Few designers understood Fred/Alan’s approach to television network logos as well as our first non-Fred, non-Alan creative director, Noel Frankel.
Our point of view started to form after Frank Olinsky of Manhattan Design brought in the first iteration of the last presentation on the MTV logo. He thought that every usage of the logo (for shows, posters, ads, etcetera) should have a different illustrative approach. We then pushed that idea further and came up with the thought that there could be different logo variations working right next to each other in one piece. In a world where print designers were hired to come up with a trademark, and then motion graphic designers were brought in to “make it move,” Fred/Alan felt that television had become the primary platform for design, so the marks needed to take this fact into account. Build motion into the initial composition, don’t add it afterwards. Our feeling was that you could freeze any frame of our moving logos and use it as a print graphic. Tom Corey and Scott Nash at Corey, McPherson, Nash picked up on this as soon as we started working together, and embedded it into the Nickelodeon and Lifetime logos they did for us. Besides, we felt that a corporate logo would have hundreds of people messing with it anyway, so if we could come up with a way that each designer who worked with it over time could “own” their own designs, the usage of it would be exponentially more exciting.
Noel brought a level of conceptual and executional sophistication to the process that peaked with HA! A bit of background is in order.
In 1989, HBO announced The Comedy Channel as a basic cable offering that was meant to compete formatically and demographically with MTV. Having learned from Ted Turner’s Cable Music Channel that the best defense is a strong offense, MTV Networks quickly announced it’s own comedy network. Given our deep relationship as the original branders-in-chiefs for the company —and the incredible importance of brand establishment at this stage in cable television’s history— Fred/Alan was brought in immediately.*
Naming was the first challenge. Nickelodeon was named before there was even a company (or we would have come up with a better name), and naming MTV and VH-1 were completely driven by Bob Pittman's focused leadership. So, for MTV Network's comedy network the best creative minds in a highly creative company generated 400 names, no one could make a decision, so they asked us to come up with a name. Never ones to waste our time with a client who wouldn't make up their minds, we decided the better part of valor would be to pick one from their list and sell it hard. HA!** was on the list, we loved it, and MTVN paid us a fortune to spend weeks convincing them a name on their own list was best. (So goes the game in corporate America.)
Noel took it from there. He came up with an approach that allowed anyone who laughed to potentially be part of the network identity. A shouted “HA!” could emanate from anyone’s mouth, photographic or illustrative, and that would keep it fresh and allow for hundreds of fun network IDs.
Time was tight and the network needed to be on air by April 1, 1990 (get it?), a schedule twice as quick as the launch of MTV in 1981. Fred/Alan relied on producers we’d been working with over the past decade to produce the network ID packages, and they all jumped aboard and did some great work.
For those of you following our IDs for various networks during the 80s, most of these 10 second films won’t surprise. They were all good, but pay particular attention to the ones Drew Takahashi directed for his company (Colossal) Pictures (the X spots at the beginning of the compilation above). Always looking to innovate, Drew moved us away from the traditional 2D animation his company had done for us in the past and towards his passion of exploiting the then unique combination of video and computers. His pieces take the fun of Noel’s design and mashes them up with a number of television conventions from the vacuum tube days. Via early MacIntosh computers.
HA! TV Comedy Network
Network identity IDs
Logo design: Noel Frankel
Production: Drew Takahashi/(Colossal) Pictures SF, Alex Weil/Charlex NY, Marv Newland/International Rocketship Vancouver BC
* No, HA! doesn’t exist anymore. Neither does the Comedy Channel. After two years of slugging it out with each other, they merged into Comedy Central (named by Fred/Alan’s Bill Burnett) as of April 1, 1991.
** The one hiccup in the clearance for the name was that Jim Henson had trademarked Ha! (executed in a Bodoni bold) for his company Henson Associates. Gerry Laybourne from Nickelodeon negotiated with Jim to make it work out.0 comments Tagged: 1990, Corey McPherson Nash, HA!, MTV Networks, Manhattan Design, Network IDs, branding, cable, logo, television, Comedy Central,.
From the moment Fred/Alan started doing MTV’s advertising in 1988 we’d wanted to create a print campaign that would capture the feeling of change and surprise we’d been able to inject into the on-air identity from the first seconds of the channel.
Finally, in 1990 our clients agreed to a consumer advertising in Rolling Stone magazine, which eventually would run across two years. Their (then) large scale format was perfect and we were able to commission some amazing artists to participate; to contrast our photographic music trade campaign (and emphasize our identity roots), illustration was the primary medium. Our excellent art director Tom Godici picked all the art* (with some kibbitzing from the sidelines) from both sides of the generational divide, with a mix of household names, ad biz faves, and soon-to-be’s.
Our favorite story from this campaign involved Robert Crumb. Generally, Tom would contact the artists personally, tell them something about the campaign, and emphasize we’d want their take on our headline “Just when you think you know what it is… it’s MTV.” Our only request —it was optional, and most didn’t— was that the MTV logo would be included. Crumb’s representative told us to send over some of the other artists’ work and that he’d send it over to Crumb in France, but that it was extremely unlikely he’d participate. Tom dutifully packed up the stuff with a personal letter telling Crumb we knew he hated contemporary music but we loved his work.
Months later the package was mailed back, seemingly unopened. Sure enough, the original contents spilled out, to all appearances, unread. But Tom’s eyed popped when along with all the other stuff flies out an old, yellow edged piece of onion skin typing paper with a Crumb drawing (the one up above) and a note.
"Please forward the $300. My wife is spending money faster than I can earn it."
* By R. Crumb, Lou Brooks, Janet Woolley, Robin Nedboy & Al Harp, Marvin Mattleson, Gene Greif, Jenny Holzer, Alex Grey, Robert Yarber, Fred Schneider, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Lisa Powers.0 comments Tagged: MTV, 1990, 1991, Rolling Stone, advertising, print, illustration, graphic design, photography, consumer,.
Since the very beginning (August 1981) the MTV packaging and advertising work we’d done used line illustration and animation to establish a clear identity, distinct from the all too common live action music videos or the slick motion graphics on the rest of the television networks. But photography loomed very high on our radar. Fred’s sister/Alan’s wife, Elena Seibert, is a portrait photographer, and we’d each been to collecting photography at home. Rock photographer Annie Leibovitz had recently been doing advertising campaigns for The Gap and American Express, and Fred was particularly taken by Oliviero Toscani's”real people” campaign for Espirit.
So, 1990 rolled around, nine years we’d been developing and executing MTV’s DIY, low-fi style. It was time for a change and a music business trade magazine campaign was just the place; Billboard, Hits, maybe Cashbox. The music industry had begun to take the network for granted, assuming it was just their amazing artists(!) that was responsible for the boom in sales. F/A creative director Noel Frankel directed the first ad with Winger, and then art director took the helm for the rest. A classy, quality, photographic look, black & white, featuring top artists of the day, and lyrics from their top recording.
Unfortunately, in those days right before Nirvana broke, it wasn’t the most impressive lot. OK, half of them (Tone Lōc, the B-52’s, Living Colour) were respectable. But Paula, Hammer, and least of all, Winger? And I’m not really sure what to say about Faith No More.0 comments Tagged: 1990, Billboard, MTV, advertising, photography, print, trade advertising, Hits,.
Eugene Pitt and The Jive 5 were as perfect an element of network identity as Fred/Alan ever found. All the filmmakers who worked with us on Nickelodeon lined up to be the first to use their soundtracks on their network IDs.
The Fred/Alan television branding execution often started with defining a network’s sound. A background in music and radio made this logical for them, though it was a philosphy grounded in their belief that TV was driven by the sounds first, with the visuals often following the audio lead. In the case of the Nickelodeon rebranding in 1985 the time frame was short, under six months, so the audio and the visual identities were developed simultaneously.
For over a year Alan and Fred had been thinking about old radio jingles, and thinking of ways to incorporate a human, vocal sound on their identities. In 1983, working on The Playboy Channel’s Hot Rocks, they scouted around for an a cappella group to record distinctive IDs for the music video show. Alan’s former colleague, writer and producer Marty Pekar, had started Ambient Sound to capture contemporary recordings of classic doo-wop groups from the 50s and 60s. He introduced them to the leader of The Jive 5, Eugene Pitt, as “not only a great singer, but a smart man.” They found Eugene to be, as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO Terry Stewart said, “the most underrated soul singer in America,” and a wonderful collaborator. When the opportunity to work with Nickelodeon presented itself, Fred, Alan, and producer Tom Pomposello immediately knew the Jive 5 would be the perfect underpinning for defining the vocabulary of the network.
Convincing Nickelodeon was another story. When we brought up the notion of a sound identity, Nickelodeon executives, still not fully understanding of where we intended to steer the channel, suggested a consideration of Raffi, then a recent phenomenon as a singer for young children. “He’s very popular; our research confirms it.” Fred/Alan tried a lot of arguments to bring them around to a doo-wop sound, but they fell on deaf ears. “Doo-wop’s 30 years old, no kid has ever heard of it.”
Frame grab from “The Jive Five”, by Jon Kane/Optic Nerve
We won the day on two grounds.
Fred played on the executives’ liberal backgrouds. “We love all forms of African-American music, and using doo-wop will be a great way to educate American kids without anyone being the wiser.”
"Bom-ma-bom, a-bom-bom-a-bom, ba-ba-bom-bom-a-bomp, b-dang-a-dang-dang, b-ding-a-dong-ding."
"What kid isn’t going to relate to that right away?" Alan asked.
Animation by Eli Noyes & Kit Laybourne, Joey Ahlbum, Colossal Pictures, David Lubell, Jerry Lieberman & Kim Deitch, Marv Newland/International Rocketship, and Jon Kane/Optic Nerve. Additional singing by Juli Davidson, and Paul Rolnick.