Matt Pinfield And 120 Minutes Return To TV; Will The Audience Follow?

Categories: MTV, MTV At 30

MTV turns 30 on Monday. To celebrate, we're running a bunch of pieces on the channel, its legacy, and its future.

Back when he was a music-obsessed teenager growing up on Long Island, and long before he started the influential music website Stereogum, Scott Lapatine never missed an episode of 120 Minutes. He also had a tendency to procrastinate. This often led to many late Sunday nights in his parent's basement where he would have to multi-task. "I would run from one room with a computer in it and my textbook in my lap to the other room to catch what they were playing on 120 Minutes, and have my mind blown by the latest Porno For Pyros video that they aired," he says with a chuckle.

Along with college radio, fanzines and publications like Spin, MTV's music-video show 120 Minutes was one of the main ways non-mainstream acts found fans in the pre-Internet era. If you get enough music fans of a certain age in a room together, you're likely to hear tales of how this program blew young minds, especially if any of them tuned in the night the program debuted Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (This particular writer will cop to pretty much having his young heart rewired upon catching the 120 premiere of Radiohead's video for "Fake Plastic Trees.")

Traditionally airing at midnight on Sundays, 120 Minutes was created in 1986 by MTV producer and goth enthusiast Dave Kendall, who also hosted it for many years. It was started in response to the growing popularity of groups like R.E.M., Depeche Mode and many others acts that were then called either "post-punk" or "college rock" and now more or less get called "alternative" or "indie" (not without some hand-wringing, but that's a debate for another day). The show is fondly remembered for playing videos by the likes of Sonic Youth, Siouxsie And The Banshees and Pavement that otherwise would never have gotten MTV airtime, and for having a loose enough sense of genre that distortion-drenched punk bands, gothic keyboard-driven acts and quirky singer-songwriters all somehow belonged on the same playlist. (And, yeah, there were also occasionally things like this, but very few people made it out of the '90s without a few missteps.)

The show had a variety of hosts through the years, but is mainly remembered for the stints led by Kendall and Matt Pinfield, a tirelessly enthusiastic, husky-voiced man renowned for having seemingly memorized every fact about every artist, in highly specific detail.

Tomorrow night at 1 a.m., the volubly titled MTV2's 120 Minutes With Matt Pinfield will premiere. "We're always looking for a way to expose new music, and as we started brainstorming, we realized that there is still a lot of love for the 120 brand," says MTV exec Amy Doyle, who points to the extensive number of 120 Minutes fan sites (here's Exhibit A) as proof that there's still interest in the show. "So rather than reinvent the wheel, why not bring 120 back in a reinvented, multi-screen way that fits the way that modern music fans experience music?"

"We have always kept in touch with Matt Pinfield, who continues to be this walking, talking, tweeting musical encylopedia,' she says. "Every time that show was on there was a real trust factor from the audience that the artists were really worth knowing, and we want to make sure that maintain that sensibility. That's a big part of why Matt Pinfield is coming back to host the show, he also has that credibility, that knowledge."

It's been a big week for Gen-X nostalgia, but MTV is trying to push beyond the "remember when?" appeal to reach both old fans and younger viewers who were too young to catch it the first time. The new 120 will feature around 10 artist interviews per episode, up from the one to two of the original, and it will branch out to include indie hip-hop (Theophilus London will discuss his love of Morrissey in the premiere) as well as dubstep and DJ culture, although that isn't anything too radical for a show that once featured videos from The Beastie Boys and The Chemical Brothers. There will also be the de rigeur push to get fans to check out the 120 site, which will feature extended video interviews, classic 120 Moments (this one is certainly worth your time) and a weekly interview segment called 120 Seconds.

But those people hewing to the old idea will have to get used to two changes: Instead of airing on Sunday nights, 120 will air on Saturdays. And it'll only be on once a month.

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