Tom Freston

Executive


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview, Tom Freston discusses his early years and education, and his first professional job in advertising, which he left after two years. He recalls traveling through Europe and Asia before starting a lucrative clothing export business in Afghanistan and India, and returning to the United States to get into the music industry. He talks about being offered a job at the newly formed Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, where he was made head of marketing for the proposed new music cable channel, MTV. Freston details the creation of MTV and its branding, the business of selling the channel to cable systems, and the eventual growth of MTV into a cable powerhouse. He recounts some of the hits spawned by the network, including The Real World, The Osbournes, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Total Request Live. He also chronicles his rise to CEO of MTV Networks (1987-2004), a company which included Nickelodeon and VH1, and what eventually became known as Comedy Central. He describes Viacom's acquisition of the network, his rise to Co-President of Viacom (2004-2006), and his current work as a consultant for the launch of OWN. Stephen J. Abramson conducted the interview in Beverly Hills, CA on April 6, 2011.

"We had come up with a logo for $1000, the MTV logo that you see today with an offbeat, downtown company called Manhattan Design… We made up 10 or 12 versions of it and said it's going to be a container. We're going to fill it and change it; it's going to have whiskers on it and there's going to be eels in it and it's going to look like nothing they've ever seen before. We took it to Benton & Bowles, to Ogilvy & Mather, and I can remember the creative director saying, 'you can't use this; it breaks every rule of corporate identity. You need a logo that's consistent.' We fired the agency. It became one of the most iconic logos in the history of not just television logos, but of anything."

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Tom Freston on the launch of MTV and the MTV logo
Tom Freston on utilizing content in the public domain - man on the moon
Tom Freston on "I Want My MTV" and how the channel led people to subscribe to cable
Tom Freston on life after being fired and trying to live an interesting life 
Tom Freston on naming MTV
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on his love of music; on his plans to travel after business school at NYU; on his first job in advertising at Benton & Bowles; on traveling the world, starting a business, and living in India; on returning to the U.S.
On "What Color is Your Parachute?" and getting into the cable business; on "The Music Channel" - what would become MTV; on the work environment at MTV
On the original MTV VJs; on MTV's original marketing budget and campaign; on the 1983 "I Want My MTV!" campaign; on the timing of MTV's launch
On the state of cable in the 1980s; on MTV's target demographic and how it raised record sales; on The Buggles; on the launch of MTV and the MTV logo; on early artists to appear on MTV and the art of music videos
On hiring the original 5 MTV VJs; on resistance from the South; on building connections with viewers; on the growth of MTV and the birth of VH1

Chapter 2

On playing videos on MTV; on Michael Jackson's impact on music videos; on his promotions at MTV; on Live Aid
On The MTV Video Music Awards; on Viacom taking over MTV; on Nickelodeon; on his management style
On his mentors and what would become Comedy Central; on taking MTV international and beginning to change the U.S. format; on MTV original programming
On Standards & Practices at MTV; on the 1992 election; on Beavis and Butt-Head

Chapter 3

On Jackass; On the MTV Movie Awards; On show failures at MTV; on the 1996 creation of MTV Films; on TRL
On Spring Break; on Viacom acquiring CBS in 1999; On 9/11; on reality programming on MTV
On how audiences have changed over the years; on VH1; on branding and digital channels; on branding VH1; on Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and TV Land
On Comedy Central - The Daily Show and South Park; on becoming co-VP of Viacom with Les Moonves; on getting fired by Sumner Redstone
On travelling to Burma after getting fired; on running OWN; on what he contributed to the cable industry; on television shows he watches; on advice to aspiring executives and how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

Beavis and Butt-Head

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Tom Freston on creating Beavis and Butt-Head

Behind the Music

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Tom Freston on VH1's Behind the Music

Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The

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Tom Freston on starting The Daily Show

Double Dare (1986-88)

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Tom Freston on the first game show for kids, Double Dare

Doug

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Tom Freston on creating original animation programs for Nickelodeon: Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, and Doug

Headbangers Ball

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Tom Freston on the MTV show Headbangers Ball

Jackass

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Tom Freston on the MTV show Jackass

Live Aid

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Tom Freston on Live Aid

MTV Movie Awards, The

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Tom Freston on the MTV Movie Awards

MTV News

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Tom Freston on starting MTV News
Tom Freston on MTV News covering the 1992 election (Clinton) and the "Choose or Lose" campaign - building upon "Rock the Vote"

MTV Unplugged

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Tom Freston on the MTV show MTV Unplugged

MTV Video Music Awards

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Tom Freston on The MTV Video Music Awards

Osbournes, The

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Tom Freston on the creation of The Osbournes and how reality programming on MTV affected television

Real World, The

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Tom Freston on creating the MTV "soap opera" The Real World

Remote Control

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Tom Freston on starting MTV original programming

Ren & Stimpy Show, The

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Tom Freston on creating original animation programs for Nickelodeon: Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, and Doug

Rugrats

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Tom Freston on creating original animation programs for Nickelodeon: Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, and Doug

Saturday Night Live

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Tom Freston on Saturday Night Live spoofing Behind the Music

South Park

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Tom Freston on starting South Park

Total Request Live

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Tom Freston on Total Request Live
Tom Freston on the relationship between Total Request Live, boy bands and pop princesses

Week in Rock, The

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Tom Freston on starting MTV original programming

Yo! MTV Raps

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Tom Freston on the MTV show Yo! MTV Raps

You Can't Do That on Television

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Tom Freston on the green slime of You Can't Do That on Television
Topics

9/11

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Tom Freston on how 9/11 affected MTV

Bill Clinton

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Tom Freston on MTV News covering the 1992 election (Clinton) and the "Choose or Lose" campaign - building upon "Rock the Vote"

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Tom Freston on MTV's Standards & Practices

Criticism of TV

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Tom Freston on criticism that MTV had no black artist in the early days 

Jimmy Carter

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Tom Freston on the Carter administration's clothing embargo that crippled Freston's foreign business

Media Consolidation

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Tom Freston on Viacom taking over MTV

Memorable Moments on Television

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Tom Freston on the launch of MTV and the MTV logo

Technological Innovation

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Tom Freston on digital channels and branding
Professions

Television Executive

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Tom Freston on his promotions at MTV - all the way up to President
Tom Freston on being one of 2 President of MTV Networks for a year
Tom Freston on Sumner Redstone hiring Frank Biondi and making Freston CEO of MTV Networks
Tom Freston on his management style
Tom Freston on running Paramount and CBS with Les Moonves; on the split of Viacom and becoming CEO of a public company; on getting fired by Redstone
Tom Freston on advice to aspiring television executives
Genres

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

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Tom Freston on the creation of MTV

Reality TV

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Tom Freston on creating the MTV "soap opera" The Real World
Tom Freston on how reality TV played into MTV
People

Frank Biondi

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Tom Freston on Sumner Redstone hiring Frank Biondi and making Freston CEO of MTV Networks
Tom Freston on mentors Robert W. Pittman and Frank Biondi

Jimmy Carter

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Tom Freston on the Carter administration's clothing embargo that crippled Freston's foreign business

Bill Clinton

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Tom Freston on MTV News covering the 1992 election (Clinton) and the "Choose or Lose" campaign - building upon "Rock the Vote"

David Geffen

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Tom Freston on getting a call from David Geffen (Geffen Records), wanting to make a Beavis and Butt-Head movie - the start of MTV Films

Michael Jackson

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Tom Freston on criticism that MTV had no black artist in the early days - and Michael Jackson turning the tide
Tom Freston on Michael Jackson's impact on music videos; on "Thriller"

Mick Jagger

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Tom Freston on getting Mick Jagger to deliver the MTV tag line "I Want My MTV"

Mike Judge

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Tom Freston on creating Beavis and Butt-Head

Mel Karmazin

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Tom Freston on Mel Karmazin becoming his boss when Viacom bought CBS

John Landis

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Tom Freston on Michael Jackson's impact on music videos

Kurt Loder

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Tom Freston on Kurt Loder, host of MTV News

Madonna

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Tom Freston on Madonna at the first MTV Video Music Awards

Leslie Moonves

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Tom Freston on becoming co-President of Viacom with Les Moonves, and Viacom splitting in two

Don Ohlmeyer

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Tom Freston on producing The MTV Video Music Awards

Robert W. Pittman

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Tom Freston on mentors Robert W. Pittman and Frank Biondi

Sumner Redstone

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Tom Freston on Sumner Redstone of Viacom taking over MTV
Tom Freston on how Sumner Redstone impacted Freston's role at MTV
Tom Freston on Sumner M. Redstone splitting Viacom in two and firing Freston

Adam Sandler

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Tom Freston on getting his start on MTV's Remote Control as a PA

Fred Silverman

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Tom Freston on hiring Fred Silverman to be part of what would become Comedy Central

Jon Stewart

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Tom Freston on starting The Daily Show

Ted Turner

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Tom Freston on Ted Turner starting a competing channel - Cable Music Channel - and providing the motivation for MTV's creators to launch VH1

Oprah Winfrey

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Tom Freston on getting hired to run Oprah's network, OWN

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