1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #17

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)


A scrap of paper isolated on a black screen has the single typed word “sexy.” It’s followed by two quick flashes of dancing bodies–a little bit of skin, and a whole lot of fringe.

Then we get a closeup on a light-skinned black woman, speaking with a British accent–why, that’s Downtown Julie Brown! This must be a promo for Club MTV! She says, “There are certain people that, um, come up with steps that I would never even dream of.”


Two scraps of paper: “the” and “Dancers.” A sweaty black guy pushes back his hair. Back to Julie: “People like R.J., who come up with some feisty little moves.” We see R.J., frantically stamping his right leg, and then a closeup on a girl’s bustier.

Another scrap of paper: “hot.” Back to Julie, who is wearing a black top hat and dangling silver star earrings: “There are a couple of people that I like to see dance together.” We get a quick clip of two people of indeterminate gender dancing, one light-skinned, one dark-skinned. Back to Julie: “It’s nice to see guys up there, freaking out.” She continues talking over more quick edits of dancers: “It’s nice to see the guys going up there and baring all. With their chest out and stuff.” Back to Julie, now grinning. “I like that.”

The promo ends with the Club MTV logo. In case you never saw it, Club MTV was a dance-party show that featured Downtown Julie Brown introducing the club singles of the day while teenagers danced to them: basically, American Bandstand with a modern haircut. It was much less stylish than this promo, mostly because Brown was a ditz who liked to say “wubba wubba wubba” a lot.


Again, the ad for the License to Drive videocassette. One of the Coreys (Haim, I think, although I can’t rule out Feldman) lays out the plot: “An innocent girl. A harmless drive. What could possibly go wrong?”


Next up, the hugely insane Coca-Cola ad featuring robots and Earth, Wind and Fire. The lyrics to the funky EWF jingle: “The feeling’s real / You know it can’t be beat / Get started to the system / You can feel it in your feet / Owww! / The taste is live / Feel the magic that it brings / The ultimate sensation when you’ve got the real thing / Coca-Cola Classic / You can feel it / Can’t beat the feeling!” Get started to the system?


Gillette, once more promising that they are the best a man can get, have another in their series of ads that blend European footage with some new American shots. Quick cuts: guys in tuxes, woman adjusting man’s tie, man on phone pumping fist in victory, guy running track and dripping with sweat, hero shot of AtraPlus razor, man putting shaving cream on his young son’s face, just-married couple heading for limo but interrupted by hug from groom’s father, football team scoring touchdown, father spotting young son as he lifts five-pound barbell, father and young son combing hair together in mirror, older guy dropping car keys in younger guy’s hand, father cradling infant son, and sweet mother of Christ, there’s only so much father-son bonding that one man can recap.


Another videocassette ad: The Presidio, which starred Sean Connery and Mark Harmon. Connery appears to be over-acting while wearing a military uniform and a fake mustache, while Harmon gets head-butted by a criminal he’s trying to slap handcuffs onto. And somebody runs, and there’s an exploding upside-down car. Nobody gets started to the system.


We end with a comedic bumper for MTV, featuring a tourist in a Russian airport, tied and gagged at customs, struggling while the Russian customs agents look through his suitcase. “Do you have anything to declare?” asks the female agent. “In this sock, you have other sock?” She breathes in the aroma of the sock. “Declare something!” she cries. This promo is pretty much the last gasp of Cold War humor: the following year, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and soon after, Yakov Smirnoff’s career was on the rocks.

posted 17 February 2010 in 1988 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 5 comments

5 Comments on 1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #17

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Everybody talks about the twin poles of MTV ’80s racial breakdown—the first airings of Michael Jackson and Prince in 1983, and the premiere of Yo! MTV Raps in 1988. But I’d argue that Club MTV was an equally important step in the channel’s evolution. Even after the MJ-Prince breakthrough, MTV still programmed itself overwhelmingly as a rock channel through about 1985 or so. Certain pure-pop acts, such as Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Wham! would make the playlist, but in general MTV preferred acts to be holding an instrument of some sort, even a keytar (which made even Duran Duran and the other poofy New Romantics suitably “rock” enough).

    Around 1986–87 or so, MTV finally loosened up its playlist enough to allow in pure R&B — they waited until “How Will I Know?” to start programming Whitney, even though it was already her third hit; Janet only started getting serious play on “Nasty” — and what we used to call bubblesalsa, in the form of Lisa Lisa (later, Exposé). I recall finding it remarkable, in a good way, that songs like “Head to Toe” or “Looking for a New Love” were watchable on MTV in regular rotation. As recently as 1984, MTV avoided playing the likes of Billy Ocean, Deniece Williams or even Lionel Richie in serious rotation, if at all.

    Club MTV, viewed through this lens, was the last step in the omni-pop makeover of MTV, wherein it reached its late ’80s–early ’90s heyday as the nation’s only all-format pop station, rather than the pop/rock station it was before. It wasn’t like club music was any better or more influential in 1987 than it was in 1983. But it was inconceivable that the MTV of ’83 would play, say, “Let the Music Play” at any hour of the day. But by ’87, the existence of Club MTV guaranteed that “Point of No Return” or “Pump Up the Volume” would get played at least every day or two.

    It wasn’t the kind of Big Bang moment that “Billie Jean” or Yo! were, but it was a clear, measurable thawing of a prior dance-music deep-freeze.

  2. azul120 Says:

    If that was when the barriers broke, the moment R&B itself broke out once and for all, I’d say, was the advent of Fade to Black, and eventually, MTV Jamz, in response to C+C Music Factory and Boyz II Men hitting it huge in ’91.

    Just curious, what will you do when the commercial breaks start repeating themselves?

  3. Gavin Says:

    So far, I’ve had a lot of repeat commercials (I’m looking at you, January Man), but no commercial breaks that don’t have at least one new spot (MTV had a lot of different promos and bumpers). I’ll keep writing about the ads as long as I have something new to say about them, even if it’s the third time around.

  4. Rob Says:

    As Yakov Smirnoff would say, “In Russia, Club MTV watches YOU!”

    When did Club MTV start? I thought it was still kinda new in 1988. Did it debut before or after “Remote Control”?

    Chris’s point is well taken, yet I cannot agree that MTV failed to play Lionel Richie in 1984. As soon as he started making videos, with “All Night Long,” MTV was totally down with the Lionel lifestyle, including the belief that life is good, wild and sweet.

    The MTV playlist was really in flux in 1984 and 1985–they didn’t have enough AOR to play, so they weren’t sure how pop they could go. (They wouldn’t touch “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” with a ten foot pole–it took “Careless Whisper” to get Wham! on MTV.) A lot of adult pop smoothies were trying to crack MTV with trendy/dancey videos–it worked for Lionel, Sheena Easton, Aretha Franklin and the Pointer Sisters, but it didn’t work for Laura Branigan, Barry Manilow, Julio Iglesias or Diana Ross. I think it failed for Olivia Newton-John. MTV was pretty confused about its programming but that just made the playlist wilder, with results like Club MTV.

  5. Gavin Says:

    Club MTV and Remote Control both started in 1987; I don’t know which one debuted first. (Club MTV made it to 1992, which is like a million in MTV years, Remote Control was done by 1990.)

    I was only watching MTV at friends’ houses in 1984, but I do remember vividly the “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video, with all those “CHOOSE LIFE” t-shirts. Maybe MTV didn’t play it until it had already cracked pop radio in a significant way? I mean, it did spend three weeks at #1 on the pop charts, so I can’t believe they totally stiffed it.

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