Mike Nesmith died today and Monkees fans everywhere are mourning the loss. While being the main songwriter for the band may be the headline, Nesmith’s longest-lasting legacy isn’t actually the legendary fake-turned-real TV band. Mike Nesmith is actually responsible for the creation of MTV in 1980.
The Invention Of The Modern Music Video
Music videos, of one kind or another, have been around since the 60s, really. The Beatles made quite a few promotional materials, for example. It wasn’t until 1980 that there was a place to actually show them on TV. It was that year that Mike Nesmith came up with the idea for a TV show to promote songs for Warner Brothers Music called PopClips.
PopClips debuted on the cable network Nickelodeon in 1980. Nick and cable TV, in general, were still very new and the creativity that newness allowed meant shows like PopClips didn’t seem out of the ordinary for a network aimed at children. The show, and yes, this will all sound familiar to anyone that remembers what MTV was like in the 1980s, featured a “veejay” introducing music videos of all types and genres before the video aired.
Looking back, it was a natural progression for a musician like Nesmith, who first gained fame on television with the original Monkees TV show. Large chunks of that original show were the four band members playing their songs and acting out skits based on them, just like a music video. As more and more bands looked to add a visual element to their music, giving them a place to play those videos was needed.
Warner Brothers Jump On The Idea
While PopClips really only ran for a few months in late 1980 and early 1981, Warner Brothers immediately recognized the possibilities of these new music videos, seeing a great opportunity to promote the albums and singles those songs came from. They approached the creators of PopClips, including Mike Nesmith, and offered to buy the show. In the end, the company took a different approach and launched a 24-hour music video channel simply called “MTV”.
Launched on August 1st, 1981, famously with The Buggles hit “Video Killed The Radio Star”, MTV almost instantly became a pop culture phenomenon. The format was essentially identical to PopClips, with a rotating group of veejays introducing videos of the hottest songs on the charts.
Stars like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Cindi Lauper owe a huge debt to MTV in those early days for helping their careers reach amazing heights. It was all thanks to Nesmith’s passion for music videos and his idea for a show on Nickelodeon. Appropriately, Nesmith’s Elephant Parts was the first music video to win a Grammy.
But Wait, That’s Not All
Amazingly, Nesmith’s family is also responsible for one of the most ubiquitous office supply items in the days before computers. Nesmith’s mother, Bette, invented Liquid Paper in 1956. Confronted with the problem of how to fix typos on typewriter-written papers, typist Bette Nesmith, with the help of Mike’s high school chemistry teacher, developed the first correction fluid in her kitchen.
At first, the product, which was a quick-drying white paint that covered up mistakes and allowed typists to then type over the mistake, was called “Mistake Out”. For the next few years, Bette continued to make small batches of the new paint and sell to other typists she worked with.
As the 60s began, Bette was fired from her primary job and began working on the newly renamed “Liquid Paper” full time. By 1968, the company was profitable and when she finally sold the company to Gillette in 1979, it was worth $47 million ($180 million in 2021 dollars). She also continued to receive royalties from Gillette. It’s a good old fashion American success story, just like her son.
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