In 1980, he expanded the show’s scope, changing its name to Andy Warhol's TV
. With his trusted production team of Don Munroe, Vincent Fremont, and Sue Etkin, Warhol wrangled artists (
), musicians (Duran Duran, James Brown), designers (Paloma Picasso), actors (Rob Lowe), filmmakers (John Waters, Steven Spielberg), and even the occasional politician (Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan) to chat about their work and the 1980s creative scene.
In 1981, Warhol even made his way to NBC, with a series of spots for Saturday Night Live
featured Warhol musing about death while a hand applies makeup to his face. “Death means a lot of money, honey,” he reports, in his usual deadpan. “Death can really make you look like a star.”
Warhol had always been interested in celebrity—“from the time he was very young,” Huxley notes. In his adult life, that fixation led to the neon-hued portraits he made of the 20th century’s richest and most famous, from Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali to Mick Jagger and the Queen of England. It was also visible in the magazine he co-founded in 1969, Interview, in which he pioneered a model that’s since become a standard of cultural journalism: famous people interviewing other famous people.
Warhol's foray into television allowed him to become even more of a celebrity himself. “It was another tool he used to get to know people,” explains Huxley, “and simultaneously reach as many people as he could.”
Warhol would go on from Manhattan Cable TV to reach his largest television audience yet. The opportunity was presaged in a May 1984 diary entry. “I’m watching MTV right now,” the artist wrote. “I don’t know what else you can do to these videos to make them different. They’re all the same.”
By 1985, after a year of negotiations with MTV, Warhol premiered Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes on the cable network, then a young station whose audience of rock stars, creatives, and cool kids was rapidly growing. At the time, the station’s content consisted primarily of music videos—and Warhol’s show certainly added something “different.”
First, it placed an artist—rather than a musician, VJ, or actor—in the host’s role. It also brought underground artists working in all mediums onto a single show, then delivered both their art and their antics to a mainstream audience.
The first episode opened with Debbie Harry announcing the segment’s theme, which sounds more like the recipe for a
performance than the contents of a T.V. show: “Sex, Vegetables, Brothers and Sisters.” From there, Warhol and his co-host, model Jerry Hall, guided viewers through a psychedelic trip of performances and interviews with musicians Bryan Adams and John Oates, actors Paulina Porizkova and Sally Kirkland, and drag queens John Kelly and Lady Bunny. Harry helpfully chimes in to note that the Pyramid Club is the “New York center for neo-drag where, on a Sunday night, a talented family of self-styled freaks entertain in high style.”
Episode two starts with a young Grace Jones, who tells Warhol: “You have to be free in this world. You have to float, you have to drift, you have to express yourself.” Later in the segment, Jones and Keith Haring recall the time when he painted her body with his signature symbols; Warhol asks artist Kenny Scharf about his penchant for wearing bellbottoms; and photographer
meditates on “swinging New York”—while swinging on an actual swing.
In one perfect moment in episode three, actor Ian McKellen reads a Shakespeare sonnet to a live soundtrack played by The Fleshtones, who stand behind him strumming their guitars.
“Warhol put everybody together: The high and the low. The rich and the famous. The struggling artists and the rising stars,” Huxley explains. In a way, the show summed up Warhol’s entire practice, his desire to mine that taboo place where art, pop culture, and celebrity mingle—and to unearth how absurd, mesmerizing, and creatively fruitful that overlap can be.