This fake rocker helped create MTV
New York Post
22nd April 2017
Michael Nesmith is best known as one of the Monkees, a manufactured rock group that struggled to be accepted as a real band. “But his new memoir, “ ” (Crown Archetype) shows how Nesmith, a veteran musician hired to play a fake one, became a genuine business success. Here are just three of the book’s revelations about the quietest member of the Prefab Four: Nesmith was an only child, and his relationship with his mom, Bette McMurray, was complicated.
“I felt like I was a nuisance who was along for the ride with a single woman,” he writes. When Nesmith was 12, his mom worked as a secretary but enjoyed painting on the side. As electric typewriters came into vogue, making typing mistakes messier to correct, she created a paint at home that matched the white of typing paper and began lightly touching up her errors at work.
This invention became Liquid Paper, and it made McMurray a wealthy woman. When it came to her company, McMurray was all business, even with her own son. Nesmith — like his mother — showed a flair for entrepreneurship, launching the country record label Countryside in 1972, when he was 29, four years after “The Monkees Show” was canceled.
But when he tried to enlist his mother in a partnership, she treated him like any other businessman, sending “her top execs” to meet with “the loony son of their chief executive,” as he refers to himself in the book. “It didn’t take long for Mom’s business team to figure out how underpowered my enterprise was,” he writes. “Their advice to my mother was something like, ‘Run away!’ ” “Their advice to my mother was something like, ‘Run away! ’” Nesmith, who continued to perform as a solo artist, was asked by Island Records to create a promotional video for his 1977 single, “Rio.
” It sparked a great idea. Instead of taping a conventional video of himself performing, he created a comedic short film for the song including “women in fruit hats danc[ing] by” and Nesmith flying through space. While there was no outlet for it — especially as the single bombed — Nesmith figured he was onto something.
“Audio records are played on radio, so a video record should be played on video — on television,” he thought. “There should be a broadcast component for the music video just like there is for records. ” He dug up a few clips for a pilot, included the idea of video jocks, or VJs, and called the show “Popclips.
” Many rejected the idea, but Warner Bros. executive John Lack was intrigued. Explaining his concept to Lack as “a new kind of TV that played videos 24 hours a day, like a radio station,” Nesmith had found his market.
Warner and partner American Express proceeded with the concept, calling it MTV and launching the network on Aug. 1, 1981. While Nesmith was offered the chance to be MTV’s production head, he turned it down to pursue his other creative projects.
One of those projects was embracing the business. Nesmith saw a niche in the market and started licensing the rights to “nontheatrical titles,” such as documentaries. Soon, he had amassed “the largest nontheatrical video catalog in the world.
” He approached PBS about a collaboration, and in 1990 they launched the PBS Home Video label together. But it didn’t end well. “Some of the staffers and management at PBS had begun acting in bad faith,” he writes.
“They started to lay a plan to snare my rights and take them from me. ” According to the official record at trial, Nesmith writes, PBS “conspired to steal the titles” — and carried out its plan, leading Nesmith into an almost legal battle that culminated in his winning “$47. 5 million in direct and punitive damages.
” (He writes that he “eventually settled for an amount that is sealed” because he “wanted no more fight. ”) “I was learning that this kind of theft was attempted regularly in the halls of power,” he writes. Now 74, an older, wiser Nesmith has added “memoirist” to his long list of accomplishments.
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