An offshoot of the uber-popular MTV, VH1 first hit the airwaves in January of 1985. And from that point on, the cable network began setting the stage for the future of pop culture and reality television, producing everything from hilarious dating shows to insightful dives into society-shaping media. In celebration of the channel’s lasting cultural legacy — and its 37th anniversary — we’re taking a peek into some of VH1’s most iconic shows.
Many Series Showcased Impactful Pop Culture Moments
I Love The…
Need a major dose of nostalgia? VH1’s I Love The… series dives into the pop culture iconography of decades past, reminding us of all the people and moments that defined different years. Based on the original British version of the show, the series focused on the moments in entertainment that shaped society and included, among others, the seasons I Love the ’80s, I Love the ’90s and I Love the 2000s.
Notable interviewees reminisced about films, actors, music and other pop culture icons; some of the featured topics from I Love the 80s (the show’s first-decade focus) included Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Sixteen Candles and Cyndi Lauper. While VH1 stopped producing the show before getting into the 2010s, the series helped showcase the profound media that paved the way for our current pop culture scene (and shaped our adolescence, too).
Behind the Music
This show’s goal is in its title: to tell the stories behind the most iconic musicians in history. Behind the Music took deep dives into the challenges many musicians faced while climbing to fame and pulled the curtain back on the often-romanticized portrait of celebrity life we see in the media.
The documentary-style series spent each episode focusing on a musician or band’s highs and lows and featured artists such as Lindsey Buckingham, David Crosby, Lil’ Kim, John Lennon, AC/DC, REO Speedwagon, Sheryl Crow and Billy Joel, among many others. Most episodes also focused on the redemption narrative, showcasing the ways artists who faced adversity overcame it to continue to create. In a great feat of storytelling, the producers brought around a heartwarming (or at least optimistic) conclusion to many of the episodes.
The series began airing in 1997, and, across the early 2000s, Behind the Music was nominated for the Outstanding Non-Fiction Series award at the Emmys several times. The original show stopped airing in 2014, but Paramount+ is bringing around a reboot, hopeful to revive the music biopic series.
Others Captivated Us With Celebrity Stories
RuPaul’s Drag Race
While shows like Queer Eye and MTV’s Are You the One? have helped boost queer representation in the media, one show was doing it well — and doing it well before many others emerged on the scene. RuPaul’s Drag Race first aired in 2009 and already has a 15th season in the works.
On RuPaul’s Drag Race, a group of drag performers from different walks of life compete to become the next superstar of drag. The show is hosted and judged by RuPaul, the world’s most famous drag performer, who has practiced his craft since the ’90s. RuPaul provides mentorship to the queens as they advance through the competition, helping them express their personalities while learning how to hone their performance skills. This trailblazing show was one of the first popular series created by queer people for queer people to find massive success, and we’ll always appreciate the way it celebrates positive representations of LGBTQ+ culture on reality television.
The Surreal Life
Ever wonder what happens to the celebrities who flicker out of the public eye? The producers of The Surreal Life hoped to dig into the lives and identities of once-hot stars who had begun to burn out. The show deposited an assortment of had-been celebrities into Glen Campbell’s Los Angeles mansion and followed them through their daily interactions.
In true reality-TV form, The Surreal Life focused mainly on the conflicts, relationships and revelations that popped up during the show’s filming, which drew spectacle-hungry audiences like moths to a melodramatic flame. Fortunately for fans of the old series, VH1 announced in 2021 that it’s bringing back The Surreal Life for another season. The reboot will star Dennis Rodman, Frankie Muniz, Manny MUA, and other beloved former stars from the last couple of decades.
And Some Gave Us a Taste of the Many Flavors of Love
Flavor of Love
Imagine The Bachelor, but instead of roses and helicopter flights to exotic locales, you see rapper Flavor Flav spending three seasons trying to find his perfect match. That’s the basic premise behind Flavor of Love. This hilarious show may have lost its on-air luster quickly, but its entertainment value is still shining today.
The show brought on a group of women who were meant to compete for the host’s affection. These contestants were given goofy nicknames like “Bubblez” and “Goldie” during the show’s airing, making it all the more hilarious to hear fellow contestants talk about each other to the cameras. Throughout the series, Flavor Flav worked to uncover which participants were only interested in his money and those who were genuinely invested in his personality. Considering that it took three seasons for Flavor Flav to not find the right girl in the lineup, it’s probably safe to assume that Flavor of Love didn’t fulfill its mission. However, it did bring laughter to countless viewers and set a new precedent for reality dating shows: Sometimes, humor is way more important than romance.
I Love New York
Tiffany Pollard, one of the most entertaining house guests on Flavor of Love, became such a polarizing personality on the original show that she got her own spinoff: I Love New York. Pollard, who received the nickname “New York” from Flavor Flav, was at the center of this Bachelorette-esque dating show. Despite the mansion and the lineup of 20 men eager to compete for her heart, Pollard’s hilarious personality was what really made this show a hit for its two-season run. The contestants’ generally ridiculous commentary didn’t hurt the series’ popularity, either.
Throughout each episode, Pollard had fun starting drama between the men, browsing for her ideal partner and marching to the beat of her own drum. By leaning on the raw humor of awkward human experiences to keep audiences’ eyes glued to the screen, I Love New York ended up discovering a perfect formula for a guilty-pleasure show we couldn’t tear ourselves away from.
This spinoff series followed some of the women who were eliminated from Flavor Flav’s romantic docket in the first seasons of Flavor of Love. The show considered one question: What would happen to the (typically unsavory) behavior they exhibited on Flavor of Love if they went to charm school?
Charm School saw some of the more dramatic contestants attempt to navigate a studio-manufactured finishing school successfully. And, yes, producers made it difficult. While performing tasks to improve their etiquette, the contestants went head to head to win the coveted title of “Charm School Queen” — and $100,000. Predictably, most blundered their way through the challenges, making for some hysterical viewing.
Later seasons of the show followed contestants who didn’t win the hearts of Bret Michaels or the Stallionaires on Rock of Love and A Real Chance at Love. And they also featured Ricki Lake as the host, proving VH1 totally understands how to do nostalgia the right way.