The Monkees (1966-1968)
The New Monkees (1987)
The New...New Monkees? (2003?)
The original Monkees was both a rock band and a show about the band. Everything that followed in "Monkee History"springs from this group of people treating The Monkees as a band and that set of people treating it like it was just a TV show.
Okay, it's the sixties. The Beatles are the biggest rock group . They are so big that they star in their own films like HELP! And A Hard Days Night that feature a distinct look are goofy sense of humor. In fact the films are so distinct and popular that you could easily create a TV comedy series based on them. Only obviously you can't because, hello, it's The Beatles. Like they have the time to slum on a sitcom and even if they would as if anyone could afford them.
What to do? Well obviously you use another band. Even better idea: create a new band specifically for the show. The Beatles were The Fab Four so just create a Prefab Four. A show aping The Beatles movie starring a band that is a send up of The Beatles. Call them... The Monkees!
So the producers set about casting for actor/musicians to star in the show. They ended up with Mike Nesmith as the leader of the band, Davy Jones as the cute British heart throb, Mickey Dolenz as the funny one and Peter Tork as the cute but somewhat lost gullible one. They got these four together, had them record some songs written by some of the eras best songsmiths, got the show on the air and The Monkees entered Rock/TV history.
But here things get wonky due to that whole "Is it a show or a band?" thing. See the producers really were looking at this as a show about a fictional band. They figured it was fictional but wanted America to think it was real. Meanwhile, the actual members of The Monkees were all about making it a real band. And that makes perfect sense. It was their faces out there. If The Monkees were viewed as just a joke, they were the ones who would (and did) take the heat.
First Problem. The producers thinking of it as a fake band had other "real" musicians play the musical instruments on the early Monkee songs with the actual Monkees only recording the vocals. What the hell? Fake band anyway, right? Why risk finding out if these guys could play their own instruments? What difference did it make?
The difference was, again, that the public was being sold The Monkees as an actual band. When it came to light that The Monkees didn't play their own instruments their credibility took a big hit. It made them look bad. Keep in mind them meant the four guys on screen, four guys who wanted a chance to play their own instruments, to write their own songs, to be a real band. Them didn't mean the producers who stood in the background letting these guys take the heat and look stupid. The Monkees fought for the chance and eventually did get to prove themselves playing their own instruments and writing their own songs. Once it became a public story I'm guessing the producers realized they had to let them at least try or the story would sink their show/band. And guess what? The guys weren't too shabby. But damage was already done. The Monkees could have produced the finest rock album ever and they would still have been haunted by the reputation of being the fake band created for TV that didn't play their own instruments.
But give these guys their due. They worked hard to take The Monkees and make them a real group. And they did become a part of the sixties, hanging out with and getting to know the bigger more respectable "real" rock stars of the day. At one point a then little known musician named Jimmi Hendrix opened for them! Ironically Jimmi got a less than enthusiastic response from the crowd who wanted The Monkees. Makes the head spin. And David Bowie? His actual name was Davy Jones. Had to change it due to the popularity of a certain Monkee. They did have an impact.
Eventually The Monkees - the band and the show - faded away. Cut to the mid eighties. MTV - Music Television is the be all and end all of what is cool and trendy for teens. The channel was based around playing music videos but it was also always looking for other things it could put on the air that fit their format and their style. The Monkees was a perfect fit. They were essentially music videos on TV before MTV. So they throw The Monkees on the schedule and it goes over like Gangbusters. It's a Monkee renaissance. They are hot. They even appear and perform on the MTV Music Video Awards Show to a thrilled crowd. Cool. Everything is finally going well for the guys. Well... almost.
With all the attention The Monkees decided, what the hell? Lets regroup and put out a new album! They cranked out a new album with some new tunes, got a video ready and, once again, found themselves the victim of TV. This time MTV, the network who had brought them back to life. Ya see, MTV wasn't looking for The Monkees to be a going concern. They viewed them as a kind of nostalgia act, an off shoot of that silly sitcom they had been airing... that's all. The idea of them being an actual band was not part of their agenda.
MTV refused to put The Monkees' new video in rotation on the channel. Now whether or not MTV played a group's video could often make or break a band. And in this case MTV had been The Monkees primary launch pad for their comeback. But Monkees fans were determined to force MTV to at least give The Monkees a chance by showing their video. MTV has almost always had a daily countdown show for the most requested videos of the day even back then. Monkees fans across the country organized and flooded the MTV phone lines with requests for The Monkees' video. They called so much that The Monkees were actually one of the most requested videos! Gotta love the fans.
Unfortunately the Monkees fans did not take into account how the real world of TV works. They assumed that MTV was there to listen to what their audience told them was cool and trendy and then give it to them. Hahahaha. What were they thinking. No no no. The way it works is that MTV does listen to its audience to see what they think should be cool and trendy but then in the end MTV makes the final decision and it tells its audience what will be hot. Even though the audience screamed, yelled and demanded to see the video and made it one of the most requested videos, MTV still refused to air it. And that sucked. Even entertainment news outlets such as TV Guide took time to cover the story and boo MTV for being jerks.
Still The Monkees persevered. They set out headlining a concert tour featuring a number of sixties bands. At this point the folks who owned the rights to The Monkees TV rights pop back into things. With The Monkees a going concern again these guys realized there was potentially money to be made here and they should be making some of it. They announced they would be producing a new TV show titled The New Monkees. It would be an update on the old show featuring an all new group. Not only that, they tried to keep the original Monkees from being able to use the name The Monkees. GOOD LORD JUST LET THESE GUYS PLAY SOME DAMN MUSIC!!! Sorry, this story just ends up being one hassle after another for a bunch of guys who just want to play music.
So The New Monkees hits the air. This was at the same time a lot of old shows were having "new" versions popping up on the air. At the same time folks were wondering if The New Monkees would work, they were also wondering if things like a Next Generation of Star Trek characters would fly. Next Generation did take off while The New Monkees didn't. I'm sure the producers wondered why. Well allow me to explain.
Anyone who has read this far should have at least an inkling of why The New Monkees failed to work. You could do a new Star Trek because it was about a certain universe that you could expand and fill with new characters. The Monkees was about A BAND. It became a real band. You can't just plug new guys into an old band. If someone tried to start a band called The New Beatles, Beatles fans would be outraged and stone them to death. While The Monkees weren't The Beatles the fan loyalty is the same. Fans of the old show weren't going to tune in just because of the name. In point of fact given the way the original Monkees were being treated the fans would likely purposely boycott it.
Then there is the matter of relevance. The Monkees were created as a play off of The Beatles. While The Beatles themselves are still relevant, they aren't so relevant that a band meant to play off them is going to make people want to watch. The moron producers would have been better off making up a band that paralleled The New Kids On The Block. And the original show had taken the attitude and style of The Beatle movies. The new show took a whole new look and approach based on... Lord knows what. Instead of a group of average kids in a band finding adventures, The New Monkees (Larry, Dino, Jared and Marty) were... I dunno. I guess they were super rich. They lived in a big wacky mansion that was like something out of a video game gone wrong. The place was run by a computer that talked via a pair of giant lips projected onto monitor screens all around the place ala The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The style was just crazy. The original Monkees played off of established popular stuff. This was trying to invent all new hip stuff rather than borrowing from what was around and working.
Before moving on I will pay The New Monkees one compliment. I do think the show was a mistake, that it was created for cynical greedy reasons and that it was doomed from the start. That said, I feel sympathy for the actual members of the band. With some embarrassment I will admit that I actually own a copy of their only album. You know what though? They weren't bad. They weren't the greatest thing ever but I've heard a lot worse. They actually had some pleasant pop tunes.
So that's it right? Hahaha. Silly. No no no. With the new millennium new greed rears its head. In July of 2002 a deal was struck between NBC and the makers of the show American Idol to make ANOTHER new Monkees. The New New Monkees I guess. American Idol was basically a giant talent competition. A zillion young people tried out for a chance at pop success. Then the judges whittled those folks down to a small group of contestants. Then every week the contestants would perform, the judges would critique them and the viewers would vote which contestant would be cut each week until it was down to just one winner. Presumably some contest element like this would figure into the new Monkees show.
Can I please make a suggestion or two as to how not to screw this up. First, if it was at all possible I'd say don't call it The Monkees but I guess that's a lost cause. Failing that I'd say don't disrespect the original Monkees. In fact if possible I'd suggest the creators of the show somehow involve the original Monkees. Hell, if you are going to have a panel of judges make some of them Monkees. Let them have a say in who carries on the name. And finally and most importantly I'd suggest... not doing it. It will not work. It won't I'm telling you! If the 80s revival crashed and burned what makes you think this time out it will? Because shows about creating pop stars like Making The Band, Pop Stars and American Idols all worked? Hello! Those all created entirely NEW performers. By calling it The Monkees or worse The New Monkees, you are screaming out, "This is not new. This is very old recycled stuff. But we own the name and are hoping to trick you out of some money and viewing time because we are greedy. Please help us. We need the money. Honest."
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