The Box: How A Forgotten TV Network Changed Music & Predicted The Future

Source: Thrillist

BACK IN OLDEN TIMES, THERE WAS A THING CALLED THE BOX, and it offered a simple proposition: you called up a 900 number on your landline, punched in a four-digit code corresponding to a music video you wanted to see (ideally something banned from mainstream media for obscenity), and incurred a charge of between $0.99 and $2.99. When your selection aired on your TV about 20 minutes later, you sat there, or danced, or sang along, or quite possibly masturbated to it. Maybe all four at once if you were talented and your parents weren’t home.

While every single thing about The Box (1985-2000) seems hilariously dated now (landlines! taboos! paying for content! not enough porn!), it once represented the cutting edge of media and technology. “The Box doesn’t have its proper place in the history of music, if not television, because it was so ahead of its time,” says its former executive vice president, Les Garland, who, prior to joining The Box, was a hugely influential executive at MTV.

Obviously, he’s biased. But that doesn’t make him wrong. The Box was an unprecedented entertainment delivery system, a proto-YouTube showing the pre-internet world what a democratized mass media looked like (for good or ill). It opened up floodgates for audiences aching for music they weren’t seeing or hearing elsewhere — especially hip-hop, which The Box helped vault from subcultural curiosity to global pop juggernaut. And it was just about only way to see 2 Live Crew’s “Pop That Pussy” in broad daylight without having to buy a bootlegged VHS copy off some kid at school. “We pushed the envelope more than anybody in history,” Garland recalls, “and I say that with a lot of pride.” Read more