What Was MTV’s 120 Minutes?

MTV itself launched in 1981 as a 24-hour channel dedicated to music videos. MTV soon began branching out into news and specialty shows.

In 1986, MTV launched 120 Minutes, a show focusing on more cutting-edge or “alternative” music. This meant bands like Husker Du, the Replacements, Jeff Buckley, Sonic Youth, Belly, and New Order instead of mainstream acts like Foreigner, Rod Stewart, Pat Benatar, and Rick Springfield.

The show at first had a rotating roster of hosts, including MTV VJ mainstays like J.J. Jackson and Downtown Julie Brown. 120 Minutes creator Dave Kendall took over in 1989.

There were sometimes guest hosts, too, such as Lou Reed, who in 1986 was surprisingly talkative. 

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” debuted on 120 Minutes but soon moved over to regular rotation. Here’s the goofy intro to the video premiere:

120 Minutes ran on MTV from 1986 to 2000, then moved over to sister channel MTV2, after MTV began focusing more on reality shows like The Real World.

120 Minutes had many fans, and still does – witness The 120 Minutes Archive, a website dedicated to the show. There you’ll find links to episodes as well as lists of who appeared on which date. You can also read about and even see select episodes on the blog Slicing Up Eyeballs.

Both of these websites are rabbit holes for sure, so beware! 


More MTV Stories:

Watch MTV’s First Four Hours

The First 100 Videos on MTV

Nirvana’s Video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Turns 30