Monday, December 26, 2011

I Love the 80s: My VH1 Years

I've worked on and in television for a long time -- and I want to do more TV work.  Three of the most fun, most fulfilling and most challenging years of my career were spent working for VH1.  I am so glad I appreciated that opportunity while I had it.  How many folks have or had a job that was as much fun as a weekend off?  That's what it felt like most of the time.  Not that it was an easy job, mind you, but the experience was that much fun.  It didn't feel like labor.  I worked on VH1 from 1987 to 1990.  By the time I got offered the VJ gig, which lead to me also becoming a VH1 talk show host, I'd had national exposure doing celebrity interview features for a syndicated show called PM Magazine.  VH1 gave me a bigger platform for my interview work and humor.  Anglo author and National Public Radio contributor Henry Alford was a VH1 host/VJ in the early '90s.  In his 2000 book of humorous essays, Big Kiss, he wrote that all VH1 VJs before him were broad stand-up comedians like Gallagher, the guy who smashed melons in his act.  Personally, I'm surprised that a NPR talent would make such a blanket generalization.  I was never nor have I ever been a stand-up comedian.  But I was the first African-American talent to get his own prime time VH1 celebrity talk show, thank you very much.  Here's a VJ pic from the VH1 years showing me with fellow VJs Roger Rose and a new addition -- a charismatic comedian/actress named Rosie O'Donnell.

That was Rosie's "Sigourney Weaver-in-Alien" hairdo.  My first talk show host assignment for VH1 was taking the helm of Celebrity Hour and chatting with such show biz icons as Liza Minnelli.
I got upgraded to my own weeknight half-hour show called Watch Bobby Rivers.  The previous show had music videos mixed into the interview hour.  My show didn't.  We talked without Rick Astley, Whitney Houston, Kenny G or Fine Young Cannibals interruptions.  I had A-List guests like Mel Gibson back when he was still charming and approachable.

To this very day, I am still proud that my VH1 work got good reviews from TV Guide and People Magazine and my talk show performance got praise in a Sunday edition of The New York Times.  I know it's ancient TV history and it happened in the 1980s but here's why I still carry that work in my heart like a medal of honor:  In the 1960s, I was a child of the Civil Rights era in South Central Los Angeles.  In that decade, the decade of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington, Black folks were still demanding the right to vote and the right to a college education.  We certainly weren't getting gigs on network TV as hosts of our own prime time entertainment talk shows.  I attended a university in Milwaukee.  After graduation, my first professional TV job was on WISN TV, Milwaukee's ABC affiliate.  I got discovered by a local New York City station, WPIX, and was hired to work there in 1985.  In 1987, two years after I arrived in New York to start a new life working at WPIX, I moved up to national work on VH1.  In 1988, I was given my own talk show.  One more thing -- I did not have an agent.  I got myself from Milwaukee to New York City.  Three years after I arrived in New York, I was interviewing film icon Kirk Douglas on my own prime time national talk show.  That was just not supposed to happen to a guy who went to high school in Watts and lived in the curfew area of the Watts Riots.  In fact, our little house stood just four blocks away from one of the deadly fires of the Watts Riots.  If you want to see some of my VH1 work, go to YouTube and search Bobby Rivers VH1 Talk Show Host.  You'll see me with Kirk Douglas, Meryl Streep, Paul McCartney, Marlo Thomas, Raul Julia, Carlos Santana and several other top figures of the fine arts.  If you want to see where my high school was located, stay on YouTube and search Los Angeles Watts Riots 1965. That was the South Central L.A. of my youth.

I found those three photos today and just wanted to share them along with a few career memories.  By the way, Henry Alford has a new book out.  About Henry categorizing all VH1 veejays in the 1980s as unsophisticated, loud comedians in his earlier book, Big Kiss, well...he can big kiss me where the sun don't shine.

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