What happened to live rock music on TV?

Music Television (MTV) is nearly music-free, but could that change?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Rock music on TV has a long history, starting with "American Bandstand," which ran from 1952 to 1989, and in the 1960s shows like "Hullabaloo" and "Shindig" had the biggest bands, groups like the Beatles, James Brown, the Rolling Stones and the Who were on every week. In the 1970s "The Midnight Special" had the likes of ABBA, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Marvin Gaye, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, The New York Dolls, and Fleetwood Mac.

Jeff Beck's guitar Steve Guttenberg

"Music Television" started nearly 30 years ago, so if you're old enough to remember when MTV regularly played music videos, you're pretty old. Those earlier music shows were once-a-week affairs, but MTV played music videos 24 hours a day. Can someone explain why MTV and its offspring VH1, no longer program music in their prime-time schedules? Maybe because music isn't interesting enough to garner significant ratings; that, or am I missing something?

I'd like to believe that new music is still important enough to warrant a mainstream presence. "American Idol" is as good as it gets, and it's great for singers, but what about musicians? And what about the bands that can actually write new music? Why can't we see more of that sort of thing on MTV?

Yes, there was a show called "The Next Great American Band," but it only lasted one season. I don't know why it bombed, but on that show the bands didn't play their own music. I suppose "American Idol" and "Glee" are what has become of music on mainstream TV.

For me, the best music shows were "Sunday Night," hosted by David Sanborn and "Sessions at West 54th." Both shows featured real, live musicians who actually played and sang! They showcased everybody from Eric Clapton to Sonny Rollins, Sting, Al Green, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie.

Where on TV can you now find musicians of that caliber playing live? "Saturday Night Live" and the late-night talk shows, but I have to ask, why isn't MTV doing live music shows?