12 days of reality: bands running on VH1’s Bands on the Run give birth to Magical Elves

Some reality TV shows were before their time, or under-appreciated, or both. One of those series is The Real Cannonball Run, which paired The Amazing Race-like pairs with someone completely different and sent them on a cross-country race. Another series that had a road trip theme was Bands on the Run, a fantastic series that is also notable for creating the partnership known as Magical Elves—the producers of Top Chef and creators of Project Runway, among other shows.

Jane Lipsitz met Dan Cutforth when he pitched her a show when she was an exec at VH1, and he created the series. The New York Times reported in 2006 that “[t]he musicians’ drunken escapades failed to attract a large audience, but the project inspired Ms. Lipsitz to quit her VH1 job.” Together, they worked on ABC’s The Runner, a show with a fraught history that was ultimately killed after Sept. 11. But that led them to create Project Greenlight, another high-quality, before-its-time series.

Anyway, Bands on the Run aired in 2001 on VH1 (which then wasn’t a morally bankrupt channel full of shit; it was perhaps better known as MTV for old people) and followed just four real bands—Flickerstick, Harlow, the Josh Dodes Band, and Soulcracker—as they played new cities and tried to sell their merch. If you saw The Great Food Truck Race on Food Network, you saw a good series that borrowed nearly everything from the truly excellent 2001 series. There was something about the competition and personalities and behavior of the musicians that was riveting, and from the drama to the production values, everything worked.

Here’s a clip from the show; very little of it seems to have made its way online, because it came before the time when people recorded TV and uploaded it, and I haven’t ever seen a DVD release or recent rebroadcast, alas.

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