This week on the music beat, MTV makes its own "Storytellers"
ANARCHY ON THE TV? Back when he fronted the Sex Pistols, the caustic-tongued Johnny Rotten railed against cathode-ray-damaged zombies “living for the screen.” Now the aging punk pioneer is gearing up to helm his own TV show thanks to VH1, which has tapped him to host a half-hour, late-night program tentatively called The Johnny Rotten Show (the suddenly hot Pistol also recently entered into an agreement with Rhino Films to turn his autobiography, Rotten: No Irish No Blacks No Dogs into a movie). Producer Rob Barnett promises that Rotten’s won’t be a conventional talk show but rather a platform for the rocker to explore his “unique perspective on pop culture…. We’re counting on it to stir up strong feelings that we think will make for great television.” But will Rotten’s notoriously polarizing personality prove too much for the network’s Paula Cole-ish demographic? Lauren Zalaznick, VH1’s vice president of programming and development, admits the station may consider running a disclaimer with the show. “But we’re going to wait until we see the pilot,” she says. “We haven’t pressed the panic button—yet.”
FAMILY FEUD With VH1 growing both edgier and more popular (its ratings are up 50 percent over the last year), the once omnipotent MTV appears to be carefully studying its successful sister station’s formula. According to the grapevine, the pilot of Revue, a show being considered for MTV’s fall schedule, has raised a few executive eyebrows over at VH1. Revue will feature musicians performing in an intimate setting, telling stories, and ruminating on the creative process—sounds amazingly similar to VH1’s highly successful Storytellers, no? But MTV insists that the two shows are fundamentally different, with Revue focusing on artists talking about what was going on in their lives when they wrote a particular song, as opposed to Storytellers, which focuses on artists talking about the stories behind individual songs (has ever a hair been so finely split?). Says Tina Exarhos, MTV’s senior vice president of communications: “We believe Revue is a breakthrough idea just as Unplugged was when it premiered in 1990.” Meanwhile, VH1 was equally reticent about addressing the controversy directly, hewing to the party line of the entertainment conglomerate, Viacom, that owns both networks: “We feel our programming complements [MTV’s] because of our different demographics,” says a VH1 exec. For the record, MTV isn’t alone in practicing the sincerest form of flattery. VH1 last week released the first of a series of Storytellers albums, VH1 Storytellers—Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson, through American Recordings, following in the footsteps of MTV with its successful spin-off albums of MTV Unplugged. Like the man said, turnabout is fair play.