On the 15th anniversary of MTV's launch -- Aug. 1, 1996 -- the network officially expanded its music video empire thanks to a commercial-free, second channel: M2.

By 1996, acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains were filling the Buzz Bin and newer pop outfits like Green Day and the Offspring were finding their way onto MTV. So why launch a second channel focused solely on music videos when the original was seemingly getting the job done?

It may be hard to remember, but reality shows were already springing up across MTV in the early ‘90s, and the company wanted to keep fans satisfied with non-stop music videos. M2 -- which would later be rebranded as MTV2 in 1999 -- attempted to reach that goal, and was also used as an opportunity to feature a higher diversity of music videos than MTV was doing at the time.

Who was ushered in as the initial face of the new network? None other than Beck and "Where It's At," the lead single from his 1996 album, Odelay. Contrast that (above) with MTV's 1981 debut video, the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Today, it seems like low-hanging fruit to pick on MTV and all of its reality programming, but believe it or not, critics were having very similar conversations back in the mid-'90s. In fact, when M2 launched in '96, music writer Sean Piccoli wrote in the Sun Sentinel, “[MTV has] put some truth back into the promise of their title: Music Television. And they’ve made it harder to dislike them for all the dreck they pass off as programming on the original channel. Watching the foundling M2, whose start up and first hour were simulcast this week by MTV, it was stunning to see in this new venture how far the parent network has strayed from its roots."

Piccoli took a few lines to write about M2’s new veejays, Rolling Stone’s Jancee Dunn and radio-industry veteran Kris Kosach. “Both came across as smart, attractive and nicely under-rehearsed,” he noted.

He also highlighted some of the channel's additional programming: “M2’s only nonmusical programming, per se, came in a pair of minute-long segments featuring artists talking about things they love. In the first piece, Porno For Pyros frontman Perry Farrell, grinning like a dope against a backdrop of animated wallpaper, talked about getting hold of a bootleg tape with 20 versions of a little-known Jimi Hendrix song, "Gypsy Boy." In the second piece, Parliament-Funkadelic founder George Clinton reminisced about the heyday of urban break-dancing.”

As he noted, M2 played 15 music videos in its first hour of broadcast, including clips from PJ Harvey, Hayden, Gary Young and A Tribe Called Quest: “If you haven’t heard of seen some of these performers before, then M2 is doing part of its job.”

Today, MTV2 -- much like its predecessor -- is unrecognizable from what it was when it first launched. Reality TV, comedy programs and game shows have taken hold of the channel, with a few music videos sprinkled in for good measure. This shouldn't be that surprising; Piccoli wrote, "MTV has to get some of the credit for [M2]: It wouldn't be the first time a rotten parent had an adorable child."

It only makes sense that the child would grow up to imitate its parent -- but does this mean we're due for an M3 channel? Perhaps one day we'll find out.

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