Doug Herzog/ courtesy of MTV
Prince will forever be known for partying like its 1999, but the biggest year of his career was 1984, when at one point, the artist simultaneously has the no. 1 album, single and film in the country
Doug Herzog had a VIP seat to the festivities. The current president of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group, which oversees MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central, was preparing to speak to advertisers Thursday morning when word broke of Prince's death.
“We’re acknowledging the unimaginable passing of one of the greatest artists in music history, an artist that has been synonymous with MTV since the beginning,” Herzog said at the start of the presentation at New York City's Skylight at the Moynihan Station, the stage awash with purple lights.
On Friday morning, Herzog spoke to us exclusively by phone about Prince's heyday, when he was an rising executive at MTV.
"He was one of a handful of guys that, when one of his videos showed up, everyone would stop what they were doing and gather in an office to watch it," said Herzog, who as a senior manager, developed "The Real World," "The MTV Video Awards" and "Beavis and Butt-Head." "Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Prince. Those were the ones who ruled the world at the time."
Yes, MJ was the driving force in forcing MTV to play African-American artists, but Prince had a role as well.
"Michael opened the door, but Prince kicked it down," he said.
"Purple Rain," the 1984 musical film shot in Minneapolis, was particularly influential, as it is, in essence, a feature-length music video.
"That was a stone-cold gamechanger," Herzog said. "It's hard to wrap your head around the impact it had back then."
Herzog had a chance to chat with Prince several times, including an awkward meeting at MTV offices shortly after Prince had changed his name to a symbol. Executives weren't sure how to address him.
"Call me whatever I am," he responded softly.
Herzog had fond memories of seeing Prince in concert, including the infamous 1981 gig in San Francisco in which he opened for the Rolling Stones. Spectators were so rude to the new, brazen artist that promoter Bill Graham had to come out and admonish them. Herzog also laments leaving an LA Forum show in 2011, which he assumed had ended. It was only when he got home and was checking out Twitter that he learned the artist had come back on stage after the lights had gone up and done another hour.
Herzog had thought about going to see a Questlove tribute party Thursday night, but instead opted to attend Alicia Keys' album-release party. Near the end of her 45-minute set, she played “How Come U Don’t Call Me,” from her 2001 debut album Songs in A Minor.
Suffice it to say, Herzog stayed until the end.