Friends, a couple of days ago as I was about to call it a day, Rockford Jay popped in for a brief chat. During our conversation he inquired if I remembered a television show called Puttin’ on the Hits – a syndicated music and variety program that was attempting to tap into the popularity of MTV at the time. In my neck of the woods when Puttin’ on the Hits was first broadcast on September 20th of 1984 – I was barely familiar with MTV – thanks to catching the iconic music video for “Thriller” at a neighbors’ house.
Puttin’ on the Hits was the brainchild of William “Randy” Wood – who apparently in 1982 regularly hosted lip-syncing competitions that were so popular he felt that they needed a bigger venue. Thanks to the likes of Dick Clark (American Bandstand) as well as Chris Bearde (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In) acting as producers, in addition to Richard A. Clark – yes, a son of the legendary Dick Clark – taping began at Universal City Studios in Hollywood, California.
The great news is while I might not have ever experienced Puttin’on the Hits – Rockford was more than kind to share his memories of the TV series:
Despite living in the middle of nowhere, my community had a pretty hip and forward thinking cable company. When it debuted nearly forty years ago, the brand new MTV was quickly added to the roster of basic cable channels received in my household, on channel 21. My sisters and I were at the ages when we would have begun to start paying attention to music, and MTV was music overload, pumped into our home via coaxial cable 24 hours a day and in stereo. We were avid viewers, without too much parental discouragement, and we spent many rainy weekend days parked in front of the TV, catching our favorites artists, songs, and videos in the regular rotation.
So in 1985, we were primed and ready for a new weekly show that road the waves of music television into syndication, in the form of Puttin’ on the Hits – an early take on reality TV that combined pop music, MTV imagery, and young energetic performers in a competitive format, all brought to use courtesy of the superstation WGN channel 9. Contestants would lip sync to a song in full costume before a studio audience, capturing as much of the character and style of the song or the original artist – or both – as possible, competing for a cash prize and judged by a panel of celebrities. Well, let’s say “celebrities”.
If we were home in early Saturday evenings, my sisters and I would never miss an episode. Would we hear some of our favorite songs? Would the contestants be good? Would the performances be close to what we had watched on MTV or would a competitor put a fun spin on their material? Whatever the show had to offer, we were ready to cheer on our favorites.
In closing out this article, do any of you have any fond memories of Puttin’ on the Hits?