran Duran video until ’84, same goes for Culture Club, IMO the best video ever made was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” As far as Poison goes, well, I guess maybe some people bought their music because of their videos, but not me, I was the opposite, I watched their videos because of the music. Not the greatest musicians in the world of course, but good enough to make some really good songs along the way, no matter the image or the budget, if the song sucked, the video didn’t matter.

    • Dana on

      Poison is about having fun, they are not trying to reinvent the wheel. People could say the same exact same thing about the Mop Top era of The Beatles (which happens to be my favorite era), but it turns out they were far more than I Want To Hold Your Hand.

    • Doug R. on

      Exactly! Which is what I’m all about – having fun! Well, I try. 😉

  • robert davenport on

    I’m like you in that I can’t deny a great song , and could care less what the artist or band looks like when I hear it , but I do like to see a band with some vision and imagery, who cares and understands the audience is not just listening but watching too, who understands how their look helps elevate their performance – think black sabbath ,how would they come off live if they dressed on stage like pee wee herman… or kiss their make up and black leather and chrome – acdc Angus Youngs school uniform, fashion and music will always be tied together ~

  • Rattlehead on

    I loved that Metallica had gained much popularity being a “street” band with no radio or MTV play. They were “my” band gaining traction via an undercurrent while releasing killer albums deemed too heavy for commercial radio. But when Metallica released their first video, “One”, on MTV, I felt a little betrayed cuz now “my” band was becoming “everybody’s” band. And then when their “Blah-k” album came out….Meh-tallica was born…..

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