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October 13, 2015

Short-Lived Shows: The Monkees

by Richard Keller, posted Sep 14th 2006 9:35AM

The Monkees, circa 1967On September 12th, 1966 a debate ignited that continues even to this day. It wasn't on whether or not we should stay in Vietnam, or if there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll, or who was the cutest Beatle. No, the age old debate begun on this date was: did the Monkees actually play their own instruments?

Well, they did, but that doesn't matter right now. What does matter is that the debate was initiated this particular evening because it was the night that The Monkees television show premiered on the NBC fall schedule. For the next two seasons, fifty-eight episodes, nine albums, one television special, and one major motion picture, Monkeemania swept America and the world.

Inspired by the Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night and Help!, The Monkees featured the not-so everyday adventures of four musicians living in a groovy, California beach house. Mike (Nesmith), was the leader of the pop-music quartet and was known for wearing a wool cap no matter where he went. Micky (Dolenz) was the drummer with the rubber face and James Cagney impressions. Davy (Jones) was the short, British singer with the Beatle mop-top who was loved by all the women. Finally, Peter (Tork) was the quiet, spiritual, naive guitar player who always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In reality, Davy and Micky already had established careers . . . Micky in the syndicated television drama Circus Boy and Davy on Broadway in Oliver! . . . while Mike and Peter were professional signers who came from the folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village. These four were selected from a group of 437 to become The Monkees.

The show itself was not your typical 1960's comedy. There were jump cuts, fantasy sequences, satires of movies and other television shows, and frequent dismantling of the fourth wall to talk to the audience or members of the studio staff. And, of course, there was music. In fact, The Monkees was probably the first show on television to feature what we would eventually call 'music videos.' Back then, the vignettes were called 'musical romps' that would either relate to the plot of the episode or would actually be separate from the goings-on. No matter what you call it, they were used to promote songs that appeared on The Monkees albums.

The show was a huge success. It spurned more albums, additional products with The Monkees logo, a concert tour, and weekly appearances on such magazines as Tiger Beat and Seventeen. It even won two Emmys in 1967; one for Outstanding Comedy Series and one for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy.

Alas, as the second season progressed, egos began to get in the way. The 'Prefab Four' began to get tired of the same format week after week and they threw away the scripts in favor of more improvisation. A few band members even proposed switching the format over to a variety show, which would feature musical guests and live performances. However, the network wasn't keen on changing the format. So, with the refusal by the network, and the waining interest in the show by the four band members, The Monkees was canceled in 1968.

The band attempted to keep the momentum going, despite the loss of an outlet to promote their new songs. They starred in their own movie, simply titled Head, which was co-produced and written by a little-known actor named Jack Nicholson. It flopped at the theaters due to a poorly designed promotional campaign (a one minute close-up of a man's head) and the confusing plot of the psychedelic film. They returned to television in 1969 with 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee, an extremely weird special which also faltered in the ratings. With tensions high and their popularity faltering, band members began to leave. First Peter Tork in 1969 and then Mike Nesmith (who went on to have a very good post-Monkee career) one year later. Micky and Davy, the two remaining members of the band, released one more album in 1970, and then called it quits.

However, that was not the end of the show or the band. The original 58 episodes found a home on Saturday mornings, airing from 1969 to 1973 on first CBS then ABC. In 1986, a very young MTV aired a Monkees marathon on their network. This, paired with the fact that the band was celebrating its 20th anniversary, put The Monkees back into the spotlight. The resurgence was so strong that it resulted in a new album and tour schedule. One more television special, Hey, Hey It's The Monkees aired on ABC in 1997, on the heels of the bands last studio album.

The Monkees was one of those shows you either loved or hated; there was no middle ground. Whatever way you felt, there can be no doubt that the show paved the ground for music video networks like MTV and shows like Scrubs, which utilizes fantasy sequences and breaks in the fourth wall on a regular basis. So, on the 40th anniversary of the show's first episode, we raise a glass to The Monkees in appreciation.

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The Monkees have had a larger impact on popular music than anyone gives them credit for. Sure, they may have been "manufactured", but look at what they accomplished:
1. In 1967 they outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined.
2. Michael Nesmith's "Papa Gene's Blues" was the first country rock song, released way back in 1966. Nesmith was a country rock pioneer.
3. The Monkees (along with Pink Floyd) were the first bands to use multimedia presentations as backdrops in their concerts.
4. It was a Monkee that original developed the idea that became MTV? It was none other than Michael Nesmith.
5. Micky Dolenz was the first person to play a Moog synthesizer on a pop or rock record in the song "Daily Nightly". recorded in the fall of 1967.

December 24 2007 at 8:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jonathan Myers

Sure, The Monkees was a short lived show, but does anyone remember the even shorter lived "New Monkees"? Lasting a grand total of 13 episodes, this 1987 gem was described as follows:

Fasten your seat belts. You are about to enter the world of NEW MONKEES, a syndicated series where Rock n' Roll, high comedy, warm characters and fantasy collide. It's a show where a simple story can lead somewhere you never expected to go; a world of upbeat, irreverent humor, fast and funny!

And boy, was it bad.

NEW MONKEES started with the studio force behind the original Monkees, Steve Blauner, and his partners (the creators of the original series) Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson. Next to enter the scene were two young men with great ideas, supervising producers Matthew Fassberg and Victor Fresco, who were soon followed by a nationwide talent hunt.

Over 5000 auditioners later, four talented young men emerged to reflect the fun and the music of the 80's in NEW MONKEES, a fantasy musical comedy series from Straybert Productions in association with Coca-Cola Telecommunications and distributed by Colex Enterprises.

Coca Cola + show where singers audition = not quite gold just yet... try again in 2001, and this time call it American Idol...

April 30 2007 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I saw reruns of the Monkees when I was young in the early '80s. The show was funny and interesting. I thought they were a real band, not something thrown together. It was like the Making the Band of back then, the same way that they created the defunct O-Town and the currently popular Danity Kane. I liked their songs, the catchy Daydream Believer, I'm Not Your Stepping Stone and others. I thought it was smart for MTV to air reruns of the show in 1986. That really brought them to a whole new young audience back then. The Beatles were more dominant in the '60s, but the Monkees had their own kind of thing with their short lived sitcom and their own music career. I don't think it was fair to denounce them with changing their sound. Bands have to grow artistically and I think that they wanted to move forward, which they did.

April 11 2007 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I absolutly love The Monkees! The TV show was the best and I have a few CDs. I am only 13!

A couple of months ago there was a special on TV with a ton of episodes and since then it hasn't been on again! Can anyone tell me what channel I can find the show on? I have looked everywhere (amazon, ebay, etc.) for The Monkees on DVD but cant seem to find them.


February 24 2007 at 10:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Susan Feehery

I really would like to get in touch with Davy Jones, please send me a home address or email address for him.

February 14 2007 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the tv show rocked.i think its cool (the monkees) and im 13 years old (boy)

January 04 2007 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The people who run Rolling Stone have pretty much always ignored The Monkees as a band. In fact, it has been widely suggested that RS squashes any serious nomination of The Monkees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Many people like the Monkees for many different reasons. I think that is why it sort of has an ongoing life from generation to generation. I love the music and now find it really hard to watch the "sitcom" Monkees. I've always thought Kirshner could've released Nesmith's Papa Gene's Blues as a single but the seeds of bad blood between the two was really starting to heat up.

September 20 2006 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Man, 'Justus' sure is a poorly-considered title.

Anyway, though, the New Monkees are where it's at.


September 15 2006 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Monkees were amazing. Funny, whimsical, personable, talented, and just plain-old-great pop tunes. Far better than the Beatles no matter how you slice it.

September 14 2006 at 10:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was a Monkees fan as a 9-year-old, in their late-60s incarnation--I was musically unsophisticated enough to have decided, at the time, that they were better than the Beatles (despite this being around the time of the seminal "Sgt Pepper), and I didn't come back around until the White Album.

Most of the Monkees' songs were written by pop standard mainstays such as Neil Diamond. When the bandmembers decided they didn't want to be corporate stooges any more, and wanted to write their own music, they went a very different road (more influenced by the psychedelic music scene at the time), and this alienated their fans.

Peter Tork had been a good friend of Stephen Stills in the mid-60s, and I believe it was Stills who was originally encouraged to audition for the band. He wasn't interested, but sent his buddy Peter.

As I entered adolescence, and became more attuned to the Beatles again--and to bands like Cream and the Grateful Dead--I became quite contemptuous of the Monkees, but now in middle age I find I remember them with great fondness. They may have been the Pat Boones of their day, taking the sting out of more dangerous music for a mainstream audience, but at least they made the attempt. No one's done it better since, that's for sure.

September 14 2006 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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