IN AN EARLIER INCARNATION, JON STEWART SAYS, “I WAS playing Holiday Inns. It’s karaoke on Tuesday, strip joints on Thursday, and the next day you’re in front of millions of people.” For Stewart, that day was Oct. 25, 1993, when, at age 30, he kicked off MTV’s The Jon Stewart Show. “Our talent people had seen him in clubs, and he was hilarious,” recalls MTV president Van Toffler. After spending two years as the gen-X version of David Letterman, Stewart now anchors Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, an edgy news satire. “It was a great place to learn,” says Stewart, now 38, of MTV. But don’t look for him to return anytime soon. He adds, “I’m not scheduled for a midlife crisis for another year and a half.”
Courteney Cox Arquette
BEFORE SHE BECAME MONICA ON FRIENDS, Courteney Cox Arquette played a wide-eyed pixie whom Bruce Springsteen plucked from the crowd to shimmy onstage in his 1984 video “Dancing in the Dark.” Casting agents took note. Though the then-21-year-old ex-model appeared onscreen for just 24 seconds, Cox’s boogie with the Boss helped her win the role of Michael J. Fox’s girlfriend on Family Ties in 1987. She shot to stardom on Friends seven years later. All this despite the fact that when Cox (now 37 and known as Cox Arquette since her ’99 marriage to David Arquette) auditioned for the video, she “knew who [Springsteen] was,” she told PEOPLE in ’85, “but I wasn’t an adamant fan.”
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT that a scrappy sideman from Remote Control would become one of Hollywood’s top comic actors, commanding $20 million per picture? Not the powers at MTV. If they could have seen Adam Sandler’s future, says MTV president Van Toffler: “We would have given him a bigger role!”
STEPPING IN FOR JENNY McCarthy on the last season of Singled Out changed Carmen Electra‘s life overnight, “Next thing I know,” says Electra, now 29, “I was on the cover of Maxim,” After the show was canceled in 1997. Electra landed on Baywatch and then costarred in last year’s Scary Movie. But her most memorable role was in 1998 as basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman’s wife for a mere five months. She returns to MTV this fall with Carmen Electra‘s Hypermix, a dance-party show.
HOW TO PITCH A SHOW 101: Tom Green, professor. “I played a clip of me sucking milk out of a cow’s udder,” recalls the zany Canadian of the day in 1998 when he first presented his antics to MTV execs. “Then I rolled on the floor, covered myself with shaving cream and slowly walked out of the room.” Before long, the gross-out comedian was dining on live worms on national television. As The Tom Green Show evolved, so did Green. “We started to get more story-driven,” he says. “That’s what led into the movies.” Parts in Charlie’s Angels and Road Trip earned Green, 29, the chance to direct and star in the recent Freddy Got Fingered. “Obviously,” he says, “I’m really grateful to MTV.”