Wonder Reaches For Mtv Generation

Posted: April 27, 1988

It's a sad commentary that Stevie Wonder needs MTV more than MTV needs Stevie Wonder.

This wondrous superstar has been written off by soul radio for cranking out too many middle-of-the-road ballads like "I Just Called to Say I Love You," while MOR radio, ironically, has rejected his most recent album, ''Characters," for being too hard-rocking. And by and large, Wonder's always been too black and too funky for the narrow minds who program and tune in album-rock radio.

So what's a Wonder to do? Try to reach the next generation of music lovers with a 60-minute special, "Stevie Wonder's Characters," on the MTV cable channel premiering tonight at 10 p.m. "HBO wanted the show," - and would have paid Wonder - "but Wonder wanted us," says MTV spokeswoman Carole Robinson.

"Stevie Wonder's Characters" surrounds Wonder with some of the hippest young black talent around - Jody Watley, Salt 'n' Pepa, Giorgio and Brownmark - plus the king of white blues guitar, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

While the show concentrates on new and unreleased Wonder work, there's also a bit of history, including a too-brief clip of "Little Stevie" Wonder at the Apollo.

In the video for "Visions," allusions are made to Wonder's proudest accomplishment, lobbying successfully for a national holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Bringing us up to date, the crusader sings out powerfully against apartheid with "Dark 'n' Lovely," in a best-of-show production number lavished with African dancers and decorations.

For my taste, there's a bit too much here of Stevie Wonderspeak, his rambling style of discourse that requires some cosmic leaps of faith to follow and that's a director's (or writer's) nightmare to edit.

There's also a disjointed, slapdash quality to the show's experimental mix of slick music videos, on-the-street interviews (in black and white), vintage newsreel clips and low budget, bathed-in-red-light studio shoots of Wonder performing one-on-one with Watley or Vaughan.

But, as ever, thanks for trying, Stevie. Your worse days are better than most guys' best.

STEVIE WONDER'S CHARACTERS

10 p.m. onMTV

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