Liza Minnelli is no way to fix VH1. The once inventive music network is turning to desperate programming to boost sagging ratings. But David Browne offers a better solution
David Gest, Liza Minnelli
Credit: Minnelli & Gest: Big Pictures USA/Newscom

Liza and David

Liza Minnelli is no way to fix VH1

You know VH1’s ”Where Are They Now?” series? Sadly, that phrase could apply to the network itself. Where is VH1 now? In a pretty dire place.

Early this year, the network decided to address its declining ratings, the result of rock-nostalgia burnout. The channel had the right idea; as much as I was addicted to ”Behind the Music,” the well had run dry. There was simply no need for a ”BTM” on Anthrax. Unfortunately, VH1’s idea of change — a campaign dubbed ”The New Face of VH1” — involved only one decent new series (”Being,” a backstage-access show) alongside lame game and talk shows.

That idea didn’t work, either; in no time, most of those series disappeared faster than Michael Jackson’s last nose. So VH1 has revamped itself yet again, with even worse results. Every time I flip to it, I’m confronted with another horrid show that wants to plow the fertile ground between the E! Channel and In Style magazine: ”Rock & Roll Weddings”? Some special on the sexiest rock stars? No thanks. On ”Driven,” old acquaintances and high-school teachers of the likes of Jennifer Lopez tell us, in the nicest way possible, how insanely careerist their old pals were from age 4.

Now the network has announced a deal with Liza Minnelli for her own ”Osbournes”-style at-home-with show. As curious as I am to see what hubby David Gest looks like when he wakes up in the morning — my guess is like Gene Simmons sans makeup — the very thought of such a show makes me yearn for, well, that Anthrax ”BTM.” Then there’s a new series in which music acts will offer home ”redecorating” tips, a pop version of ”Trading Spaces.”

It’s possible that the VH1 era is simply over. But as someone who can never see enough footage of old bands moaning about drug problems and ”creative differences,” it’s not too late. The network needs to get back to basics, but with fresher subjects. A game plan:

Proceed with the Liza show after all. It’ll be so gruesome that after a few months, we’ll all long for anything featuring VH1 pet Meat Loaf.

Take a cue from sibling VH1 Classic, which airs nonstop videos both famous and obscure from the past 40-odd years. Revive ”BTM” but focus on cult acts (Nick Drake, Uncle Tupelo) and ones who are popular but underappreciated (the Spinners, say).

Be the first to milk ’90s nostalgia. The recent ”BTM” on Hootie and the Blowfish was, against all odds, pretty interesting. (VH1 should never forget that the worse the band, the better the ”BTM.”) This summer’s Gin Blossoms/Spin Doctors/Marcy Playground combo tour is a documentary I want to see. Now.

Keep airing ”Movies That Rock,” but dig up Neil Young’s ”Journey Through the Past,” the Monkees’ ”Head,” or the Nirvana/Sonic Youth concert flick ”1991: The Year Punk Broke.” Never forget that ”Blues Brothers 2000” and ”Grease 2” do NOT rock.

Then call the whole thing ”The New Old Face of VH1,” and we’ll all be sweating to the oldies again in no time.

Liza and David
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