We watch... so you don't have to.

I Want My MTV... Paycheck

By nature, I'm an insomniac. Many's the night that, instead of laying my weary head down on my fluffy pillow and drifting immediately off to sleep, I'll spend the next couple of hours tossing and turning. Thoughts race through my mind... deep thoughts about the vastness of the universe and my place in it. And, weighted down by the heavy questions, the troubling doubts, the dark ruminations, I'll lie there as wide-eyed as a barn owl, the sleep chased far away from my brain by the complex nature of my musings.

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!

  • Senator Kennedy: Thanks to a clerical error, the voters of the commonwealth of Massachusetts fail to re-elect fat drunkard Ted Kennedy and instead inadvertently cast their votes for America's favorite four-eyed VeeJay. In this outrageous spoof of current events, the vivacious Kennedy runs wild in the corridors of power, and the men and women of our nation's capital run, too... for cover, that is!

    With the help of her harried chief of staff (Mark Linn-Baker), Kennedy sets out to turn the Capitol dome upside down while locking horns with a stodgy conservative senator (David Odgen Stiers) and locking lips with a hunky Senate page (Mario Lopez). In the premier episode, the VeeJay turned lawmaker raises eyebrows when she tries to pass a joint resolution declaring that the Black Crowes are "really boss" and raises temperatures when she tries to show the Speaker of the House (Newt Gingrich) her new tattoo.

    This is one senator whose record is unimpeachable... unless outrageous comedy and zany hijinks count as high crimes and misdemeanors!

  • It Was Murder, Dude: By day, he's a respected rock journalist, known for his laid-back style of softball questions. By night, he solves crimes.

    Following in the footsteps of fellow septuagenarian Angela Lansbury, Kurt Loder makes his triumphant debut on network television as an aging hipster who combines an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music with a keen insight into the criminal mind. With the help of his harried assistant (Mark Linn-Baker) the languid Loder juggles his life as a rock reporter, hobnobbing with record executives and starlets, with his secret identity as a crime-stopping sleuth.

    LODER: Madonna, your new album "Ray of Light" is perhaps your most mature and accomplished work to date.

    MADONNA: Why thank you, Kurt.

    LODER: Could you tell our viewers... what's an odorless, tasteless substance that when taken internally can kill a victim almost instantaneously?

    MADONNA: Um. Arsenic, I guess, but I really don't see what this has to do with...

    LODER: Arsenic! Of course! That's why the ambassador never noticed anything was wrong with his whiskey sour!

    With this sharp-as-nails detective on the case, evil-doers better be ready to be nabbed red-handed. And viewers better be ready to rock!

  • Where in the World is Alan Hunter?: Part game show, part educational series for children, this innovative new series teaches youngsters the importance of geography as they vie for valuable prizes.

    Host Mark Linn-Baker takes our young contestants on a globe-trotting adventure as they try to guess where ex-VeeJay Alan Hunter is sleeping off last night's drunk. Is it at a dingy wharf in Singapore? A youth hostel in Prague? A flophouse outside Biloxi, Mississippi? Only Alan knows for sure!

  • Bald, Creepy-Looking VeeJay Presents -- Tales of Mystery: In this anthology series, the bald, creepy-looking VeeJay whose name escapes me at the moment introduces a half-hour of macabre tales, not for the faint of heart. In the first episode entitled "Leitmotif," an out-of-work sitcom actor from the 1980s (Mark Linn-Baker) wonders why he's become a running gag in an overlong Web site article.

    What else can America say but, "Damn, that bald VeeJay sure is creepy looking!"

  • Beat the Hell Out of Puck: Each week, one lucky viewer will get the chance to live out a fantasy long held by every American since they first laid eyes on the incorrigible Puck. Our contestant will be locked in a room with Puck -- the irrepressible ne'er-do-well from the third installment of The Real World -- where he or she will have 30 minutes to beat on Puck mercilessly.

    The contestant will be led to a table covered with a host of blunt instruments, rubber hoses, jagged rocks and a car battery and be told to have at it. A studio audience will cheer lustily for the contestant to whale away on Puck, even after the free-spirited rapscallion begins sobbing to his God for death and the padded studio walls can no longer drown out the furor of his screams and...

Hmmmm? What? I seem to have lost my train of thought. Let's move on.

  • MTV Party House: In this light-hearted sitcom, all the former MTV VeeJays live together in a big house, where they argue and banter and learn one important lesson after another about getting along. But mostly what they do is sit around by the phone and wait for their agents to call.

    While waiting for that phone to ring, the VeeJays bicker among themselves over who gets to be "occupant" when the mail arrives. Some take odd jobs. Adam Curry will mow the lawn for the nice old lady across the street. J.J. Jackson will open a corner lemonade stand.

    In a very special Sweeps-week episode of Party House, MTV exec Brian Graden shows up at the house, throws a few shekels on the floor in front of the wide-eyed VeeJays and cackles madly as they wrestle furiously with one another to get their hands on that precious coin.

    Then, in keeping with the fine tradition of shows starring ex-MTV VeeJays, he immediately cancels the show and replaces it with one of them Time-Life Sounds of the '80s CD commercials.


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