W. Pittman was listed in the Spring 1995, Advertising Age special
TV 50th Anniversary Issue as one of "50 Who Made a Difference" in
the history of television. Known as "the father of MTV," at 27 he
created the programming for MTV--the Music Television cable network--launched
in 1981. MTV revitalized the music business and spawned the music
video industry, which in turn influenced an entire new generation
of television programming, production, and commercials that appealed
to "the MTV generation" of young viewers.
began his remarkable career at 15 as a disk jockey in radio in his
home town of Jackson, Mississippi. From there he went to Milwaukee,
Detroit, and at 18 got his first job in programming as the program
director of WPEZ-FM in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He took the Contemporary
Music formatted radio station to the top of the ratings in its younger
target demographics. He then moved to Chicago, and at 20 programmed
country music on NBC-owned WMAQ-AM, where the station shot up from
22nd to 3rd. WMAQ's success is considered one of the major programming
turn-around success stories in radio history.
duplicated the phenomenal success of WMAQ-AM when he was given the
responsibility of programming WMAQ's co-owned FM station, WKQX,
late in 1975, when he was 22. In one rating book he beat the long-time
Album-Oriented-Rock (AOR) leader in the market and made a debut
near the top of the target demographic ratings. In 1977 NBC sent
Pittman to New York to program the floundering WNBC-AM. Once again
the "Boy Wonder," as he was known in radio circles, led contemporary
music and personality formatted WNBC programming to the top of the
ratings in its target groups. Many knowledgeable radio programmers
and historians consider Pittman to have been the most successful
radio program director ever, primarily because of his spectacular
success in a variety of formats.
His unusual combination of creative and analytic brilliance made
him a rare programmer: a research-oriented manager who understood
and could deal with the creative talents and egos of people in the
music industry, disk jockeys, and personalities such as Don Imus
(whom Pittman was instrumental in firing and then re-hiring at WNBC-AM).
It was this creative/analytic brilliance that led John Lack, the
Executive Vice President of Warner Satellite Entertainment Company
(WASEC) to hire Pittman as the programmer for the Movie Channel
in 1979 and give him his first television job. Although Lack had
conceived of doing an all-music channel filled with programs, it
was Pittman who develop the concept of an all video channel, where
record-company-produced videos would be programmed as records were
on a radio station.
much as and perhaps more so than the music, it was the image, the
attitude, that made MTV not only an instant hit with the anti-establishment,
anti-authoritarian, under-30 audience it targeted. The network also
their new cultural icon, the first network for the under-30 generation,
designed for them by one of their own. From the inception, Pittman's
genius was in positioning MTV to be different from the over-the-air,
traditional networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). He hired cutting-edge,
avant garde production houses to create logos that would be instantaneously
recognizable as not network logos, as not traditional
graphics or symbols or icons, and as not the network of any
young person's parents. He made sure it would be impossible for
any young person to click by MTV on a television set and mistake
it for any other network or station. Immediate recognition and a
unique look were his goals.
facet of Pittman's brilliance was his ability to conceptualize programming.
He postulated a new theory to explain how young people who grew
up with television consumed it differently from their parents. The
older generation, he suggested, watched TV as they read books, in
a linear way. The new television generation, he believed, processed
TV in a non-linear manner, processing visual information much faster
than the older, non--TV generation, processing it non-sequentially,
non-linearly, without being confused by brief, disjointed images.
From this insight came the distinct style of MTV.
programmers are often impractical. They often let their creativity
run amok and break budgets. Still another facet of Pittman's genius
was his business savvy. MTV was the first basic cable network to
become profitable. The record companies paid for the programming--the
videos--just as they gave radio stations their records. MTV's programming
content was virtually free.
The combination of business acumen and programming astuteness led
to Pittman's being named CEO of the MTV networks in 1983. In this
capacity, he oversaw the redesign and relaunch of Nickelodeon, the
creation of VH-1 and Nick at Nite, the expansion of MTV into global
markets--Europe, Australia, and Japan--and the company's 1984 initial
public offering on the stock market.
1987 Pittman left MTV after an unsuccessful attempt to buy out the
network and co-founded Quantum Media with MCA. Quantum Media produced
The Morton Downey Show, a television talk show and the innovative
police documentary, The Street. Quantum Media was sold to
Time-Warner in 1989, and Pittman became an executive assistant to
Steve Ross. In 1990 he was named CEO of Time-Warner Enterprises
and took over the additional responsibil-ities of being chief executive
of Six Flags amusement parks, majority owned by Time-Warner. As
he did at radio stations and cable networks, he re-vitalized Six
Flags, and made the company extremely profitable.
one of television's visionary change masters, Bob Pittman took the
TV of William S. Paley, Robert Sarnoff, and Leonard Goldenson from
the Golden Age out to the cusp of the 21st century and gave a new
generation of viewers what they wanted---their MTV.
of Robert Pittman/Jay Brady Photography
PITTMAN. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.A., 28 December 1953.
Attended Millsaps College, Jackson, Mississippi. Married Sandy;
child: Bo. Started as a 15-year old disk jockey, Jackson, Mississippi,
1968; worked in radio in Milwaukee and Detroit; program director,
WPEZ-FM, Pittsburgh, 1971; program director, WMAQ-AM, Chicago, 1973;
program director, WMAQ-FM, 1975; program director, WNBC-AM, 1977;
producer and host, weekly video music show for NBC-owned television
stations, 1978; program director, The Movie Channel, 1979; head
of programming, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment; created programming
for Music Television (MTV), 1981; president and chief executive
officer, MTV Networks, 1983-87; co-founder of Quantum Media (with
MCA), 1987; sold Quantum Media to Warner Communications, 1989; president
and chief executive officer, Time-Warner Enterprises, 1988-91; president
and chief executive officer, Six Flags Entertainment, 1990-95; chief
executive officer, Century 21 Real Estate, since 1995; Board of
Directors, America Online, since 1995.
The Morton Downey Jr. Show (syndicated)
1989-92 Totally Hidden Video
"We're Talking the Wrong Language to 'TV Babies.'" The New York
Times, 24 January 1994.
Pittman." Time (New York), 7 January 1985. "50 Who Made a Difference."
Advertising Age (New York), Spring 1995.
Lisa. Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference. Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 1990.
Powers, Ron. "The Cool, Dark Telegenius of Robert Pittman." GQ--Gentleman's
Quarterly. March 1989.
The Beast, The Eunuch and the Glass-Eyed Child: Television in
the '80s. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.
See also Music
on Television; Music