VH1 (originally an initialism of Video Hits One) is an American cable television network based in New York City that is owned by the Viacom Global Entertainment Group, a unit of Viacom Media Networks. The channel was first launched on January 1, 1985 in the old space of Turner Broadcasting System's short-lived Cable Music Channel. It was originally created by Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, at the time a division of Warner Communications and the original owner of MTV (MTV and VH1 are now both owned by Viacom Media Networks).
The original purpose of the channel was to build upon the success of MTV by playing music videos, but targeting a slightly older demographic than its sister channel, focusing on the lighter, softer side of popular music. More recently, much like MTV, VH1 has been in the area of music-related reality programming, such as Behind the Music, the I Love… series and the Celebreality block of programming, as part of the channel's current focus on popular culture.
VH1's aim was to focus on the lighter, softer side of popular music, including such musicians as Olivia Newton-John, Kenny Rogers, Carly Simon, Tina Turner, Elton John, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Sting, Donna Summer, Rod Stewart, Kenny G, Michael Bolton, Anita Baker, Chicago and Fleetwood Mac, in hopes of appealing to people aged 18 to 35, and possibly older. Also frequently featured in the network's early years were "videos" for Motown and other 60s oldies consisting of newsreel and concert footage. It was introduced on January 1, 1985 with the video performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Marvin Gaye.
From the start, Video Hits One was branded as an urban version of its sister/parent channel. It played more jazz and R&B artists than MTV and had a higher rotation of urban-contemporary performers. Its early on-camera personalities were New York radio veterans Don Imus (then of WNBC), Frankie Crocker (then program director and DJ for WBLS), Scott Shannon (of Z100), Jon Bauman ("Bowzer" from Sha Na Na), Bobby Rivers, and Rita Coolidge.
Later VJs included Tim Byrd of WPIX-FM (now WFAN-FM), a station whose eclectic ballad-and-R&B oriented format mirrored that of VH-1, and Alison Steele ("The Nightbird" of WNEW-FM). Rosie O'Donnell later joined the outlet's veejay lineup. O'Donnell would also host a comedy show featuring various comedians each episode. As an added touch to make the network more like a televised radio station, the early years of the network featured jingles in their bumpers produced by JAM Creative Productions in Dallas, who had previously made jingles for radio stations worldwide.
The format left room for occasional ad-libs by the VJ, a godsend for emcees such as Imus and O'Donnell. In true Imus style, he used a 1985 segment of his VH-1 show to jokingly call smooth-jazz icon Sade Adu a "grape" for her oval-shaped head.
Typical of VH1's very early programming was New Visions, a series which featured videos and in-studio performances by smooth jazz and classical and new-age bands and performers, including Spyro Gyra, Andy Narell, Mark Isham, Philip Glass, and Yanni. At first many different musicians guest-hosted the program, but eventually musician/songwriter Ben Sidran became the permanent host.
New-Age music videos continued to play on the channel into the 1990s. They would be seen on the Sunday morning 2-hour music video block titled Sunday Brunch.
Once VH1 established itself a few years later, they catered to Top 40, adult contemporary, classic rock, and 1980s mainstream pop. For a time, even country music videos aired in a one-hour block during the afternoons. They started out using MTV's famous Kabel typeface font for their music video credit tags. It was later replaced in 1991 by a larger font, with the year the video was made added to the lower column that identified the label on which the album was released. In 1993, the name of the videos' director was included at the bottom of the credits.
During this time, they also had some non-music programming, such as a comedy hour hosted by Rosie O'Donnell with various amateur and veteran comedians, called Stand Up Spotlight, an in-depth look at current movies called Flix, and reports on good civilians and volunteers in the community, called Good News People.
Long blocks of music videos by a particular artist or band, theme, or years were also very popular in this era. One popular weekend program was called Video Rewind, in which blocks of 1980s videos from one particular year would play for an hour. There was also a short-lived hour-long program called By Request in which viewers could call a 1–900 hotline number to request their videos.
Also in 1991, a popular morning program was introduced called Hits News & Weather that ran from 7 AM to 9 AM ET. (It later expanded to 10 AM ET.) It consisted of music videos both past and present along with a 90-second update of the day's news & weather provided by All News Channel. The updates were typically shown twice an hour during the program. A box displaying the minutes past the hour was shown below the logo during the period. It was discontinued a week before the channel was re-branded in the Spring of 1994. During the week prior, classic music videos from forgotten artists/bands aired, titled Whatever Happened To...?
The channel's playlist was gradually expanding, and, by 1994, included contemporary musicians such as Ace of Base, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Lisa Loeb, Amy Grant, Seal, and other slightly heavier, or more alternative rock-influenced music than what it had originally played, although favorites such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart, Cher, Elton John, Madonna, Phil Collins, Janet Jackson, and Céline Dion still continued to receive heavy play for several more years as well.
In May 1994, VH1 re-branded itself as VH1: Music First, following a slight ratings decline in the early 1990s. They began airing "History of Music Videos A to Z" during the July 4 weekend from 1994 to 1998 where they would show a large percentage of their library of music videos, which would include mini-marathons of videos by artists with a large number of videos. The success of A to Z led to a weeknight 11pm hour-long broadcast of Madonna videos, titled The Madonna Show. The videos were aired without introduction by a VJ and the program was soon shortened to thirty minutes, and then scrapped altogether. By 1996, VH1 was heading down the same path as its sister channel, MTV, choosing to focus more on music-related shows than on music videos. Additionally, the network began to expand its playlist of music videos to include more rock music. Old episodes of American Bandstand could regularly be seen on the channel. By that time, the channel's ratings were beginning to fall.
As part of VH-1's re-branding as "VH1: Music First" in 1994, the channel launched a new series, the VH1 Top 10 Countdown, that counted down the top ten music videos played on VH1 each week. A combination of record sales, radio airplay, video spins, message board posts, and conventional mail would decide the order of the countdown. A rotating cast of VJs picked up hosting duties for the show over the years. The series expanded from ten to twenty music videos, becoming the VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown, in 2001. The show was renamed The 20 in early 2015, and ended later that year.
In the fall of 1996, VH1 premiered Pop-Up Video, in which music videos were accompanied by "pop-ups" (also known as "bubbles" or "info nuggets")--small enclosed areas of the screen containing facts about the band artists, and videos such as career highlights, discography, biographical details, quotes, and anecdotes.
In February 1996, VH1 again hit it big with the premiere of the first of the network's flagship shows, VH1 Storytellers. The show started with a broadcast of Ray Davies, during his "Storyteller" tour, and took its name from this first show. In each hourlong episode, artists appear in front of a (mostly small and intimate) live audience, interspersing musical performances with anecdotes related to the songs' meaning, the songwriting process, audience reaction, etc. Along with Davies, the series has featured a widely diverse list of artists, including Culture Club, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, Kanye West, Tom Waits, and Def Leppard. Meat Loaf enjoyed the show's format so much that he bought the stage decorations from VH-1 and went on to do a "Storytellers" tour in 1998/1999.
VH1 scored another hit in August 1997 with the debut of Behind the Music. The hourlong show features interviews and biographies of some of popular music's biggest stars qualified to be profiled on the series. The premiere episode featured Milli Vanilli. Episodes have ranged from Aaliyah to Stryper to Queen, as well as others such as, Meat Loaf, Tori Amos, MC Hammer, Cher, Oasis, Steppenwolf, Fleetwood Mac, TLC, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Megadeth, Britney Spears, Selena, Petra, Pantera, and Eminem, with more episodes being produced periodically. By the late 1990s, the show began to run out of artists to profile, leading to the short-lived BTM2 program, half-hour looks into bands and artists whose popularity was rising, but not yet at its peak.
Shortly after, VH1 created a companion series, Legends (originally sponsored by AT&T), profiling artists who have made a more significant contribution to music history to qualify as "Legends" (that is, those artists who have gone beyond the category of Behind the Music biographies). The artists profiled so far have included Aerosmith; the Bee Gees; David Bowie; Johnny Cash; Eric Clapton; The Clash; George Clinton; Sam Cooke; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; The Doors; John Fogerty; Aretha Franklin; Marvin Gaye; The Grateful Dead; Guns N' Roses; Jimi Hendrix; Michael Jackson; Eminem; Elton John; Janis Joplin; B. B. King; Led Zeppelin; John Lennon; Curtis Mayfield; Nirvana; Pink Floyd; The Pretenders; Red Hot Chili Peppers; Queen; Bruce Springsteen; Tina Turner; U2; Stevie Ray Vaughan; The Who, and Neil Young.
The VH1 Save The Music Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music education programs in America’s public schools, and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child’s complete education. Founded in 1997, VH1 Save The Music was the first organization in existence dedicated to restoring music programs in America's schools. For nearly 20 years, the foundation has donated over $53 million worth of new musical instruments to 2,024 public schools in 247 school districts around the country to date—impacting the lives of more than 3 million public school students. Learn about the foundation’s Play It Forward campaign in celebration of its 20th anniversary here: on.vh1.com/playitforward
The Save The Music Foundation's 2012 Ambassador class includes Gavin Rossdale, Jordin Sparks, Vanessa Carlton, Lupe Fiasco, Katy Perry, Chris Daughtry, Matthew Morrison, and AJ Mclean, joining Alumni Ambassadors including: Kelly Clarkson, John Mayer, Natasha Bedingfield, John Legend, The Fray, Colbie Caillat, Tamia, Ne-Yo, and Nick Lachey, among many other musicians, singers, athletes and celebrities dedicated to the cause. VH1 Save The Music Ambassadors help raise awareness and deliver key messages about the importance of music education in a young person's life, as well as help raise funds to further the Foundation's mission to restore instrumental music education programs in U.S. public elementary and middle schools. It won a Peabody Award in 1999.
In 1998, VH1 debuted the first annual VH1 Divas concert and featured the "divas" Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan, and Celine Dion, and the "special guest" Carole King. The second installment of these "diva" shows was produced in 1999 featuring Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Cher, LeAnn Rimes, Mary J. Blige, Faith Hill, Chaka Khan, Brandy, and special "divo" Elton John. It became a huge success and was featured in the following years starring Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Destiny's Child, Jordin Sparks, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson, Shakira, Deborah Harry, Anastacia, Dixie Chicks, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, and Jessica Simpson. Also in 1999, Donna Summer who was asked to do the "diva" concert, was given her own concert special by VH1 "Donna Summer Live and More: Encore". Some artists such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, Cher, Chaka Khan, and Faith Hill were featured in two or more VH1 divas concerts, with Cyndi Lauper appearing the most times, having been featured in 4 concerts.
In 1999, VH1 aired its first original movie, a bio-pic on Sweetwater. Their third original movie (which aired in 2000), Two of Us, focused on a fictional meeting between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Over the next three years, they made over a dozen movies, including bio-pics on Jim Morrison and The Doors, Ricky Nelson, MC Hammer, The Monkees, Meat Loaf, and Def Leppard.
VH1 continues to air "Movies That Rock" on a regular basis, expanding to include movies not produced by VH1. The subject matter remains mostly focused on music and musicians.
In the late 1990s, VH1 continued to get more diverse and teen-based with its music selection, and with that, the network updated its 1994 "Big 1" logo. Various late-night rock shows have been shown on VH1, featuring alternative rock and metal videos from the 1980s and 1990s. VH1 eventually warmed up to harder rock acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters, the Stone Temple Pilots, and Metallica. Their new videos began being added into VH1's playlist right away.
Around late 2002, VH1 even began to play mainstream rap musicians. The latest videos by Eminem, Nelly, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, and Eve began to be shown in VH1's rotation and even started to crop up on VH1's top 20 countdown. VH1 also plays music from Latin artists such as Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, Thalía, and Shakira.
rockDocs was the title under which VH1 aired various music documentaries, both those produced by VH1 and those produced by third parties. Such documentary series produced by VH1 include "And Ya' Don't Stop", a five-part series on the history of hip-hop and rap, a four-part series on the history of heavy metal, Heavy: The Story of Metal, and The Drug Years, which tells the story of various drug cultures that changed America. Films produced by other studios have also been aired as rockDocs, including Woodstock, Madonna: Truth or Dare, Tupac: Resurrection, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!, a documentary on the Beastie Boys, and most recently Last Days of Left Eye which documented the last month of Lisa Lopes's life from the band TLC, and N.W.A.: The World's Most Dangerous Group, featuring the narration of comedian Chris Rock, which chronicled the rise and fall of N.W.A.
VH1 endured criticism for Music Behind Bars, which mainly focuses on musicians in custody. Critics have claimed prisoners, mainly those convicted of murder, should not be entitled to any exposure, especially nationally.
The channel aired Where Are They Now? from 1999 to 2002. It featured former celebrities and their current professional and personal status. Each episode was dedicated to a specific genre, ranging from past child stars to Aaron Spelling's notable productions, to controversial news figures.
In December 2003, the network changed its focus again, dropping "Music First" from its name, and introducing a box logo. As of January 5, 2017, the network has a new logo that closely resembles the first VH1 logo. The logo has a "plus" sign in it to represent VH1's era saying how they are about reality television, plus that they still also show some music videos in the early morning. Having saturated its Behind The Music series (and spinoff BTM2, a 30-minute version that told the stories of current chart-toppers), gotten past the point of showing music videos on a regular basis, the network began to target the pop culture nostalgia market just like its sister MTV. Ever since December 2015 no music videos have been shown. The network primarily broadcasts reality television series. On the first quarter of 2016, VH1 announced it has shown the network’s highest ratings in six years and it is now the fastest growing cable channel in that same time period. Thanks to the success of shows like Love & Hip Hop, Stevie J & Joseline Go Hollywood, K. Michelle: My Life, and Mob Wives, the channel has moved ahead as a Top Five network for adults.
In 2002, VH1 broadcast a ten-part series entitled I Love the '80s. The series was adapted from a BBC series, first broadcast in 2000, in which current entertainers and pop-culture figures offered their take on the trends, events, and personalities of another decade. The success of VH1's I Love the '80s, coupled with the growing nostalgia for ever-more-recent times, led the network to create a parade of similarly themed programs. These ranged from 2003's I Love the '70s, to further variants like I Love the '80s Strikes Back, I Love the '90s, and I Love the '90s: Part Deux. More recently, VH1 premiered I Love the '80s 3-D and I Love the '70s: Volume 2. So eager was the network to capitalize on the trend while it was hot, that it devoted a series to the 2000s, despite the fact that the decade had not yet ended (I Love the New Millennium, broadcast in 2008, covered only the years 2000–2007). This was thought to be final installment of the series until 2014, when I Love the 2000s continued the format.
The format of these shows has been repeated for the weekly program Best Week Ever. In a sketch on Fox's MADtv envisioning the, at the time, fictitious "I Love the 00s" show, VH1 was referred to as "the bitter comics ragging on real celebrities" network. On June 22 of that years, VH1 premiered I Love the New Millennium, focusing on the years 2000–2007.
VH1 also produces its The Greatest series in which a similar format is used to countdown lists like "100 Greatest Artists of Rock and Roll", "The 50 Sexiest Video Moments", "100 Greatest Songs of Rock 'N' Roll", "100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years", "100 Greatest One-hit Wonders", and "100 Greatest Kid Stars". In 2001, Mark McGrath hosted VH1's miniseries "100 Most Shocking Moments in Rock 'N' Roll", which compiled a list of the moments in music history that changed its course and shook its foundations. Recently in late December 2009, an updated series titled "100 Most Shocking Music Moments" aired on VH1. In 2008 and early 2009, the channel premiered the "100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs", "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs", "100 Greatest Songs of the 90s", and "100 Greatest Songs of the 80s".
In 2004, VH1 began this mini-series category with "50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs...Ever". Additional series in this group include "40 Most Awesomely Bad Dirrty Songs...Ever", "40 Most Awesomely Bad Break-up Songs...Ever", "40 Most Awesomely Bad #1 Songs...Ever", "40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs...Ever", and "40 Most Awesomely Bad Love Songs".
In January 2005 VH1 launched its Celebreality programming block of reality shows featuring celebrities, anchored by The Surreal Life, which mimics MTV's The Real World, instead placing celebrities from the past into a living environment. The word "celebreality" is a portmanteau combining the words "celebrity" and "reality" and is generally used to describe reality TV shows in which celebrities participate as subjects. The term appears to have been coined by Michael Gross, writing for The Toronto Star on May 12, 1991. In his article, entitled "Celebrity's New Face," Mr. Gross used a hyphenated form of the word ("celeb-reality") to describe the tendency of certain contemporary celebrities to downplay the traditional trappings of Hollywood glamour. "You could see the new celeb-reality on display at this year's Oscars," wrote Gross. "It is Kathy Bates and Whoopi Goldberg, not Kim Basinger and Michelle Pfeiffer. It is Jeremy Irons in black tie and the sneakers he says keep his feet on the ground. It is Kevin Costner, fighting small, important battles, winning big, but reacting with modesty and going off to party privately. The new celebrities are human first, famous second."
The next known citation of the word is by Joyce Millman, writing for The New York Times on January 5, 2003. In an article entitled, "Celebreality: The ‘Stars’ Are Elbowing Their Way In," Ms. Millman wrote: "Celebreality, the junk genre du jour, turns the notion of reality TV upside down. Instead of real people acting like celebrities on shows like "Survivor", "Big Brother" and "The Bachelor", celebreality gives us celebrities acting like real people on shows like "The Osbournes", "The Anna Nicole Show" and "Celebrity Boot Camp." I'm using the term "celebrity" loosely here — we're not talking about Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts and Dame Judi Dench eating bugs and scrubbing latrines. No, the celebrities of celebreality are a motlier crew, like, well, Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil, the former rap superstar M. C. Hammer and the wee ex-Michael Jackson ornament Emmanuel ("Webster") Lewis. Those three will be setting up housekeeping together on Thursday in "The Surreal Life" on WB, a celebreality spin on MTV's "Real World." Not to be outdone, ABC sends a Baldwin brother (Stephen), a supermodel (Frederique) and a former "L.A. Law" star (Corbin Bernsen) to Hawaii for "Celebrity Mole Hawaii", beginning Wednesday."
The VH1 Celebreality block has also aired shows such as:
Since 2004, VH1 has showed their appreciation for hip-hop and rock music by honoring pioneers and movements. Hip-hop musicians honored include Eazy-E, LL Cool J, The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, and Public Enemy. All of the shows have been taped in the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. On May 25, 2006, Queen, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, and Kiss were the inaugural inductees into the VH1 Rock Honors in Las Vegas. The ceremony aired on VH1 six days later. In 2007, ZZ Top, Heart, Genesis, and Ozzy Osbourne were inducted into the VH1 Rock Honors. 2008's sole Rock Honors inductees were The Who.
Starting in 2011, VH1 has broadcast Big Morning Buzz Live, a daily morning news and pop culture talk show hosted by Carrie Keagan, Jason Dundas and VH1 music expert Jim Shearer, and later Nick Lachey The show features entertainment news, celebrity interviews and musical performances. On June 3, 2013, VH1 premiered The Gossip Table, another live daily entertainment news program featuring five entertainment columnists presenting entertainment news and gossip. Both shows have since been cancelled.
On July 1, 2007, VH1 and MHD, the high-definition music channel of MTV (now called MTV Live), simulcast live the entire Concert for Diana from London, England, on the birthday of Princess Diana, Princess of Wales.
Although VH1 has drastically reduced its emphasis on music, it does continue to play music videos (just like its sister network, MTV) from 3 a.m. until 11 a.m. ET. The overnight block was called Insomniac Music Theater until August 2005, when it was renamed Nocturnal State. As of the beginning of October 2008, Nocturnal State has been cut down to one hour, and Fresh: New Music has been supplanted by additional hours of Jump Start, thus meaning that VH1 now plays 7 hours of music daily. In 2010, VH1 retired Nocturnal State.
Music Videos continued to be branded under Jump Start until January 5, 2013 when a new logo was introduced. The name then changed to VH1 + Music and videos are primarily played between 6 A.M. to 9 A.M. Monday through Friday. Music Videos continued to be branded "Nocturnal State" and videos are primarily played between 3 A.M. to 6 A.M. Monday through Sunday. However at the start of 2016, VH1 + Music was dropped for blocks of older 1990s-2000's sitcoms, and presently the channel only carries music video programming in continuity form between shows.
From April 28 to May 2, 2011, from Tampa to Cozumel music fans could experience non-stop music performances from headliners Train, Lifehouse, Colbie Caillat, and The Script. Other bands include Alpha Rev, Civil Twilight, Mat Kearney, One eskimO, SafetySuit, Thriving Ivory, Trailer Park Ninjas, and Ryan Star. The cruise is on The Carnival Cruise Line ship Carnival Inspiration.
VH1 HD (launched in 2005) is a 1080i high definition simulcast of VH1, with all major providers (with the exceptions of Suddenlink and Cable One, which do not carry any Viacom networks) carrying the network; as of 2016 this feed is downgraded at a provider's headend to provide the network's standard definition channel on systems.
Like MTV and Nickelodeon before them, VH1 also launched spinoff digital networks as part of The Suite From MTV. Initially, four VH1 spinoff networks were formed, with another being made later on. However, as of August 2016, VH1 no longer has any spinoff networks, as all of the networks were rebranded as MTV, BET, or CMT spinoff networks, or became different networks entirely. VH1 formerly ran these channels:
VH1's website, launched in 199? (1995 or 1998?). In 200? (2003?), VH1 created VSPOT, a broadband video channel that followed the model of MTV Overdrive, containing the shows aired by VH1 and music videos. VSPOT was renamed to Video.VH1.com in late 2007.
As with other MTV channels, MTV Networks broadcasts international versions of VH1:
It appeared for the first time in Latin America in 2004 and the version airing was subsequently distributed across the whole of the Caribbean Islands. However, its current pan-Caribbean feed was officially launched in 2006, hence becoming a separate service from the Latin-aimed channel VH1 Latin America Now The Slogan The Home of More.