In the late 1990s, there was one place to go if you wanted to learn about the background of a particular rock band or singer — VH1’s Behind the Music. Though the show gave viewers everything they wanted to know and more, the show ended without much fanfare in 2006. Apparently the programmers at VH1 have recently realized that the show left quite a void and the network’s announced plans to revive the series.
Behind the Music debuted in 1997 on VH1, based on a one-hour magazine-style special that had aired on the network, Dying in Vein. Music follows a similar storytelling style and focuses on musicians who have either stopped performing or who had had a big part in rock history. The first two subjects of the series might seem a little unimpressive in retrospect — Milli Vanilli and M.C. Hammer — but VH1 soon followed up with profiles of iconic names like Tina Turner, Elton John, and Queen.
Each episode of Music examines the background of a performer, their rise to fame, their most successful times, and finally, the element that took them out of the public eye — whether it was death, drugs, or just lack of public interest. In the case of an artist who’s been very significant to the music business, an episode focuses on a certain time in their career; for example, the days leading up to John Lennon’s murder or the making of Pink Floyd: The Wall.
Music became so successful that it spawned a spin-off. similar series and parodies. Imitation obviously is the sincerest form of flattery. Episodes of BTM2 run just 30 minutes long and look at the careers of newer stars. It didn’t last long.
Music has also been the subject of several spoofs over the years. The Simpsons parodied the VH1 show with an episode titled “Behind the Laughter.” South Park did the same with an episode titled “Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow,” and an episode of Family Guy has Brian explaining to his psychiatrist that his life had become so pathetic that, “I’ve seen that Behind the Music with Leif Garrett eighteen times.”
Yet in 2002, after 200 installments, VH1 stopped filming new episodes. The network showed reruns sporadically, before it stopped altogether in 2006. Through later focus groups, VH1 found that the series was so deeply connected to the network that some viewers didn’t even realize that it was no longer being aired. Those that had forgotten about Music got a reminder last Fall when VH1 aired a Behind the Music special featuring the New Kids on the Block. The program mixed footage of the group’s first public performance in over 10 years with a retrospective.
The popularity of the special led VH1 to put Music back into production. Jeff Olde, VH1’s executive VP of original programming, told The Hollywood Reporter, “It felt like the time is right. There’s all sorts of new artists on the scene who have emerged and have these great stories. And there’s other artists that we always wanted to do the first time around.”
There will be 10 new installments to start, starting this Summer and heading into the Fall. Two initial profiles will follow the careers of current stars Lil Wayne and Scott Weiland.
Olde admits he’s “leery” about changing too much of the show since the audience has such affection for the original. The new version will intercut more current footage with the historical information, to anchor it in the present day, as was done for the New Kids special. The voice of the show will remain the same however as Jim Forbes will return as the show’s narrator.
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