I Want My MTV... Paycheck
The pots of coffee I drink during the day and the garlic burritos from the taco stand down the street from my apartment certainly don't help matters either.
The point is, I have trouble sleeping at night. And flopping around in my bed in a desperate quest to find the cool side of the pillow gets really old really fast. So often, when the rest of polite society is tucked into its figurative bed, sawing some serious logs, I find myself skulking about my apartment trying to find something to keep my keen mind occupied.
I could read, sure, but books with too many big words or without enough bright, glossy pictures often confuse and frustrate me. And a fellah can spend only so much time in those Internet chat rooms before his hand begins to cramp up.
Errrr... or so I've been told.
So that pretty much leaves TV -- uncomplicated, undemanding TV -- as my sole source of comfort in the wee small hours of the morning. As the moon exits stage left each and every night, you'll probably find me sprawled out on the floor, restlessly flicking back and forth between cable news and Lou Grant reruns and "World's Strongest Man" competitions on ESPN.
Which is how, the other night, I came across the ghostly visage of Nina Blackwood. And hand to God, folks, it scared the bejeezus out of me.
Nina Blackwood, you may remember, was one of the original VeeJays on MTV, back when the erstwhile music channel would play the occasional Cyndi Lauper video instead of broadcasting non-stop footage of self-involved twentysomethings arguing over who forgot to take the garbage out of their trendy Seattle pad. Sultry-voiced and sassily dressed, Nina Blackwood was the unwitting leading lady of many a teenage boy's illicit daydream -- the wanton, libertine yin to Martha Quinn's girl-next-door yang.
And her she was, on my TV after the witching hour, hawking Time-Life Sounds of the '80s CDs.
You can imagine the shock, the horror, the not-at-all fresh feeling inside that coursed through me at the sight of the time-ravaged Nina Blackwood. Here was an '80s trend-setter, a woman who rubbed elbows with the power elite of pop music, a mover-and-shaker who could score tickets to the Kajagoogoo/Flock of Seagulls twin bill at the Wiltern with a snap of her pretty little fingers. And today, she's been reduced to appearing in infomercials just to earn an honest buck.
No, the card sharp of fate has not dealt Nina a particularly enviable hand. But before you shed too many tears on her behalf, consider this sobering thought. Nina's downfall, while considerable, is at least relatively low-key. Only insomniacs, drunkards and shut-ins will ever see those Time-Life Sounds of the '80s commercials, and most will probably dismiss them as hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation or a miscalculated dose of pills.
But the other ex-VeeJays -- those eager, wide-eyed kids who thought a gig kickin' it on air at MTV would lead to untold riches and fame -- don't have it near as good as Nina. Their failures have all been public ones, piled up one on top of the other like the bodies at a doomsday cult's final hoe-down.
It's almost like clockwork. Every couple of years, a well-groomed hipster will break free from the lucrative if limited world of music television, convinced that he's going to be the one to break the VeeJay losing streak, only to find that it's not so easy when the job requires you to do more than just introduce a block of Whitesnake videos.
This season, in particular, has been a remarkably bleak one for the proud alums of MTV. Former VeeJay Jon Sencio is part of the cast of the WB's Army Show, a laugh-free rehash of the old Sgt. Bilko program, only without the raw sensuality of Phil Silvers. Sencio plays one of the dimwitted mopes who get into one wacky scrape after another in a show that proves, yes, there is no such thing as a "good war," but at least it ups the odds that these jackasses might get run over by a tank.
Chris Hardwick, the one-time host of MTV's Singled Out, is now paying for his sins over on UPN. If you thought the sight of Hardwick matching wits with the slack-jawed contestants on Singled Out was hard to stomach then spare yourself the trauma of watching him verbally spar with a latter-day Emmanuel Lewis on Guys Like Us. And this time around, there's no Jenny McCarthy to keep the howling mob at bay.
Then there's the well-groomed Jacinda Barrett, late of The Real World, now slumming it on NBC's gagfest Wind on Water. The lovely Ms. Barrett certainly isn't the worst thing about Wind on Water -- not while Bo Derek and Lee Horsley are cashing paychecks at any rate. Jacinda's role is to basically stand around and look pretty in a bikini -- something she pulls off with aplomb -- while trying to refrain from giggling at the show's inane dialogue.
These three newbies join grizzled vet Dan Cortese, now in his second season on Veronica's Closet. The fact that the show's a qualified ratings hit and that Cortese does a pretty good job with the material he's given would seem to make him the dean of ex-VeeJays, the pinnacle to which other poor, oppressed on-air talent should aspire. But this line of thinking ignores history. To get to the oasis of Veronica's Closet, Cortese had to first wander through a desert of TV dross -- three-shows-and-out rejects like Traps and Route 66 and a series of hemorrhage-inducing commercials on behalf of Burger King. And even now, Veronica's Closet is only kept alive thanks to the human flotation device that is Kirstie Alley.
They should have learned, these poor, dumb kids. They should have listened to their elders. Then they would have known of the curse, of the horrible legacy inherited by those foolish enough to leave the warm embrace of Yo! MTV Raps and House of Style.
Martha Quinn turned her back on her rightful place as America's sweetheart -- the kind of a girl who could introduce a Def Leppard tune and really mean it -- only to wind up playing Bobby Brady's bride on the horrific 1990 midseason replacement The Bradys. Daisy Fuentes -- lovely, leggy Daisy Fuentes -- could have had the world at her fingertips if she had just been content to give us another clip of MC Hammer. Now she's on America's Funniest Home Videos, wondering how things went so horribly wrong. Jenny McCarthy, once the toast of the town, found out how difficult carving out a place in America's heart can be when you have to keep your top on. And Ken Ober toiled away on Remote Control and countless Rock 'N Jock events only to be sentenced to a lifetime of servitude in third rate projects like Parenthood the TV series and the all-new Make Me Laugh.
Because he's crying on the inside, no doubt.
The lesson here is simple -- if, at some point in your life, you happen to accept a job with MTV, or indeed any subsidiary or joint venture of Viacom, never, ever try to leave. Just ask original VeeJay Mark Goodman, who was last seen hosting Illinois state lottery drawings, dreaming of the days when he used to go bar hopping with Huey Lewis.
But they won't learn. They never learn. MTV VeeJays and assorted hangers-on will still chase after the siren's song of network television, and network suits -- so bereft of ideas that they're actually allowing Bo Derek and Lee Horsley to cash paychecks -- will fall all over themselves to sign these hip-hop talking heads to lucrative sitcom deals. Soon thereafter, the shows will be canceled, the ex-VeeJays will be carted off to late night cable and the circle of life begins anew.
And really, why shouldn't I get in on the action? Especially when there's money to be made. So the next time some network honcho gets it into his thick skull to build a sitcom around Jenny McCarthy or Idalis or that bald, creepy-looking VeeJay whose name escapes me at the moment, I hope they'll consider some of my show ideas -- guaranteed to stay on the air longer than Jenny or your money back!
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