VH1 show marks five years of tracking rock stars' lives

Monday, August 26, 2002

NEW YORK -- After spending five years chronicling the rise, fall, and redemption of rock's biggest and wackiest stars, "Behind the Music" narrator Jim Forbes admits there are some phrases he gets sick of repeating.

No, it's not the now-famous line about hitting "rock bottom."

"You know the line that's always bugged me? 'He or she was only X years old when he or she died,"' Forbes said with a laugh. "Well, you always want to live longer.

"I fight so hard not to become a caricature of myself, and not to become a cliche, and to deliver those lines with sincerity."

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its sometimes predictable formula, the VH1 biography series has become one of television's most copied and parodied shows.

"'Behind the Music' in five years has already managed to make it to 'The Simpsons.' Need we say more?" said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. The animated show won an Emmy for its satire episode, "The Simpsons: Behind the Laughter."

Not only is "Behind the Music" VH1's longest running show, it is also the low-rated network's most consistent ratings grabber.

This week, the channel celebrates "Behind the Music's" five-year anniversary with a marathon including some of its most popular and notorious episodes.

There's Shania Twain's tearful account of her parents' deaths; MC Hammer's account of his fall from stardom to bankruptcy; and Leif Garrett's awkward reunion with the friend paralyzed in an accident Garrett caused.

"It's exploitation reality TV," Garrett said somewhat derisively. Yet he admits that his "Behind the Music" episode helped rekindle interest in his forgotten musical career.

"The timing was really good, so it did help for sure getting people to see what I am doing now."

Although "Behind the Music" has profiled stars such as Twain, Faith Hill and Madonna, it got its start profiling those whose luster had dimmed. The show's first subject was Milli Vanilli, the pop duo disgraced for lip-synching to other people's voices.

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