Few things are more satisfying than having networks that are (supposedly) devoted to music get all excited when they actually dedicate time to, you know, music. And such is the case with VH1's "Friday Night Alright" concert series airing, you guessed it, on Friday nights.
Though we're not ready to pat them on the back for doing what we really think they should be doing anyway, there is a level of purity and rawness from the series that you can only get from live performances. And Ben Zurier, the executive vice president of programming for VH1, VH1 Classic and Palladia, is understandably proud.
"We've never pre-empted this thing," he says.
What would prompt VH1 to pre-empt anything for any reason -- save a Dr. Drew update on Gary Busey -- remains a mystery. But since its January debut, the concert series has delivered on its promise to showcase big-time stars and important newcomers taped onstage during live concerts. The 30-minute showcase lets viewers feel as if they scored front row seats at some of the world's hottest venues. Already this season it has given us performances by, among others, Kanye West, U2, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Lady Gaga, and Linkin Park. You couldn't buy all those tickets if you wanted -- and still pay your rent.
"This series is really about big stars -- to a large degree -- and new artists we think will make an impact," Zurier says. "But it can be tough to judge. One of the challenges of programming music is that one week we might have Metallica and the next Alicia Keys, and while there might be a few crossover Metallica/Alicia Keys fans, it's difficult to be consistent while trying to offer varying artists."
This week's concert actually does seem to cross all genres as Grammy Award winner Usher ("OMG," "Yeah," "Burn") performs at London's Koko club. Fresh off the release of his latest studio album, "Raymond v. Raymond" (his real name is Usher Raymond IV), the 31-year-old is still basking in the glow of being named Billboard Magazine's No. 1 Hot 100 artist of the 2000s for having 13 consecutive top-20 singles (seven reaching No. 1). It is hard to believe he's only 31. Then again, he's technically been in our consciousness since he turned up on "Star Search" 18 years ago.
"Usher is obviously a target artist for the VH1 audience," Zurier says. "He has such broad appeal -- men, women, different ethnic groups -- we're even airing a Behind the Music' on Usher this month.
"Originally they were going to shoot this concert earlier in the year, but the volcano (in Iceland) blew, so we had to put it off a bit," Zurier says. "But it's a really cool club in London where they have a lot of great shows. Although I'm sure it is a much smaller stage than they are used to performing on
it will really make you appreciate the intimacy." (That's code for "The dancers felt superfluous.")
The best part of Zurier's vision is that he wants to create a real destination for music lovers.
"I want this to be the place that week after week people come back knowing they're getting something special," he says. "We just play them one time -- after that, that's it."
And while Usher should be enough to keep us occupied this week, he's only whetting our appetite for more great things to come: the band Phoenix (from Versailles, France -- how cool is that?) is scheduled for next week, followed by Vampire Weekend, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Jason Mraz.
"We are really proud of this series," Zurier says. "It seems everyone is really appreciating this franchise."
Jim Shearer, the talented host of VH1's "Top 20 Video Countdown," does the show's intros and wraparounds.