MTV's Buzz: fantastically forward-thinking TV from 1990

In 1990, MTV aired a groundbreaking TV documentary series called Buzz. Created and directed by Mark Pellington (Mothman Prophecies, Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video), Jon Klein, and Mark Neale in partnership with MTV Europe, Buzz was a fantastic experiment in non-linearity and cut-up that drew heavily from -- and presented -- avant-garde art, underground cinema, early cyberpunk, industrial culture, appropriation/sampling, and postmodern literature. Experientially, it feels like what Mondo 2000 would have looked like as a television show, and in fact Mondo founder RU Sirius was interviewed on the first episode. Other notable contributors/subjects included William S. Burroughs, Jenny Holzer, Genesis P-Orridge, Syd Mead, and many other happy mutants. This was the future of television, circa 1988. Too bad it didn't quite pan out this way. I'm delighted that YouTube user BlackFlagParty has posted the first episode online. I wish the full 13-episode series would be issued on DVD! Above is segment 1 from episode 1. The rest of the segments are after the jump.


  1. I remember this show, it was great! I should have several episodes on video tape. Beta most likely… I should find them.

  2. Wow. This inspired me to go search out a bunch of the old Concrete TV stuff. I think my head might melt from too much video collage.

  3. With Kathy High, I produced the segments on virtual reality (with Jaron Lanier and Scott Fisher), hackers (RU Sirius, John “Captain Crunch” Draper, Lee Felsenstein and others), and cryonics. It was amazing interviewing legendary figures in their homes and workplaces, and I wished BUZZ would go on forever, but it didn’t. My involvement ended abruptly when HBO, where I was working at the time, learned I was also working for MTV and called me in and read me the riot act.

    –Rick Prelinger

  4. Wow. Now that was a great trip in the wacky wayback machine. Every once in a while, I remember a time when MTV had actual good moments scattered throughout the detritus of Billy Ocean and Def Leppard videos and I wonder if it was indeed real.

    What’s striking to me now is how much work went into the production of those segments. Doing all that with video tapes and toasters…man, those were (not) the days.

  5. I kept expecting to hear the words:

    This production is very reminiscent of EBN (no telling who borrowed from whom). I wish that group had produced more stuff… I really liked them.

    1. There was a DVD that compiled two VHS tapes of content from Liquid Television called Wet Shorts. I should still have it on DVD… someplace.

  6. @Ian70: good point about EBN. Bunch of convergent work back then. Mark Pellington (co-producer of BUZZ) had worked as an on-air promo producer at MTV and was a key vector of the scratchy look and found-footage sensibility that characterized the channel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As music videos got more visually predictable, MTV’s on-air look kicked out to compensate. When we supplied footage to Natural Born Killers in 1993-94, we heard that the editors credited Pellington for its mixed-media, collagish, breakneck-edit style.

  7. Memories – BUZZ folks at Art Futura where I didn’t meet Mark Neale (who briefly appears in the first BUZZ clip), but with whom I worked with later. Mark Neale/EBN/U2 connection. Helped out Survival Research Lab, met Perry Hoberman, William Gibson, Scott Fisher, Brenda Laurel, and Brad deGraf among many others. Hung out with Sally and Johnie in Barcelona. Blood stained crosses hung from balconies to protest SRL and their tesla coils and sonic cannons. Heady times. thanks for the memories.

  8. What I find interesting is what this says about how we view violence as it relates to gender.

    You can make a video game where you kill and/or main hundreds of guys and and nobody has any problems…

    The gender of the target shouldn’t be what pisses people off.

  9. Man, those were the days. Buzz was so freakin’ awesome! My God, I remember watching this show when I was a senior in High School! This show, along with the works of EBN, and U2’s Zoo TV tour inspired me to go into video!

    What happened? You turn on MTV and you get nothing but horrible reality shows, shows where people deliberately hurt themselves doing stupid stunts, and shows like “Wondershozen:” which is not only in bad taste, (Worse than anything Beavis and Butt-head ever did,) but also not funny at all.

    I wish MTV would get rid of whoever is in charge and bring back Buzz and stuff like it! Go back to the way things were before Real World first premiered!

  10. I used to drop acid and watch this show! It really is mind-blowing! It still looks and sounds so fresh, it’s shocking it’s more than 20 years old. I had all the shows on vhs, but it was thrown out by my mom cleaning, years ago. I’ve been looking for it ever since! Thanks for the links. This and Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes were shockingly hip, MTV sure did change!

  11. I have been looking for this series for years! I (club DJ/producer) remember watching the first episode with a friend (Bouncer) and remarking how far ahead of its time the show was, he looked at me and shook his head in disbelief, not getting it at all. Right then I knew BUZZ would be pulled from the schedule, they don’t call it “broadcast” for nothing. A “narrowcast” doesn’t pay the bills, after all, and its obvious very few of us knew what we were seeing. What I did NOT know was how few must have gotten it and how far this series would buried! Thank You for sharing, and nice work!
    -A. Dog
    > )

  12. Wow, how did I miss this posting when it ran last year? BUZZ was a huge favorite with my crowd of happy mutants in college. I have possibly every episode except one in decent quality on HiFI VHS tapes. I should get them transcribed and out there for all the other BUZZ freaks. I had no idea anybody else even saw the show except me and my freaky friends.

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