Q&A: Gay Rosenthal

A 'Behind the Music' executive co-producer looks back on three seasons of feuds, addiction and rock & roll

Gay Rosenthal Credit: Anna Webber/Getty Images for Sundance Channel

For three years now, The heartfelt tales of celebrity's ebb and flow on Behind the Music have made the process of fame itself famous, while teaching us that bitchy infighting, human greed and massive addiction problems aren't exclusive to any one genre of music. With a behind-the-scenes anniversary special (featuring voice-behind-the-music Jim Forbes, September 24th) coming up, as well as the launch of Behind the Music's fourth season (Yusuf Islam, formerly, Cat Stevens, tells his tale on October 1st), Rolling Stone sat down to chat with the show's executive co-producer Gay Rosenthal.

How did the show come to be?
Jeff Gaspin, who's the executive vice president of VH1, and I were at lunch, and we said, "Whatever happened to Milli Vanilli?" I said, "I don't know, but why don't you let me take the ball and run with it, and let me see what I can find out?" Milli Vanilli was hard. Nobody knew where they were. I had to be a private eye. I got a list of addresses where Fabrice had lived and sent letters to every address. Two weeks later, I got a call from Fabrice's manager. And then I spent a good two months with them – having dinner, having them at my house – before they agreed to do it. They didn't know if they wanted to relive the story, but I said, "Listen, no one has heard your story from you. This will be a great opportunity to set the record straight."

When did you realize that this show you'd helped create had become a cultural phenomenon?
Out of the gate, ratingswise, the show did well. But when we did Def Leppard, we were like, "We don't know if heavy metal is gonna do well." And we tried it, and it was one of our highest-rated shows. Even people who didn't listen to Def Leppard were drawn into the story. You wouldn't think that Ice T draws a typical VH1 audience, but that did really well. Year one, we probably wouldn't have done Ice T. Year two, we probably wouldn't have. But we did, and it really delivered.

Are you running out of subjects?
I'm never going to say yes to that. Cat Stevens was on our first list of artists we wanted. We started a correspondence with him three and a half years ago but got nothing. Well, guess what? That's our fourth season premiere.