- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

LOS ANGELES After nearly two decades of rock 'n' roll, Jon Bon Jovi has many stories to tell about his six hit singles, seven records, five world tours and an Oscar nomination for best song.
But one of the most memorable is the story of Mr. Bon Jovi's performance on the MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, when he and guitarist Richie Sambora took to the stage to perform an acoustic version of their hard-rocking hit "Livin' on a Prayer."
"All I could think of was, 'How are we going to make Madonna and Bob Seger and David Lee Roth stand in their chairs and applaud?' " Mr. Bon Jovi says in an interview. "The guys were like, 'Don't. Sit down with two guitars and play the way you wrote the song.' So, I went out there barefoot with two acoustic guitars… . I thought it was a complete failure until I read the papers the next day."
MTV credits the performance for giving birth to "Unplugged," the music channel's critically acclaimed show featuring the world's top acts in acoustic settings with small audiences.
"It flips everyone out," Mr. Bon Jovi says.
It's one of the stories Mr. Bon Jovi plans to tell when the band kicks off the third season of VH1's "Storytellers" tomorrow at 10 p.m. The show will be taped tomorrow afternoon at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
The inception of "Storytellers" marked the music channel's move from contemporary music-video fare to a blend of rock, pop and hip-hop programs for an aging MTV audience.
"It was the first new breed of VH1 shows, and I think it's when we started to come on the idea of the stories behind the music, which, in turn, has become our mantra," series executive producer Bill Flanagan says.
Mr. Bon Jovi says that approach is what drew him to "Storytellers."
"They understood that careers have peaks and valleys, and understood that a career is a marathon, not a sprint," he says. "They understood that three or four years ago, when MTV was jumping on flash-in-the-pan kids' stuff, boy bands and the rap things that have one record, maybe two."
Since then, VH1's "Storytellers" also has spawned the popular "Behind the Music," hour-long documentaries of sorts about the rise, fall and rise again of some of the world's top acts.
But "Storytellers" remains the flagship of VH1 programming, giving musicians a setting to tell the story behind a particular song and then perform the song before an audience of several hundred.
The show's popularity also has lent itself to "Saturday Night Live" parodies and the Priceline.com commercials featuring a singing William Shatner.
From the beginning, Mr. Flanagan says, VH1 knew "concerts just don't do well on TV. You just can't get people to watch a concert on television, unless it's a real big event.
"There was a lot of thought about, 'Well, if we can't do on television what happens in Madison Square Garden, what could we do on television that you can't do in the Garden?' Intimacy. What you cannot do in any concert situation is have the experience of sitting across the room from the artist and have them really talk to you."
The show has drawn more than 60 performers, ranging from Billy Joel to Elton John to Wyclef Jean.
"The intimacy of it has been great, like playing in my living room," says Pete Townsend, who performed last season.
With an ongoing world tour and "Crush," Bon Jovi's first new album in four years, the "Storytellers" audience can expect a blend of old and new material with a bit of nostalgia thrown in.
"I hope they get a sense of who we are as individuals and what got us over the peaks and the valleys," Mr. Bon Jovi says. "In a weird way, I think our success was based on one simple fact: We were a garage band you could have been in. So, hopefully they'll feel like a part of that again."
As for younger audience members who were in their infancy during Bon Jovi's heyday and may be wondering what all the ruckus is about he has an answer: "I say, 'Go ask your momma.' It's great. It's still relevant to a whole new generation."
The singer, who will perform with Mr. Sambora on "Storytellers," says the TV performance doesn't signal a departure from the band's trademark in-your-face stadium shows.
"It's a big rock band doing big rock songs," he says, "but it's very capable of breaking it down to two acoustic guitars."

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