long flow of smart ideas
at last may be slowing to a dribble
Three new duds follow a string of successes
VH1 may finally be running out of programming ideas, judging from a trio of new additions to its schedule, "Rotten Television" (Sundays, midnight-12:30 a.m. ET), "Rock 'N Roll Record Breakers" (Fridays, 10:30-11 p.m. ET, beginning January tomorrow) and "Pop-Up Quiz" (Saturdays, 6-6:30 p.m. ET, beginning January Saturday).
If any cable channel has truly lived up to the "It's the programming, stupid" credo, it's VH1. The all-music network has orchestrated an astonishing turnaround over the past several years due to the success of popular series like "Behind the Music" and "Pop-Up Video."
VH1 boasted as many as 70 million viewers in August and has experienced growth in the adult 18-49 demographic over the past 15 quarters.
For awhile it seemed like the network could do no wrong.
No cable channel turns out quality programming with the consistency of VH1, which has followed up on flagship hits like "Pop-Up" and "Behind" with the likes of "VH1 Rock Collectors" and "The List," a weeknight roundtable which has improved ratings by 69 percent at 7 p.m. An additional 60 episodes have been ordered. Half of its current schedule is original programming, a number VH1 plans to boost by 10 percent in 2000.
"Rotten," "Record" and "Quiz" simply don't measure up to the high standards the network has set for itself. "Rotten" is the most aggravating of the three, a showcase for former Sex Pistols anarchist/singer Johnny Rotten. The first episode indicates age has not mellowed him: He destroys rock memorabilia with a tank, gets ejected from the "Roseanne" show and does a nasty imitation of rock legend Neil Young. Watching this human train wreck defy conventional programming is intended to be subversive and experimental.
Instead, Rotten comes off pathetic and weird.
"Record" is a cheeky newsmagazine that examines so-called rock-themed "records" too goofy for Guinness.
For instance, the debut episode recognizes the band Jackyl for performing the most shows in one day (21 concerts in 24 hours) and awards the "rarest rock collectible" to a woman who actually owns a wart lanced from Elvis Presley's right wrist.
"Record" aims to be cute, going so far as to dispatch a correspondent to a Holiday Inn that sparked the "longest hotel ban," which was placed on The Who. After eyewitnesses to a memorable evening of debauchery debate whether there was water in the swimming pool where Who drummer Keith Moon decided to park his Cadillac, VH1's Ray James urges the hotel chain to lift the 31-year-old ban against the band.
There is such thing as trying too hard to be funny.
"Quiz" is a weak spin-off of "Pop-Up," a VH1 series that was all the rage on cable back in 1998, but hasn't really aged as well as "Behind the Music."
Instead of cutesy factoids popping up on screen, trivia questions related to the music video being played are presented. "Quiz" is certainly a sign that VH1 may have finally run out of ideas for series.
The new three don't spell disaster for VH1; many more programs are expected to roll out in the coming months under the $100 million programming budget the network announced in June.
VH1 seems to be showing more momentum on the film side, where originals like "Sweetwater" and a Ricky Nelson biopic averaged a respectable 1.7 rating.
It will be interesting to see whether the upcoming fictional Beatles film "The Two of Us" (Feb. 1) can top that mark.
Primetime ratings for VH1 were flat for 1999 vs. 1998 (0.5). However, the network claims to have the highest composition of 18-49ers among cable networks (67 percent).
-Andrew Wallenstein covers television programming for Media Life.