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VH1 (which stands for Video Hits 1) is an American cable television channel that was created in 1985. With then four-year-old MTV's popularity rising drastically among teens, VH1 began with the intention to capitalize off of the success of the music video. However, VH1's aim was to focus on the lighter, softer side of popular music, including such musicians as Elton John, Sting, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Kenny G, and Anita Baker, in hopes of appealing to people between the ages of 18 and 35, and possibly even older.
VH1's popularity never really took off until it was bought out by Viacom, the company which now owns CBS as well as MTV, MTV2, BET, Spike TV, Comedy Central, CMT, Showtime, and several other cable channels. In 1994, in a bid to make itself more noticeable, VH1 started to market itself as the "new VH1". It altered its format slightly from adult contemporary to adult top 40, now including musicians such as Ace of Base, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, and other slightly more rock-oriented, popular music than what it had originally played, though lite favorites such as Des'ree, Elton John, Madonna, Celine Dion, and Mariah Carey still received heavy video play in 1994, as well.
By 1996, VH1 was heading down the same path as its sister station, MTV, choosing to focus more on music-related shows than on actual videos. Old episodes of American Bandstand could regularly be seen on the channel and the channel was reportedly in major risk of going bankrupt because of very poor ratings.
Things changed drastically for VH1 in the fall of 1996, with the premiere of Pop-Up Video, a very successful and popular show which offered tidbits of information as music videos were being played. "Pop-Up" television has gone on to become something of a cultural phenomenom, appearing on episodes of the Brady Bunch, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and even a special episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
In September of 1997, VH1 again hit it big with the premiere of Behind The Music. The show features interviews and biographies of some of popular music's biggest stars. The premiere episode featured MC Hammer. To date, there are episodes on everyone from Queen Latifah to Milli Vanilli to Fleetwood Mac to TLC to Weird Al Yankovic, and more episodes are being produced constantly.
In 1998, VH1 debuted the first annual "VH1 Divas" concert. The original was live, and featured the "divas" Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, and Aretha Franklin, and the "special guest" Carole King. The concert was a huge success and others followed featuring "divas" including Whitney Houston, Cher, Donna Summer, LeAnn Rimes, Mary J. Blige, Diana Ross, and Faith Hill.
In the late 1990s VH1 continued to get more diverse and teen-based with its music selection. Various late-night rock shows have been shown on VH1, featuring alternative and metal videos from the 1980s and 1990s. VH1 eventually warmed up to harder rock acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters, and Metallica, and their new videos are generally added into VH1's playlist right away.
Most recently, VH1 has even begun to play mainstream rap musicians. The latest videos by Eminem, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and Missy Elliott are currently in VH1's rotation and have even started to crop up on VH1's top 20 countdown, as of early 2003.
Presently, VH1 is most known for Behind The Music, its news documentaries, and its "Movies That Rock", and for its music-related specials, more so than for actual music videos. The top 20 countdown still airs a few times a week, however, and gives viewers the chance to see some of the most popular videos in the nation.