1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #20


MTV station ID: we see the MTV logo, barely visible in outline, while a geyser of water spouts from left to right. Then white steam condenses on black rocks, again with the invisible logo–the sections in the M, the TV, and outside the logo were filmed at the same spot, but at different times. Third shot: fire spewing out from the right side of the screen. Then all three shots get combined, bringing the elements together: air and earth inside the TV, fire inside the M, water outside the logo. It’s high-concept, visually appealing, and over in ten seconds.


A repeat of an ad for The Conductor, the “high-output music battery for high-drain music machines,” in which a tuxedo-clad musician blocks out an opera-singing cabbie by putting on his Walkman. The ad begins with the musician asking to go to Broadway and 107th. That happens to be the location of Straus Park, named after a cofounder of the Abraham and Straus department stores; he died on the Titanic, along with his wife, who chose to stay with him rather than get on a lifeboat. Hey, whatever sells batteries.

Once again, the commercial for Bud Bowl I. “Football fans, get ready for the battle of the century, as unbeaten Budweiser takes on undefeated Bud Light!”

For the fifth time, a Rain Man ad. Dustin Hoffman keeps his head cocked to one side–that’s how you win the Oscar. Tom Cruise’s hair is bouffant.


For the umpteenth time, WWF’s Royal Rumble. We see lots of wrestlers flaring their nostrils and pointing up to the sky. As usual, it’s followed by Season’s Greetings from the UA-Columbia cable system, with lots of employees waving at the camera.


The commercial break ends with another MTV animated bumper. This one is clearly influenced by Terry Gilliam’s work with Monty Python: various public-domain illustrations wobble their way around the screen while an electro-rock song chants “to the beep-beep.” It’s murky and unclever, not up to the network’s high standards.


With the Bangles’ “In Your Room” playing in the background, we head back to the studio, where we see Kevin Seal again–he’s finishing his five-hour hosting shift (which has taken us through the past 26 months). To honor the occasion, he’s making an effort to keep his eyes open. “The top one hundred of 1988,” he announces. “Arguably the most exciting year in history, 1988, so really this is pretty much the countdown, really, if you look at it the proper way. In fact, it’s getting so exciting that I’m just going to have to leave.” He laughs, in his insincere way. Oh, Kevin, I will miss you: your squint, your smirk, your ironic patter, and your patent lack of enthusiasm for this whole enterprise.

posted 21 July 2010 in 1988 and tagged , , , , , , . 3 comments

3 Comments on 1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #20

  1. Chris M. Says:

    A repeat of an ad for The Conductor, the “high-output music battery for high-drain music machines,” in which a tuxedo-clad musician blocks out an opera-singing cabbie by putting on his Walkman.

    I love how in ’88, the high-drain device is an ordinary tape Walkman. The Discman would prove a much greater challenge for battery technology, and by the end of ’88 I was constantly eating through double-AAs (or rechargeables) trying to keep my CDs spinning. I’ll bet they weren’t touching portable CD players in this ad either because the Discmen hadn’t penetrated middle America deeply enough yet, or their batteries couldn’t handle the challenge.

  2. Gavin Says:

    You were an early adopter! I don’t think I got a Discman until the ’90s.

  3. azul120 Says:

    Haha. Who hosted the second half? Adam Curry? Downtown Julie Brown?

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