May 04, 1989 12:00 PM

We set up MTV based on what we thought was happening to the consumer. The TV babies were maturing—you had a group of people, me being one of them, who got messages from pictures, sense impressions, you didn’t have to read them a script. The pre-TV generation was very happy with just three networks. They weren’t buying much cable television. TV wasn’t an integral part of their lives or an end-all and be-all. Whereas with the TV babies, they couldn’t get enough of it. So our pitch was, this audience is ready made. What we will do won’t cause people to change how they look at television—they’ve already changed and nobody is taking advantage of it. We felt we had a generation that had grown up on music and on TV, and yet the two had never married. Music programs tended not to work because music is inherently mood. People don’t plan, “Gee, I’m going to be in the mood for music tonight at 8 P.M.” So we put MTV on 24 hours.

We designed The Morton Downey Jr. Show before we found Mort. When we did, he said, “You little SOB, I don’t do auditions for anybody!” and hung up, and I said, “That’s the guy we’re looking for.” Pre-Mort the big cry in this country was, “My God, kids aren’t interested in issues anymore.” I didn’t think they were turned off to issues, I thought they were turned off to the attitude. The news is delivered in a very dispassionate fashion. If you go to a college bar, they talk about issues more the way Mort Downey does than the way Ted Koppel does. I know I do. I scream at my friends, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” People want to get more emotional about issues. Mort comes out and says, “I’m biased, here’s my opinion.” I personally think the major problem we have in the United States today is an uninformed population, and if Mort Downey does nothing more than make people aware that issues exist, I think we’ve done more good than harm. It’s not a show about women who love male strippers or ridiculous things like that. It’s not garbage. He’s a very well informed guy who’s got a lot of thought-out positions, whether you agree with him or not is another matter. He tends to be very adversarial because he thinks if you don’t get that way [guests] tell you what their public relations people tell them to say—and get away with it. He had the Ku Klux Klan on, and the guy comes out and says, “Yeah, yeah, we love people and we’re tolerant,” and Mort pulls out a newspaper and starts reading where this guy is using every hate-monger slogan in the world, and Mort came up to his face and said, “You’re a liar, you’re out of your skull,” and suddenly the guy breaks out of this PR mold and comes back at him with all this venom. Mort exposed him, and I think that’s beneficial.

I don’t think you’d want Mort Downey to be your only source of news. I wouldn’t suggest he replace Dan Rather, but since Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings are all doing the same thing, it’s nice to have another point of view. The combination of all those sources will probably give us something closer to the truth.

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