Over nine years, Fred/Alan only made two* music videos**, but they were both doozies. First up, James Brown and Afrika Bambaata. I mean, wow, wouldn’t it too cool to work with The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk?
JB was half a decade away from his latest chart hit and hip-hop was beginning to explode, completely usurping The Godfather of Funk’s excitement. A pioneering Bronx DJ, Bam had hit it big in 1982 and was looking for his way back on the charts.
Fred/Alan had been around less than a year and exhilarated by all the possibilities in front of us. We called anywhere that seemed interesting and one of those places was Tommy Boy Records. Fred had read about their trailblazing Malcolm X & Keith LeBlanc mix “No Sellout,” the first sampled record, picked up the phone and started talking to label president Monica Lynch and founder Tom Silverman, figuring (correctly) they might be kindred spirits.
In 1984, Tom called and told us about an amazing session they’d just recorded. James’ contract with Polydor had expired a few years before, and Tom snagged him for just one single, a Bambaata duet, a perfect marriage of mentor and student. Indies didn’t know too much about this music video thing (they could just about afford the record), but they’d videotaped the vocal dubs in lovely (ahem) VHS. Could we somehow make it into a video? The average video in 1984 probably cost $40,000. Tommy Boy’s budget was $5000.
We had three things going for us: Fred had a vision of James Brown’s feet, producer/director Tom Pomposello, and producer/artist Marcy Brafman. Oh, and we were so psyched to be working with James (OK, at least were working on something of James’) Fred/Alan was willing to make zero dollars.
Tom had just started working with us, but he was an ace blues guitarist and didn’t really know much about television. But, he came in every day eager to do anything we had, and he was willing to try anything. When we asked him to produce this video, no matter how much time it took, he jumped at it.
Marcy was a producer (and painter) who’d been the senior producer that launched MTV in Fred’s promo department. She’d recently become the creative director at her friend Peter Caesar’s independent video production facility in Manhattan and Peter had one of the few digital painting devices in the world at his studio. Fred/Alan was willing to hand over the entire $5000 fee to Caesar Video.
We’d always loved James Brown (we weren’t dead), and for some reason Fred had always imagined the hardest working man in show business’s dancing feet generated electrical sparks.
Put the original VHS footage in a Blendtec, with all this stuff plus a dash of hip-hop graffiti, and a lot of long days and night. It made a pretty happening video. Low-fi? Sure. It was shot on a home video camera, for funk’s sake.
** Neither Alan or Fred was a director, and in the final analysis, video music is a director’s medium. Besides it was really hard to make a profit.0 comments Tagged: 1984, Tom Pomposello, Tommy Boy Records, music video, television, soul, R&B,.
A few years in the company was getting a little worn out exclusively working on branding projects, and we looked for assignments that would get us a little closer to the television show productions we hoped for when we started the company in 1983. Sometimes things would come our way that allowed us to bridge past our visible strengths towards our bigger goals. Like Rockschool.
This was a wacky gig. Whatever it is that moves rockers to be legit (can you imagine Hip-Hop Fantasy Camp?) has spawned a number of how-to-rock venues, but this BBC2 TV series was one of the first that tried to be formal about it all.
Fred/Alan didn’t produce the show itself, but in 1988 we were asked by our friend David Thomas at Thirteen to repackage it for United States consumption. We were to keep the name, but produce the American wrap-arounds with host Herbie Hancock (still hot enough off his MTV hit Rockit), and design the branding, instruction books, and advertising.
Be True To Your School.
There’s one school they make you go to…now there’s a school you’ll want to go to.
A TV series where real rock stars show you how they make their music.
With guest starts Chet Atkins, Bootsy Collins, Sly Dunbar, Bernard Edwards, John Entwistle, Larry Graham, Gary Moore, Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Carl Palmer, Nile Rogers, Robbie Shakespeare, John Taylor (Duran Duran) and more.
And special appearances by Stanley Clarke, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Maiden, B.B. King, Motorhead and The Police.
Hosted by Herbie Hancock.
Tom Burchill had a good idea in 1984. Lifetime (the result of a merger between Cable Health Network and Daytime Television) would become “Talk Television”, the TV euqivalent of talk radio. The hosts would be everyone from Regis Philbin to Dr. Ruth. Good idea, poor execution, run by the wrong executives, who were still trying to make broadcast television, when cable had clearly morphed into something different. And even talk radio hadn’t yet supercharged into the conservative powerhouse Rush Limbaugh initiated in 1988.
But I enjoyed the work we did. Lifetime was our first Fred/Alan branded network after Nickelodeon, and the IDs were done with Corey McPherson Nash, Buzzco, Colossal Pictures, Olive Jar Productions. Tom Pomposello produced, and that’s Tina Potter as “the annoucer.”
(Tom Burchill recovered, I should hasten to add, when he dumped the talk format and Lifetime became the very successful “Television for Women.” We, alas, were not involved.)0 comments Tagged: 1985, Lifetime, Network IDs, Tom Pomposello, animation, branding, Scott Nash, Tom Corey, Corey McPherson Nash,.
Fred/Alan started with working with Nickelodeon in late 1984 when Bob Pittman was made President of MTV Networks and he fired the existing staff, which had succeeded in losing the company tens of millions of dollars, and worse, making Nickelodeon the lowest rated cable network in America.
Bob assigned us to the remaining executives, Gerry Laybourne and Debby Beece, and suggested to them the Fred/Alan approach to branding could help them succeed. We immediately introduced them to our notion of network “promises” and then redesigned the network with Tom Corey and Scott Nash (Corey McPherson Nash, Boston) and hired some of our favorite writers and producers to create a ‘brand’. There was no money for programming or advertisting, so all the work needed to be done by the airtime on the channel itself. Nonetheless, our efforts succeeded in bringing Nickelodeon from worst to first in the ratings within six months, and Nickelodeon remains America’s #1 cable network of any kind, earning billions of dollars and making millions of kids happy.0 comments Tagged: Corey McPherson Nash, MTV Networks, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon IDs, Scott Nash, TV spots, Tom Corey, animation, branding, cable, television, Tom Pomposello,.
Howard Hoffman is an artist and animation director who’d worked with Fred/Alan on a number of projects. One day he presented a zany idea. Howard spent Augusts at the Maine summer camp of his youth running an animation workshop, and wouldn’t it be better if the kids were animating something “real” like some Nickelodeon network IDs? That could be cool, right?
Well, sure. How bad could they be?
Not bad at all, it turned out; they were great. Howard made Nick IDs (and we filmed the kids introducing their shorts) for several years, and they were some of the best pieces we ever ran on the network.0 comments Tagged: MTV Networks, Maine, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon IDs, branding, camp, Tom Pomposello,.
Illustrated by Joey Ahlbum
In 1986 music videos were still the coolest thing on earth and our friend Steve Dessau thought there was a way to make some money with them. Edgar Bronfman Jr. had just taken over his family’s liquor business and was obsessed with music (he’s now the CEO of the Warner Music Group). He was frustrated that liquor couldn’t use television to sell its wares and that he couldn’t take advantage of his favorite entertainment trend.
Who better to sell an idea to him than the only credible MTV guys who weren’t working at MTV (us)?
Partnering with Steve’s company (we set up a joint venture called Mystery Train Partners; see the business card below), we convinced Edgar Jr. that the Myers’s Rum Video Network could be his own “network” at the “video nightclubs” that were springing up around the country. It kind of worked.
Produced for Fred/Alan by Tom Pomposello; Executive producers: Alan Goodman & Fred Seibert. Animation by Joey Ahlbum, Charlex, Alan Goodman, and Marv Newland/International Rocketship. Logo designed by Arlen Schumer.0 comments Tagged: 1987, IDs, Myers's Rum, Network IDs, animation, Tom Pomposello,.
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.
After Tom Pomposello introduced us to Fred Mogubgub’s pop-art style for the TV Heaven/Channel 41 station IDs, our creative department researched a series of ‘heaven’ quotations which would be read by actors for the animation soundtracks.
In another life Fred/Alan Managing Director Ed Levine (now a famous food writer) had co-produced two amazing records by New Orleans stylist Dr. John (real name Mac Rebennack) and had convinced him to play our annual holiday parties. Ed reminded us Mac was singing commercials (for their big payday) and thought he might do us a favor and put one of the appropriate quotes to music to give the campaign a little flavor.
Session arrangements were made and Ed and our production team went over to the studio for what we thought we be a normal three hour session with Mac singing and playing solo piano. A little over an hour later they were back in the office doors. We were shocked and concerned they were back so fast; what had gone wrong?!
As often happens with magic talent at the right moment, nothing had gone wrong and everything had gone amazingly right. Mac had taken a look at the lyrics we’d prepared, with the syllables’ rhythm worked out perfectly, and come up with a melody that fit 10 seconds in about…10 seconds! He’d asked for other lyrics and we put everything we had in front of him whether they “worked” or not. One by one, with over a dozen set of lyrics, Mac ran them down in real time, and before our team knew it, he’d sung every word we had. All of a sudden we’d almost doubled our ID output, and with a N’awlins joie de vivre at that.
We eventually used visuals from all of our contributors — Fred Mogubgub, International Rocketship, Mark Karzen, Mark Beyer, and others from our agency creative team— with the unique soundtracks Dr. John provided us.0 comments Tagged: Dr. John, Network IDs, TV Heaven, TV Heaven IDs, TV spots, UHF, animation, branding, broadcast, television, Tom Pomposello,.
In 1988, a friend of ours bought a couple of failing UHF TV stations in the upper suburbs of Minnesota. He asked Fred/Alan to work our branding and programming philosphies on the station (linked together with common programming). We made them the first broadcaster* to use an “oldies television” approach and creative director Noel Frankel, dubbed it “TV Heaven.”
For the animated IDs we felt were so integral to branding TV in the 1980s, our producer Tom Pomposello convinced us that the pioneering work of animator Fred Mogubgub would be just the original ticket. Fred’s style had a kind of staccato, pop-art feel, and he’d made an animated film completely out of still images illustrating the text. We hired Fred, Marv Newland’s International Rocketship (Vancouver), and various illustrators and photographers. For text we researched enormous amounts of quotations with the word ‘heaven’ in them. Like “Heaven is on Earth when I look at you, but when I see you in a mirror it’s reversed.” We chose a few dozen and had them read or sung by actors like Fran Rizzo or Dr. John**, put the results together, and had a campaign that was one of our proudest accomplishments.
* Note our post title says “station” not “network.” Alan and I had created the first oldies TV approach for an ABC development deal we had in 1983. After they passed we held onto the idea and reworked in 1985 it when Nickelodeon needed to fill their non-kid hours from 8pm-6am. Immediately, ‘Nick-at-Nite’ became #1 in cable prime with the highly coveted (among programmers and advertisers) group of adults from 18 to 34 years old.
By 1988, the geniuses in the MTV Networks sales department decided that oldies programming (Bewitched, My Three Sons, The Donna Reed Show, and the rest) in black & white couldn’t be sold to advertisers, and the publicity folks insisted the TV writers didn’t want to write about “old shows”. At the time, no one there understood it was the format that innovative and it was the format the audience was in love with. They demanded Nick-at-Nite “reposition” itself. We suggested an all comedy network, since the most successful shows on the network were old sitcoms, and for nine months we preceeded HA!, Comedy Channel, and Comedy Central.
The Nickelodeon folks gave us permission to bring the format to the tiny, tiny TV stations in Minnesota; how much trouble would that cause a big, ole cable network?
Within three weeks of launch TV Heaven had generated more publicity than Nick-at-Nite had in three years. Our marketing client told us we would not only be fired from Nick-at-Nite but from all Nick related channels, maybe even MTV. We resigned TV Heaven and they never paid their bills to Fred/Alan.0 comments Tagged: Network IDs, TV Heaven, TV Heaven IDs, TV spots, animation, branding, Tom Pomposello,.