People may have said they were monkeying around, but that didn’t stop The Monkees from becoming one of television’s most influential shows of their time.
Debuting in September 1966, The Monkees were first created to capitalize off the success of Beatlemania, as reported by AV Club. In order to replicate the massive success of the Beatles, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, decided to create the American version of the fab-four and they did so in the way of throwing together a group of four strangers that somehow managed to hit it off, making the show and the fictionalized band a force to be reckoned with during the tail end of the 1960s.
When it first came into fruition, the producers of the show knew they wanted four “insane” boys around the ages of 17 to 21 to act in a television series about a band trying to make it into the music industry, all the while documenting their hilarious misadventures along the way to becoming rock stars. With an ad that drew in a crowd of 400 plus boys to try out for the role, it eventually became an even split between actors and musicians when the final four were chosen. History.com cites that the show’s producers didn’t look at the musical or acting talent of the guys auditioning, rather they wanted four boys who could play themselves and after going through a whole mess of people, they finally settled on Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike.
Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz (who, might I add, is the current love of my life) started the band with more acting under their belts while Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith were the band’s musicians. The four may have came from varying backgrounds, yet that didn’t stop them from creating hilarious episodes every week adding trippy music video mid-show performances during each episode. That success didn’t stop just from the show either, the boys also managed to win two Emmy awards for the show, get three #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, outsell The Beatles and The Rolling Stones during their peak and they also, not to mention, have been able to steal the hearts of teen girls everywhere…50 years and counting.
Their success outside and inside the show cannot be argued with, yet there are some people who take problems with the “made for television” band. After the first season of the show, the band couldn’t have expected their success to take a hit. Unfortunately, The Monkees did face some controversy that still somewhat follows them to this day and that happened when news broke out that the band didn’t play their own instruments, nor did they write their own music. Labeling them as imposters and looking down at the massive success they managed to receive during their first year, the guys decided to officially take their show on the road, touring to show that they could be the real deal.
Throwing in one more season of the show and a movie called “Head” into the mix of Monkee madness, the band still has a legacy after all of these years. There’s countless reasons why the band were successful, and influential to the television industry, yet four things that really made The Monkees important was their appeal to the counterculture, the incorporation of music videos, the show’s narrative style, the story and their after episode segments.
For The Monkees, appealing to a younger crowd was definitely the way to go when they first debuted in 1966. The seeds of the hippie counterculture were just starting to make its appearance and having four long haired men playing rock and roll was just the right recipe for girls to fall in love and parents to hate every second of it. The added factor that the show featured no adult figures to stop the boys from pursuing whatever their next crazy antic, also added to their appeal. The timing, the boys themselves and the added factor of no adults helped appeal to the counterculture because it was a show that they could call their own, which is something parents probably didn’t like too much.
The show also played with narrative style. Each episode of the show, as Rosanne Welch points out in her book “Why The Monkees Mattered,” kept the viewers guessing because the show played with a variety of styles. The genre of each episode ranged from rom-coms to surrealist parodies, and it’s due to this that all 58 episodes were different from the next; if something happened in one episode, it was never mentioned in the next week’s show. The show also tried their hand at breaking the fourth wall, which isn’t something that many television creators like doing. Whether it be Micky walking off set to talk to the writers or Davy asking for his line, the show made sure the fans could realize that this isn’t your typical show.
Narratively speaking, the show was unlike anything that people have ever seen before, but that’s not the only thing that The Monkees’ creators did to set them a part from the rest. The show’s story, while not coherent, told the story of four guys just trying to make it into the music industry. It showed their struggles as a band and it had them in situations where they just had to make do and figure it out. It, in a way, helped people see just how much of a real life struggle it could be for musicians to make it big. Yes, while some of the crazy situations they faced wouldn’t be something all bands would deal with, it still helped future bands see that it’s okay to struggle in the cut throat world of music.
One of the most interesting things that the band did during their time on television is after episode segments where fans could get a look into the lives of the actual Mike, Micky, Davy and Peter. While they didn’t happen too often, if an episode ran short the guys would sit down and talk about wide range of topics – some fluff and some actual real-deal questions that gave their political views a chance to take the stage. The most documented and easily found after episode segment being the one where Micky talked about the Sunset riots, uh, demonstrations, saying that journalists only called them riots because riot is a four letter word. It was these types of after segment episodes where fans could really see where the boys were coming from and it gave them a further insight into them as people and not just their character on the show.
The most important out of all of these was the fact that the band practically created music videos, well, early music videos anyways. During each episode of the show, the guys would incorporate some music video-esque segment where they would play their biggest singles at the time. While some related to the episode at hand, others didn’t, yet it was something to look forward to during each episode. It was these music performances filled episodes that helped plant the seeds to what music videos would eventually become.
While the show started off as an idea to recreate the hype of The Beatles, nobody could imagine just how important The Monkees would be during their career. It’s been a little over 50 years since the boys debuted on the small screen and since then they’ve paved the way for other bands to try their hand at the ever evolving music industry. They may have faced some major backlash during their time as a band, but hey hey they’re The Monkees, after all.