Before Fred/Alan, Alan and I worked together in college radio, independent production, and eventually at MTV. Our most visible work there was the branding (before any of us called it “branding,” including the now iconic MTV logo.
0 comments Tagged: MTV logo, MTV, MTV Networks, branding, logo, cable, television, TV, network IDs,.
I was the first Creative Director of MTV: Music…
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,.
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,.
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.
Back in the day my partner Alan Goodman and I were known as the logo guys. It was both flattering and annoying, because we’re not designers and it deflected attention from the brilliant people we worked with often, like Manhattan Design (Frank Olinsky, Pat Gorman, and Patti Rogoff designed MTV’s logo) and Corey & Co. (who designed Nickelodeon’s). But after we became known as the group who developed (not designed) the MTV logo, our reps were set in stone for a while. Eventually we were able to morph it into the idea of developing media brands, which more accurately reflected how Alan and I thought of ourselves.
After setting the vocabulary (more important than design in many ways) and “look” of MTV Alan and I left MTV Networks to set up our independent Fred/Alan Inc. and our first client was… MTV Networks. By 1984, the five year old Nickelodeon was in trouble, having lost an accumulated $40 million (that’s in 1980’s money, like $200 million today) and worse, it was the absolute lowest rated cable network in America. Dead last. MTVN chief Bob Pittman asked Alan and I to help. It was a tough decision for us to make since we were broke but had no interest in children’s television or the people who worked in it. The ‘broke’ part won out.
The key decisions we made:
• Keep the name “Nickelodeon.” We figured that 10,000,000 kids (there current circulation) knew the name and what it stood for. Management wanted to switch to “Nick,” since it was easier to spell and say; let’s forget that everyone outside the company would wonder why they were named after a garage mechanic. There were a lot of reasons for killing it: no one under a certain age had ever heard of a nickelodeon, and those who had knew it had nothing whatsoever to do with children; the word was hard to spell correctly in the age of pre-Google and spellcheck; and, the word was way too long and thin to dominate a television screen.
• Treat the network like an exclusive club, where only kids could join, not like a TV station with all kids shows. Kids in June of 1984 (when we started work) needed something they could call their own. They felt on the rear end of life, they told us so constantly. Adults (parents and teachers) made all the decisions for them. TV in the 80s wasn’t for them. They were scared of getting older, but their unconscious biology kept egging them on to age faster.
• Ban the word “FUN” from the Nickelodeon vocabulary. Every network promo told the kids that Nickelodeon was fun. It wasn’t. We thought it was better to be “fun” than say “fun.”
• Redesign the logo. Famous television designer, a moonlighting Lou Dorfsman, had designed the logo in 1981, and our brilliant friend Bob Klein had added a silver ball that zoomed around the screen in and out of everything a kid might find exciting.
Alan and I didn’t find it exciting. We’d been working a lot with a new friend, Tom Corey, who owned Corey & Co. (tragically, Tom’s passed away, his companies are now called Corey McPherson Nash & Big Blue Dot) in Boston. He came down to the Fred/Alan office in New York with his partner Scott Nash and heard our pitch for the network. we told them about our decisions I talked about above, and told them while we didn’t know anything about kids’ programming we knew that the offices of Nickelodeon were as quiet as a chapel (as one of the internal wags put it) and that in order to spice the place up we hoped that when our jobs were done they’d all be shooting spitballs at each other. Tom and Scott dug in eagerly.
I wish I had their presentation. It was pretty informal —a bunch of logos sketched on a page— and none any of us were all that crazy about. Eventually, we settled on one that was 3D in nature that revolved around itself, and kind of a standard designer treatment of a trademark. We were about to settle when Alan spoke up and said he didn’t think it was in keeping with our reputation as moving image thinkers about logos.
The MTV logo had been sold in with two thoughts. 1) Rock’N’Roll was a dynamic constantly changing medium and a logo should have a built in updating mechanism. And 2) More importantly, television was moving pictures. Logos were generally designed by print designers who wanted a perfect image, then handed off to moving image designers who had to figure out how to make the damn thing move. Often, it ended up with a big hunk of metal hurtling through space, cause what else were they going to do? We’d argued that in the 1980s that was a dumb thing to do. Why not just design a logo with movement baked into the conceptual frame right from the beginning? TV was the most important place to see the logo, and print designers could just *STOP* the motion and pick an image for an ad; it would be more dynamic even in the print that way.
Alan pointed out that’s how we’d made our bones, and besides were right, darn it. Movement was the way to go, constant change made for a energetic network, and kids were the most vital force in the world. Give them something they relate to: change. He was looking at the orange splat on their page. Tom and Scott argued that orange generally clashed with everything and that would make the logo stand out (as long as we didn’t let designers try and make it work “correctly.”) The splat could morph into any image we liked. And it wasn’t the MTV version of change. I came along for the ride that Tom, Scott, and Alan were proposing, and we trucked over to Bob Pittman’s and Gerry Laybourne’s office to make the pitch.
Bob and Gerry didn’t buy it. No one else there did either. “It doesn’t match anything.” “It’s flat.” “It’s not as cool as the MTV logo, what happened to you guys?”
Ultimately, we prevailed. I’m not really sure how, since all their objections were right on. But we were the “logo guys,” so they eventually bought our action. I’m thrilled they did, since our work with Nickelodeon is some of my favorite stuff in our careers. Tom and Scott went on to be among the premiere designers in television and kids (Scott’s now one of the leading children’s book authors and illustrators), Alan’s a successful producer and brand strategist (still consulting Nickelodeon), and they all deserved the accolades the world could throw at them.
(By the way, the book Nickelodeon Logo Logic was put together in 1998 by Sheri Dorr and Laurie Kelliher at their in-house creative services department after Alan and I had stopped full time consulting to the company six years before. The company had expanded so dramatically and so many people had trademark needs that without us —the “logo police”— around Nick’s Worldwide Creative Director Scott Webb needed some objective rules set down for designers and marketers to follow. I’m not so sure we’d agree with all their points but a trademark is a dynamic thing. Different people interpret it different ways, kind of like a musical composition, and it’s natural it’ll be looked at in new ways over the years.)
• Nickelodeon discontinued use of this logo after 26 years. They call it a “rebranding.” We would probably beg to differ.
• On his website, advertising executive George Lois claims to have designed the Nickelodeon logo. Since Fred/Alan developed the logo directly with Tom Corey and Scott Nash, his assertion is clearly false.
—Fred Seibert, 20090 comments Tagged: MTV Networks, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, branding, cable, logo, television, Tom Corey, Scott Nash, Corey McPherson Nash,.
Fred/Alan worked with Nickelodeon from 1984 through 1992 as brand, marketing, and programming consultants, as their advertising agency, and through it’s Chauncey Street Productions subsidiary (managing director: Albie Hecht), as television producers.
Alan has continued to consult and produce for Nickelodeon. Fred produces cartoons and consults for the network. Albie became Nick’s President of TV & FIlm Production for many years and now produces TV shows for them too.0 comments Tagged: 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, branding, cable, television, MTV Networks,.