After 17 years of operation, the cult-classic music-video series, 120 Minutes, closed up shop for good. For the final episode, MTV2 brought back former hosts Dave Kendall and Matt Pinfield. After the cameras were turned off, Jim Shearer corralled Dave and Matt and talked with them about the legacy they left behind.
I think it’s pretty much safe to say that 120 Minutes was responsible for shaping innumerable youths’ musical identities (including mine). Where would we be without 120 Minutes?
This weekly gem that originated on MTV and later moved to MTV/2 was the only place you could see videos that didn’t cater to the mainstream folks. 120 Minutes was college radio on your television set, and for two hours every week, the world of music seemed to make sense. For that glorious 120 minutes, flashy back-up dancers, bloated rock-star egos, and made-for-TV pop acts were done away with. 120 Minutes was all about the music — and that’s how music should be, right? Now I’m not saying that every video shown on 120 Minutes was the greatest thing ever, but it afforded you the chance to discover a band long before anyone else did. If you watched the show from start to finish — despite sitting through some music that you didn’t particularly care for — you could always stumble upon a rare treat or two.
Eventually, the program’s timeslot was pushed back further and further into the night, finding itself preempted by Real World and Undressed marathons. MTV later dropped the show, which was then picked up by MTV/2.
In college, my goal in life was to either to be in a band or be the host of 120 Minutes. Becoming an MTV/2 VJ in January of 2002 almost seemed too good to be true, but two months later when I was given the reigns to host 120 Minutes, life officially became surreal to me. I mean I always wanted to host the show, but what were the chances of that ever happening?
After hosting the show for over a year, I was informed that the show would be undergoing an evolution of sorts. The format would remain the same, but the show would now air on Friday nights, and would go by the name of Subterranean.
To cap off the final episode and celebrate it‘s 17-year legacy, MTV/2 brought back the creator and former host of 120 Minutes, Dave Kendall, as well as his successor and music knowledge super-hero Matt Pinfield.
It didn’t seem real — being there with Dave and Matt by my side. So to make sure this moment was properly documented, I brought along my camera and snapped away pictures at will. I also brought along my tape recorder, and after we finished the finale, I chatted with Dave and Matt about their time building this great legacy known as 120 Minutes:
When did you start hosting 120 Minutes?
Dave: I started producing in ’86 — hosting in ’89. I kind of wrote myself into the script before ’89 doing record reviews and the top-10 countdown.
Matt: Officially in 1995, but in ’93 I filled in. It was really an interesting situation for me, because Dave Kendall had interviewed me as a man-on-the-street at a Robyn Hitchcock show years earlier. I always loved the show, and I always wanted to host at some point or fill in doing it. I’d watch it, and say "God I would love to do it, it’s such a cool show, and they play all the same bands I was playing on radio."
How were you approached?
Matt: The opportunity arose, because Dave left the show. At the time there were just artists filling in, and I met Kurt Steffek (who was programming the show) at a concert and he said, "Oh I love your radio station." I would see him at shows, and he said, "Listen, can I give you a call and ask you about how some records are doing? Because I get a lot of bullshit from labels about how it’s doing great at radio — I would like a real honest read." I said sure man call me any time. So he would call me.
I read this thing in Album Network (a magazine) looking for a host for 120. Kind of arrogantly I say to him, "Man you guys should have me doing that show, because I’ll know what I’m talking about, and the bands will respect me, and it will be good." And he says, "I don’t know if you’re in the demo, but I’ll ask them. I’ll talk to you in about a week." He calls me later in the day and says, "Hey they want you to come in and do an audition." And I was like, "Oh my god, are you kidding?" I never thought they’d ever ask me to do 120 Minutes. I never thought any of this stuff would happen.
Then four months later they called me to fill in, because Depeche Mode said they we’re not going to host the show — they said they needed an interviewer. So I get a call, and they say, "Here’s your shot." I was confident to do it, but I was still a bit nervous, because it was really alien to me — the whole camera thing.
I get in there, and Dave (Gahan) from Depeche Mode is being charming and really friendly, and Martin (Gore) is kind of looking out-of-it, which is not an easy thing to do, because you’re uncomfortable enough, and he’s kind of off somewhere else. I got through it, but after watching it you could tell I was a bit nervous, a bit cotton-mouthed, I was a little stilted — more than I should have been, but what are you going to do? It’s your first show on TV.
It was kind of that make-or-break thing, because everyone in New Jersey knew I had done the one show. So it was one of those things, where if it doesn’t work out, you feel like an inchworm. People just assumed, "Okay you’re going to get the show — and if you don’t you’re a loser." I do the show, and I thought it went well, and a woman that was working here at the time (who eventually got me back on the show) said, "We liked what you did. You did a such a great job with Martin Bore, and we just wanted to say that we’d like to use you more in the future."
So here I am thinking I might get to do more shows or fill in.
Out of respect, they call me in — and usually they don’t even call anybody back if they don’t want you. I go in the office thinking they’re going to let me fill in or maybe do the show with Lewis [Largent] who was doing it once in a while. They go, "Matt, listen we’re going to have Lewis do it. You know he’s here, we want to integrate him more into the thing, but we’d like you to know that we’ll use you as a fill-in." It was kind of devastating, cause I knew what it really meant. So Lewis ended up doing the show.
The funny thing was I stayed in touch with MTV, I continued to do my radio show and be a program director. I kept programming alternative radio, kept DJing at clubs, and then I finally get this call that some people are leaving the Music Department, and nonetheless I went up for another interview, and [MTV] hired me to do music and help program the channel. One of the things I didn’t want to do was make them think I was only doing that to be on-air. So I kind of never made another noise of being on-air again. But while I was here Lewis Largent and Kurt Steffek said, "Why isn’t Matt Pinfield hosting the show?" Even Lewis who hosted and quit said, "Matt should be hosting 120 — why are we letting these artists do it?"
Finally they say, "Matt — we’re going to put you on the air for two weeks — just to see how it goes — so just have fun." And that’s when I was like, "Well you know what? If it doesn’t work out — fuck it — I’m already working at MTV, I like my job, I’m around artists, I program music, and I can’t ask for more. So just have fun with it, and who gives a shit if I get it or not?"
So I went on with Oasis — I was so confident — and I just had fun with it. Those guys were notorious for hating everybody in interviews and not being nice. After the interview was over Noel Gallagher came back and shook my hand twice to say how much he enjoyed the interview. The woman who took me off the air to begin with came up to me and said, "You were amazing, I was so wrong, I want to do a 180, I want to sign you up to do the show."
Dave, did you create the show?
What inspired you to make the show?
Dave: The idea of a weekly paycheck. I was hired by MTV to produce a 2-hour show that really didn’t have a format — except that it was going to be light-rotation videos. So what I did, I said let’s sort of make it like music that college radio’s playing — which was kind of new music back then, it wasn’t called "alternative." Then I just created the segments, and gave it a bit of focus and attitude.
Who came up with the title?
Dave: I don’t remember actually. That had been decided right when I got there. They already decided it was going to be called 120 Minutes.
When did you end your tenure at 120 Minutes?
Dave: At the end of ’92.
Did you quit? Was your contract not renewed? What was the deal?
Dave: I think I was on the way out, but I actually got an offer to host and co-produce a syndicated show called Music Scoop — which was mainly on FOX stations. That aired in ’93 and ’94 before that got cancelled. I had been at MTV for seven years at that point, and a lot of the new music coming in was more American than British, so that made sense — I think my time was done. I had to make way for professionals like Matt.
Can you remember your first 120 Minutes?
Dave: Yeah. I can because we were on tour with Orbital, Meat Beat Manifesto and Ultramarine. So those were the segments that were recorded all over the country.
Matt: I don’t. So much shit blended together. You got to remember in ’97 I was on the air here (sometimes between both channels) 10-15 hours a day. The Daily News "Star Report" said why don’t they just put Matt Pinfield on six hours back-to-back and call it 360 Minutes? Cause that’s how much I was on the air. So I don’t remember my last 120.
Have you watched the show since your hosting days finished?
Dave: Yeah, I’ve watched it periodically. I’ve watched it with Matt, sometimes Lewis.
Matt: Of course I have. I really enjoyed when you and Booker did it. But I was glad you took over. I watched it and I remembered seeing you, and going, "You know I really like this guy, he’s cool — he’s a good guy." You were just so not faking it or trying to be something you weren’t. You were just a music fan, you loved it, you were cool with the bands, and I liked you. Then I met you at the K-Rock show and you were really cool, and I was like that’s great. You always want to like people that you like on television — you don’t want them to turn out to be assholes. And I’m sure people have said the same thing about me, and that’s why I try to be nice to everybody.
Do you have a favorite 120 Minutes moment?
Dave: A memorable one was when we were shooting a show in Tijuana with Johnny Rotten. I was on my way down to interview him (we were driving from San Diego to Tijuana). We turned to KROQ and Johnny Rotten was on the radio slagging me off, ridiculing this contraption I used to wear on my head commonly known amongst 120 aficionados as the "dead cat." So he was ridiculing me on KROQ, and then they played this song that sampled my voice called "Really Stupid." It’s me over and over again saying, "I am really stupid." I’m driving down thinking I’m going to spend the next 48-hours with this guy.
Matt: You know I think it really goes back to that first Oasis interview. That’s one of them, because we had fun with it, and I didn’t have anything to lose. It wasn’t like the first time. I never thought I’d do it again, and I didn’t care. That’s what made it great I guess.
And the other one is when I interviewed Lou Reed, cause Lou is notorious for not liking interviews and walking out on them. But after the interview he didn’t want to leave, and then he was interviewed for a special on 120 and he said the nicest things about me ever, like that he loved me on the show and that I knew music and that’s what he would watch. It was a compliment from Lou Reed that was just mind blowing to me. That’s one of those things. One of those life experiences — someone who’s really influential you listen to growing up saying really cool things.
Did you hang out with a lot of the artists?
Dave: Some of them. I’ve never been a social butterfly, groupie type. You seem more like you do that.
[Jim:] I don’t.
Dave: You don’t? Well you [chest] bumped the Flaming Lips.
[Jim:] I do chest bumps, but that’s probably the extent of it.
Is there anyone’s music you didn’t like on 120 Minutes?
Dave: Early on, some of the stuff we were playing was not really in the format as I thought of it. You know we would play Jermaine Jackson and just some really random stuff that didn’t fit. But overall I liked most of it.
Matt: You see nobody was ever really a prick to me — I was very lucky. I know people came on with different attitudes towards some of the other hosts before me (when it was Lewis or Dave). The way they treated Lewis or Dave wasn’t necessarily fair I thought. I got lucky because people looked at me and said, "He knows his music, we can’t really diss him."
Somebody who wanted to be critical of me said, "God he acts like he likes everybody. He’s too nice to everyone." And my reaction to that was, "Fuck you — you know what — these people spend a year-and-a-half of their life working on a record, putting their blood on the tracks. They may not be my favorite band, but they have fans out there and I want to give the best interview I can. I want to bring something positive out of it that might connect to someone who actually is their fan." That’s why I came out with a positive thing. I didn’t believe I had to make a name for myself being an asshole or being a prick, even though that’s really popular to be. That’s just not me.
Has anyone ever taken you in a one-on-one music knowledge battle?
Matt: You know people will sometimes catch me off guard, but nobody really has. At one time they were going to do "Stump Matt" weekends here. There was talk of doing an 8-hour marathon with me on the hot-seat. The worst I ever did was when my brain was frozen — literally. One time they did TRL in Aspen, Colorado. They wanted us to shoot in the middle of an ice rink, and I was wearing sneakers, plus I didn’t have a hat or proper hood. So I was freezing my balls off and they were asking me questions about a Madness movie, and I couldn’t answer shit. I got four right out of ten, cause my brain was fucking frozen. I do know a lot about music, and I love and live it. It’s my passion in life, and I’ve been very fortunate to do what I do.
Dave: Killing Joke.
Matt: There really isn’t a favorite band. I could say the Beatles, the Pixies, The Smiths, Soundgarden. You know there’s a million. For me it’s even hard to do a handful. Pick a year and I’ll give you ten. I take it record by record.
Who are you listening to now?
Dave: I’m listening to some of the electro-clash stuff: Avenue D, Peaches — I like the Strokes. I like The D4 quite a lot. And the new Massive [Attack] album I’m struggling with, but I’m listening to.
Matt: Everything from The Rapture and Thursday to Static Lullaby. A lot of different things. It’s hard for me to answer that question. My musical tastes change everyday.
Dave: It varied — it was when they had time in the studio.
Matt: All different times — it varied. We would sometimes tape literally as early as 7 or 8 in the morning. And you know what was an amazing thing? Radiohead came to record some live songs from The Bends, and they showed up at 9 a.m., and did "High and Dry" and "Street Spirit." It was impeccably beautiful. I can’t believe Thom Yorke sounded so amazing at 9 in the morning. It was incredible!
Speaking of Radiohead, what’s your favorite Radiohead album?
Matt: The Bends was the greatest record. I remember Thom Yorke almost being in tears when he was presented with The Bends gold record here — we all got ’em. And he walked up to me and Andy (MTV) and Lewis, and said, "I know how much shit you guys got for staying behind us, and I just want to say how much it means to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart." And literally, there were almost tears coming out of Thom Yorke’s eyes when he walked out. We looked at each other and said, "That was one of the most amazing fucking moments since we started working here." Just to see Thom Yorke being so affected by the love that we gave them for The Bends. Then the critics caught on, and hailed OK Computer to be the greatest album of all time. They wrote the band off after "Creep" thinking they were a one-hit-wonder, so they ignored The Bends and lost out on a great record. I love OK Computer, but The Bends is the album.
Was 120 ever taped late at night — you know — the time it actually aired?
What did you like best about 120 Minutes?
Dave: The creativity of it — the freeform nature of the programming. Getting to meet artists I respected. Making a dick out of myself on camera.
Matt: I loved the show from day one, cause I saw great new videos from up-and-coming bands that you wouldn’t see any other time during the day. Sometimes if these bands didn’t tour, this was the closest you got to seeing them. And doing it — it was just exciting. It was not just having to play the same thing every week. Whenever you do something like that, it’s rewarding.
© 2003, Milkit
Jim Shearer is the former host of 120 Minutes and Subterranean. He submitted this article to us on June 2, 2003. Obviously, we published it right away.