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The Long, Colorful History of MTV’s Logo


NBC has its peacock, CBS has its always-open eye, and MTV, which first hit the airwaves on August 1, 1981, has always been represented by a large, boxy M with "TV" scrawled in graffiti on its corner. Above is the first MTV commercial ever broadcast on the channel and the first time viewers saw the logo on air -- the famous lunar-landing spot that became such a recognizable symbol of the station, the Video Music Awards trophy is called a "Moonman." MTV's iconic logo has not changed much in these past three decades, but there have been some subtle facelifts that reflected bigger shifts in the company's philosophy.

MTV's ads, which appeared hourly on the network, have become almost as famous as the network's logo. The moon-landing promo ran roughly 75,000 times on MTV, including 17,000 plays in MTV's inaugural year, according to the channel's first creative director Fred Seibert. The moonman kicked off a trend of creative, cutting edge, and downright cool on-air ads for MTV that would last for almost 30 years. In a world of DVRs and TiVos where viewers can fast-forward commercials, this idea might seem extraordinary, but there was once a time when everyone looked forward to seeing how MTV was promoting itself. While MTV's logo may have stayed the same, the commercials that featured the logo have enjoyed a more colorful evolution.

Throughout the first half the 1980s, when MTV was eager to attract new viewers to the revolutionary idea of a network that plays only music videos, the channel's slogan was "I Want My MTV" -- a line that is of course is forever synonymous with Dire Straits' MTV-bashing-yet-MTV-beloved "Money for Nothing."

Here's a an early version of the channel's morphing logo, as seen in a commercial starring Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, Billy Idol and a Let's Dance-era David Bowie:

And here's another with John "Cougar" Mellencamp, the Police, the Cars' Ric Ocasek, and most impressively Madonna:

Once MTV became more established, the channel no longer relied on call-outs from superstars in its advertising, opting instead for a more creative approach that put the spotlight on up-and-coming artists. These ads were like spin-offs of the channel's animation show Liquid Television and were rather gruesome for a station ID, but they fit the tone in an era of Nine Inch Nails. Still, while the ads changed, the logo remained the same:

Here's one of our favorites from the early '90s, MTV's ode to Fritz Lang's M:

MTV's IDs may have changed throughout the years, but the logo always stayed the same... until 2010, when the network completely rebranded itself to reflect the change in their programming that began when MTV aired the first Real World in 1992. By the turn of this decade, reality television had completely revolutionized MTV's schedule, which became overrun with shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore. Music videos were relegated to early morning slots or one of MTV's sister networks. Even our beloved MTV-promoting ads had vanished from the commercial breaks. As a result, MTV ditched the words "Music Television" that always rested below the giant M and graffiti TV:

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Perhaps also to recognize the shift from the old tube televisions to high definition sets, the M also got a makeover for the first time, transforming from its square shape to a more 16:9-ready rectangle. But other than that change in dimensions, the logo has remained largely untouched for these past 30 years, and it will probably stay that way for the next three decades as well.

How is MTV celebrating its 30th anniversary? Maybe by replaying all these classic commercials, or for one day pretending that they are "Music Television"? Nope. Take a look at their August 1st schedule and you'll find plenty of True Life, Teen Mom, and Teen Wolf, but nothing that pays tribute to their pre-Laguna Beach past. Thankfully, its sibling channel VH1 Classic will pick up the slack this weekend with a three-day marathon of old-school MTV programming called MTV30. The 72-hour special will feature clips from shows like Remote Control, Yo! MTV Raps, Beavis & Butt-head, and The Real World, plus highlights from all their awards shows. VH1 Classic also promises to replay all those classic promos.

Then at midnight when July 31st turns into August 1st, on the exact 30th anniversary of MTV's first broadcast, VH1 Classic will replay MTV's entire first hour of footage from 1981. The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first video MTV ever played, but can anyone name the second? Tune in late Sunday night to find out and to see that legendary moon landing promo one more time.

Here's a fantastic idea -- follow The Amplifier on Twitter! 

See Also:
• MTV's Original VJs Relive the Network's Wild Early Days

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