Sunday, September 24, 2006

Michael Nesmith From Elephant Parts To Television Parts And Beyond

In 1976 Mike Nesmith had a song called “Rio” that he needed to promote. His distributors in Europe wanted a promotional clip. Back then a clip was only that of the performer standing there singing or lip synching to the song. Papa Nez didn’t want to do that. He wanted something else. He produced a mini-musical that in the 70’s would have blown your mind. Today it would just seem old hat. In the long run he nearly single handedly created the music video business and MTV. His interest in the fast growing video technology became more intense. His company, Pacific Arts, began producing videos for artist like Kim Carnes, Juice Newton, Lionel Ritchie etc. Nesmith said “I can tell you that there’s plenty of evidence to show that the next Beatles are going to be on video record, plain and simple.” He was so convinced that video was the way to go that Pacific Arts stopped producing audio only projects and concentrated on video projects. In 1981 he produced a show for Warner Amex’s cable station Nickelodeon called Popclips. It is that TV show that eventually became MTV.
Continuing his interest in video Nesmith took his previous music videos and combined them with new comedy segments he produced and starred in. This became the first video album called “Elephant Parts.” The title harkens back to an old joke. Three blind men find an elephant. One man touches the leg of the elephant and describes it as a tree. Another touches the tail and says no it is a rope. The third feels the trunk and says no it is a hose. If clearly seen all these parts put together make up an elephant. All of Nesmith’s video clips put together made up the video album Elephant Parts. It also won him the first Grammy for a video album and got him inducted into the Hall of Fame by the American Video Awards. The Monkees former director James Frawley said “I think if you’re a Monkees fan and you look at Elephant Parts you’ll see a lot of throwbacks to what we were doing in the Sixties.” In his own way Nesmith paid homage to his own Monkees past.
Television has always capitalized on other successes and NBC asked for a TV version of Elephant Parts. Brandon Tartikoff of NBC bought “Michael Nesmith in Television Parts” and aired it at 8pm from June 14, 1985 to July of 1985. It wasn’t doing well in the ratings but NBC thought it might do well later at night. You see every once in awhile they would have to air a repeat of Saturday Night Live. They thought instead of airing those repeats they could air new episodes of Television Parts. They aired a longer version of the show one Saturday night. It was the last time the show was on TV. While this variety series didn’t last long it showed how Mike Nesmith’s career had come full circle. He was once again the star of an NBC series where he sang and did comedy. Only this time it was not as part of the Monkees.
In hindsight it is hard to see how music videos were not invented earlier. Since the movies that starred Elvis or the Beatles to the Monkees and cartoons of the Archies, music and video have been dating for along time. The Beatles themselves engaged the two when they started making videos of their songs when they could not personally appear on shows like Ed Sullivan or American Bandstand. Nesmith married the two when he did Elephant Parts. When he proved you could make money with it he created an industry.
Since Television Parts Nesmith has produced movies like Repo Man and Timerider. Pacific Arts is no more but Nesmith being ever the pioneer started a new on line company in the early days of the internet called Video Ranch. He has recently started producing audio again and you can get his audio and video projects at that site. Posted by Picasa

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