March 8

This Day in History

Hollywood

Mar 8, 1993:

MTV’s highest rated series premieres

On this day in 1993, the Music Television Network (MTV) airs the first episode of the animated series Beavis and Butthead, which will go on to become the network’s highest-rated series up to that point.

Beavis and Butthead offered audiences rude and crude buddy humor in the tradition of The Three Stooges, Cheech and Chong, and Wayne and Garth of Saturday Night Live and the Wayne’s World movies. The titular main characters were two teenage boys living in the fictional town of Highland; they attended Highland High (based on a real school in creator Mike Judge’s hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico) but spent most of their time eating junk food, talking about girls and--most importantly--watching music videos. Beavis and Butthead alternated between animated storylines and clips of actual music videos, which Beavis and Butthead commented on in their signature bone-headed style, punctuated by sarcastic comments and grunt-like laughter.

Judge first drew his two main characters for an animation festival, where an MTV producer spotted them and picked up an episode for its animated showcase Liquid Television. After signing Judge on for 65 episodes, the network began airing the show on weeknights at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Critics were divided in their response: Some praised Judge and MTV for effectively skewering a big part of the network’s own core demographic--young men who watch music videos--while others cited Beavis and Butthead’s lowest-common-denominator humor as evidence of an overall decline in the quality of television.

Despite the mixed critical response, the show earned MTV’s highest ratings. It also sparked a heated controversy over the influence of TV programs on impressionable young children, especially after an incident in 1993, when a mother blamed Beavis and Butthead’s well-documented pyromaniac tendencies for inspiring her five-year-old son to set a fire that killed his two-year-old sister. In response to the uproar over this tragedy, MTV pulled four episodes off the air, cut all references to fire and moved Beavis and Butthead to the 10:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. time slot, claiming they were simply targeting an older audience.

Regardless of its dubious influence on young audiences, the success of Beavis and Butthead prompted MTV to launch a spin-off program featuring the boys’ nerdy female classmate, Daria Morgendorffer. Daria first aired in March 1997, eight months before Beavis and Butthead ended its run. Judge later created the Emmy-winning animated series King of the Hill for Fox and directed films for the big screen, including a feature-film version of Beavis and Butthead, Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996) and the cult hits Office Space (1999) and Idiocracy (2006).

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