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Anyone who doubts that our society is too obsessed with celebrities would have had his mind changed by the January 22 press conference at the Temple Buell in support of VH1. One attendee who shall remain nameless for his own protection called it "bloated" and "overblown," but I disagree. In my opinion, it was much worse than that.

To set up the tale: As of January 1, VH1 and its sister network, MTV, were dropped from numerous cable systems controlled by Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), the media mega-conglomerate based in Greenwood Village. The announced reasons for this decision varied. In Grand Junction, for example, local TCI officials claimed that MTV, which had been on cable there since its national debut in August 1981, wasn't family-friendly enough. In the case of VH1, however, TCI execs seemed to believe that viewers simply wouldn't notice the quiet disappearance of the channel, which specializes in middle-of-the-road videos (can you say "Hootie"?) and various music-oriented nostalgia programming (like frequent reruns of vintage American Bandstand episodes). So they replaced VH1 with services they hoped would be more profitable--shopping or pay-per-view channels in some locations, competitors such as the Cartoon Network in others.

Viacom, the corporation that owns VH1 and MTV, didn't take this ignominy quietly. It encouraged local protests, such as the one in Grand Junction that resulted in MTV returning to the system there at mid-month, and bought full-page ads in daily newspapers to criticize VH1's disappearance; the copy in these ads was built around the phrase "Missing in Action." But Viacom's biggest publicity coup was to be the press conference, at which VH1-style artists Don Henley, Jewell and John Mellencamp (joined by Tony Rich, included in all likelihood to imply that VH1's programming is more racially balanced than it actually is) would raise their voices against this tremendous injustice.

Cowed by such a show of pop-star force, TCI promptly backed down, pledging to reinstate MTV and VH1 to pre-January 1 status. But rather than cancel the now-purposeless event, Viacom went ahead with it anyway--and reporters from every television station and major publication in the area showed up to cover it. The area outside the theater was dominated by a promotional balloon inflated by representatives of KRFX-FM/103.5, The Fox, which sponsored the conference, while the lobby, where the famous folks were to speak, featured an elaborate dais, a camera platform, over a hundred folding chairs and several banquet tables laden with sandwiches, finger foods and beverages. Security was heavy throughout the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex, but there was no trouble, thanks to underlings from VH1 and the Dish Network who gave out hats and other consolation collectibles to average Joes and Janes who weren't granted admission to the address.

Predictably, the famous people were more than half an hour late; then, upon their arrival, they were pigeonholed by Fox jocks Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax, further delaying the proceedings. Henley seemed visibly annoyed by Floorwax's trademark Foster Brooks impression: "You must be a morning guy," he said derisively. For his part, Lewis did his best to quiz Rich even though he seemed to have not a clue who he was. (No wonder: The only way Rich will be heard on the Fox ever again is if he joins Blue Oyster Cult.) A moment later the quartet headed inside, with Henley acting as de facto moderator. He put TCI's change of heart in the most excessive terms possible, asserting that "clearly, the voice of the people matters" and calling TCI's move "a testament to the power of music and the power of democracy." Surprisingly, no one burst out laughing at these claims.

After Henley completed his opening statement, it was obvious that there was nothing left to say, but a few bad-sport journalists decided to dig for a little actual news anyway. After a bit of prodding, both Mellencamp and Henley acknowledged that the entire "controversy" was little more than a power struggle between two big companies. "But that's the way of America," Mellencamp said, apparently under the delusion that he was making a profound revelation. Henley added, "When it comes to music of all types, I think the power is in too few hands." The once and future Eagle was ready with a quip when yours truly asked if trying to save VH1 might seem a little silly by comparison with his campaign to save Walden Woods, a sliver of nature celebrated by author Henry David Thoreau: "It's all civil disobedience to me," he said. But neither he nor his fellow performers would reveal who asked them to attend the press conference, or if anyone paid them to do so. After Mellencamp, who'd been lobbying to end the entire charade since shortly after he'd taken his seat, joked that he'd come at the behest of TCI, a VH1 flack brought the conference to a screeching halt.

The whole thing took about ten minutes--which was about nine-and-a-half minutes more than it deserved. Nonetheless, Denver TV stations spread it all over their evening newscasts, and the Denver Post put a photo of Henley, Mellencamp and Jewell looking impossibly bored on its front page.

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