We Miss the 90s: Cable Television, Part One – The Early Days & MTV

In this regular column, JT Rozzero and Jen Engle usually exchange emails reminiscing about the greatest decade in history: the 1990s. JT & Jen have been friends since 1997 and have been trading emails and instant messages about 90s nostalgia since the day they met. However, with Ms. Engle on sabbatical, Cowboy Morrissette and Andrew Flanagan have stepped up to take over the reigns! If you have suggestions for future topics, please email us at the addresses below!

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JT: Gentlemen! With Jen Engle on sabbatical, I want to welcome you both to the world of We Miss the 90s! Get settled in because as we relaunch the series we have lots of great nostalgic trips to take and they start here and now. I think this will be a fun three man weave when it comes to perspective and experience because Andy and I grew up together through a majority of the 90s and we just met the Cowboy a couple of years ago and have only minimal insight into his formative years. So, let us light this candle!

In this installment, we are here to discuss…Cable TV! While it officially kicked off in the 80s, the 90s saw the medium really grow and develop into what it would eventually become. However, it was still a pretty murky time as we had no DVR, no onscreen guide, very little 24-hour programming and not a lot of real options to choose from. What we did have were black boxes, scrambled PPV, secret adult channels, SuperStations, music videos, public access and just two ESPN channels.

Let’s start with the basics…What was your TV situation at home? How many did you have? Did you have one in your room? Who controlled the main TV? Did you have a VCR?

Cowboy: So we always had cable through the 90s. For the early part of the decade it was one TV but as things moved along I was able to get one in my room. I always had a VCR going back to the 80s. My favorite cable show of the 90s was TNT Friday Night NBA basketball. With no internet and no NBA TV, this was my only chance to see a lot of my favorite players. I used to have a party every Friday and called it Friday Night Fever. This was around 1995, my sophomore year of high school. The Zima flowed like the ocean back then. My most memorable Friday Night Fever was when my favorite player, JR Rider, went for 41-9-8 while I was wearing his jersey. East Bay Funk baby!

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Andrew: We first got cable in 1989, and for a long time it was only on the one TV in the family room. My parents controlled that during prime time, but I mostly had free reign before and after school (barring a power struggle with my brother and/or sisters). We had gotten a VCR a few years before that, but now we had stuff worth recording, and I got to work programming it to tape 2AM movies. Somewhere around 96 I finagled a TV in my room, and plugged the cable into that. But there was no box, and the TV wasn’t cable-ready, so I had to make do with whatever was on channels 2-17. And now the term “cable-ready TV” is making me feel very old.

JT: We had cable in the 80s, I know that but I can’t nail down the specific year. I have some memories flashing in and out of watching football and wrestling with the my dad for sure.

I definitely had a TV in my room very early on too because I know there was one in my old spot before we renovated the house to two floors in 1990. I had my Nintendo hooked up and remember watching Married… With Children and the Saturday Night’s Main Event with Buster Douglas replacing Mike Tyson on it.

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Since those days I always preferred having the TV on to fall asleep to and there was really just one channel that I got that had late night programming and that was… QVC! I watched the hell out of that channel. No commercials, never ended, occasionally an interesting product. I lived off it for years.

As far as a VCR, I believe we had one in 1990 as well because that is when my wrestling tape collection begins… A flurry of stuff in late 90. What were the earliest shows you guys watched regularly? Anything? How about music videos? Where did those slot in? We can do some ranking in a bit…

Cowboy: I was pretty much a two trick pony…ESPN and MTV.  As far as shows I loved me some Married…With Children. Kelly Bundy is permanently in the fake highlight reel. Definitely watched lots of music videos. I remember clearly doing a huge double take when seeing my long lost cousin Alannis on MTV. Also, how about Yo MTV Raps? You guys into that? I never got into the QVC like you JR.

Andrew: The reason we got cable in the first place was that we had moved into a house with no antenna reception; I remember being devastated when I realized I couldn’t watch reruns of the The A-Team. I usually got heavily into whatever was in syndication at the time: MacGyver, The Golden Girls, and definitely Married…With Children. I enjoyed the goofy kids shows too, like Square One Television, and Salute Your Shorts, and obviously Saved by the Bell.

I loved mid-90s MTV. I got really invested in it, to the point that I think I may have actually cared about the MTV Video Awards once upon a time. The channel had a dangerous, rebellious vibe to it back then, which is funny to think about now, since it is about as mainstream as it gets. I know Beavis and Butthead made a huge impression on me, as did the weird animation they would pair with it, like Aeon Flux.

I wish I could say I was into Yo! MTV Raps, but I was not that cool; I don’t think I got into hip hop until sometime around when Gin & Juice came out. We had that other music video channel, The Box, which felt more hip-hop oriented to me, and I would throw on BET if they were doing music. There were definitely some years when I watched more music videos than anything else.

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ESPN became my default go-to channel pretty quickly, though. I’d put it on every morning as I was getting ready for school, and again at night; I would watch SportsCenter two or three times in a row fairly regularly. That show was such a phenomenon at the time, and it’s basically irrelevant now, which is weird to think about.

Also, I can’t believe I just talked about MTV without mentioning The State, which was a big influence on me. I loved sketch comedy: The Kids in the Hall, old SNL reruns. I also watched a lot of stand-up and Whose Line, back when that was the bulk of Comedy Central’s programming.

Cowboy: Did either of you guys watch “Dead at 21” with the kid from the Bon Jovi “Always” video? One of MTV’s first series… I loved it.

JT: No, I never watched that as far as I remember. I did watch the hell out of Remote Control and Singled Out though! The late Mike “Filthball” McKenna had a Remote Control computer game that we played endlessly. Trivia: Who hosted that show?

By the way, since it is timely to this discussion… Kurt Loder turned 70 (!) today… We are all old as shit.

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The Box was interesting… That was just local to here right? And you could call and request songs? Or was that something else? Music videos were huge at the time, it was such a huge deal when a new one premiered. And there are some that just rocked your world and most of those included Salt and/or Pepa.

I am starting to think we could have done this whole piece on just MTV! Actually, fuck it… Let’s do it! All MTV to the finish line and we can come back to the rest of cable TV in the future.

What should we talk about first? Real World? Spring Break? Rock ‘n’ Jock?

Cowboy: Colin Quinn!

Andrew: I definitely watched “Dead at 21”, Roger. Good times. And good call on Colin Quinn…didn’t Jon Stewart have some connection to that show, too?

I always forget how much I watched Singled Out…if you had told me then that 20 years later I would like Chris Hardwick more than Jenny McCarthy, I would have punched you in the face.

I vote for discussing Spring Break first…that show gave me my entire conception of what college was like. Surprisingly accurate!

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Cowboy: Love the Spring Break call Andy! There’s nothing like watching people having fun on school vacation from your couch during school vacation. There were some fantastic live performances and also the beginning of Eric Nees’s career. Big stuff. Speaking of which…Real World…I can’t decide if this was the best or worst thing that ever happened to television.

JT: Spring Break was cool because it meant summer was coming fast and it also was so different from anything else going on that it really stood out. I feel like it was that show that really made “Spring Break” into a national phenomenon that eventually became Girls Gone Wild. Plus, chicks in bikinis… What’s not to love? Club La Vela!

Real World started it all. This whole reality generation kicked off when that show started. What was the first season you watched? I honestly never good too into it, as I think the only season I followed regularly was the lame Miami edition.

Andrew: I feel like I missed out on the Real World thing … the first season I got into was the Chicago one, and only because I was living there at the time. (I think most people agree that was one of the worst seasons). But even without watching, I still knew who Pedro and Puck were, which shows you how big that show was.

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I did love Rock ‘N’ Jock. There’s something oddly fascinating about watching famous people play basketball. And I still hear ten-point-shot references even now, which is some pretty impressive staying power.

Cowboy: I was a huge Real World fan from the beginning. I actually worked with Ruthie from season eight’s twin sister. The reality thing got me from the start… Hook, line, and sinker.

JT: Let’s hit up Rock ‘n’ Jock. I definitely remember basketball and softball. Was there flag football too? Or was that something else?

Which did you prefer? Any particular celebs or athletes stand out in your mind as always being featured or having had a spectacular showing? Those things had great rewatchability too, which may be surprising. They need to start rerunning them somewhere.

If you were hosting those events today, who would you choose to participate? Andy, you build a basketball event, Cowboy, you take softball… and go!

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Andrew: I’m pretty sure they did football later on, but I didn’t see much of that. Even softball didn’t catch my interest all that much. But I loved Rock ‘n’ Jock basketball. Something about watching famous non-athletes play basketball fascinates me (even now, I’ll find myself watching the All-Star weekend celebrity game). I like seeing who is actually good, who obviously cares way too much, how musicians/actors/athletes interact, etc.

As for putting together a game today…Kevin Hart seems to be obsessed with the celebrity game, so I don’t think you can keep him out. I draw the line at Bieber, though. I hear Aubrey Plaza has some game. I’d enjoy seeing The Rock destroy people. And while this is probably a few years too late, I would love to see Will Ferrell reprising Jackie Moon.

Cowboy: Say what you want about him but Bieber’s got game! Michael B. Jordan has to be in the basketball game too…he’s good and, I mean, his name is Michael Jordan. If I’m putting together a beer league celebrity team I need Brock Lesnar hitting cleanup and Mark Wahlberg as player/coach… You have to give me a minute to construct the rest of the lineup.

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Andrew: Good call on Lesnar, that would be fascinating… maybe even more so if he sucks. I bet you could talk Sid into playing, if that floats your boat.

JT: I did some quick research. It looks like they added football towards the end and only had two editions of those. They also added bowling in 1999 but that didn’t seem to take. Softball had the longest run and basketball obviously was right there with it. It was like cool extension of Battle of the Network Stars and it worked because celebrities weren’t super overexposed yet. They also still had an air of stardom to them, so it felt really crazy that they would do this and seem so normal or down to earth. Today, celebrities are everywhere, on everything and thanks to social media and reality TV and other web based series, it doesn’t seem unique for them to do things outside their lane. Hell, Jimmy Fallon has made a career out of making other celebrities do shit like Rock ‘n’ Jock.

Ok, Cowboy, you have had plenty of time, let’s have the rest of your lineup and then we can wrap things up!

Andrew: Good point about Fallon, there will always be a market for that stuff. I wonder if kids today will look back on his show as fondly as I do Rock ‘n’ Jock. I just realized I said “kids today”, which must mean it’s time for my grumpy old man nap.

Cowboy: After weeks of research here is your current day Rock n Jock softball lineup:

1. Usain Bolt CF – speed baby
2. Michael Cera 2B – scrappy, definitely available
3. The Rock LF – power and never says no to a chance to be in the limelight
4. Brock Lesnar 1B – chicks dig the long ball
5. Tom Brady P – we want to win right?
6. Katt Williams SS – he’ll bring the party materials
7. Mark Wahlberg C – Boston Strong
8. Ronda Rousey 3B – just in case there’s a brawl, strong arm
9. Charlie Sheen RF – someone needs to keep Katt Williams in line
JT: Cowboy going with an all male and Rousey lineup… may catch some flak on that from the higher ups! (Brad’s Editor note: I checked our HR handbook and we don’t have any provisions about making fantasy lineups co-ed) Guys, there is so much cable TV stuff we need to still cover that we will save it for another day. For now, we put MTV to bed, something they decided to do around the time the 90s ended. MTV was once a must stop for young TV viewers (channel 60 on Cox in the 90s!) but I honestly don’t know the last time I visited there, definitely not since Jersey Shore ended…unless I wanted to watch reruns of the Shore. Until next time, you hear it…first!

Author: JT Rozzero

JT Rozzero is a cohost of the Place to Be podcast and original member of the legendary Moliseum Video. He enjoys all sports. The only thing he hates more than traffic and customer service is people. He is a proud Svenjolly and has had a sinus infection since October 2013. Send Justin an email