Jim Shearer is best known as the host of VH1’s Top 20 Video Countdown, but now he spends a short amount of his time as a professor at Fordham University. He currently teaches a course called Performance in Media, using his 15+ years of experience to impart some wisdom on young journalists. While Jim is still charismatic and friendly as he was on your TV screen every Saturday morning, it’s clear in more ways than one that times have changed. A little bit older and perhaps a lot wiser, Jim talks about the industry climate that essentially eliminated his job, fulfilling his high school dream of meeting the Beastie Boys, and why he’s a self-proclaimed pizza nerd.
Tell me how you got into this industry.
In high school and college, I was a part of the TV and radio station and then I got my masters I Radio, Film, and Television at Syracuse. The idea was always to be behind the scenes as a producer. So I moved to New York in 2001 with a friend from high school and was trying to look for PA jobs when I saw an open casting call for MTV. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to be on-air talent, but thought that it was more realistic to produce.
I went to the audition and it didn’t go so great, but awhile back I had also sent in a homemade video tape, so someone at MTV had said ‘why don’t you give Jim a try’ and they said ‘we did, he didn’t do that great.’ But they brought me back for a second audition and I did better. After that it was a 7-month process where they put you on the air announcing music videos early in the morning, so it didn’t really matter if you were terrible. And after that I got the job and spent 15 years as a host.
What would you consider your area of expertise?
I think I have the most equity in hosting, but I’ve also written and produced, so on every project I get, I try to dabble in that as well.
How did you end up as the host for VH1’s Top 20 Countdown?
I worked at MTV and MTV2 for 6 years. After my contract ended, I blogged for IFC for a year and eventually got an email from VH1. I said if there’s a job where I can still host and announce music videos, I’ll take it.
Here’s a little #TBT of Professor Shearer as a host on VH1’s Top 20 Video Countdown.
What’s been your favorite experience as host?
In high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I thought I would be a DJ. I was a huge Beastie Boys fan, so it was always my dream to meet them. And in 2004, I met them and worked with them on 3 separate projects.
How did you become a teacher?
Well I was trying to find a job as a PA in New York and I was actually about to go back to school to be a teacher. I come from a family of 5 so I’ve always been around people, especially younger kids, since I have two younger brothers and a younger sister, and I was always teaching them something. So, it just came natural to me. But this fall semester at Fordham is my first teaching job.
What has been the most rewarding experience as a professor so far?
Whenever you throw out little advice and it’s followed and you see improvement. It’s like, ‘wow my 15 years of experience has led to me helping you.’
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your students?
If you’ve got some fire in you and you’re willing to stick it out [in this industry] for a few years, then you’ll be alright.
What do you do outside of teaching? Whether it be as a hobby or a supplement to your profession?
Well my industry has tanked, especially because of YouTube since you can watch any music video you want. But I currently host a game show on Sirius XM called 70s, 80s, 90s Now and it’s a half an hour show that airs 5 times a week. And I run a high school youth group in Queens.
If you could choose an alternate occupation, what would it be and why?
Outside of media, I’ve always dreamed of owning a pizzeria or at least working at one because I kind of consider myself a “pizza nerd.”
Why do you consider yourself a pizza nerd?
I got a book from a friend who’s a serious foodie and it’s a book of the best pizzerias in America. So now whenever I go out to pizza, I critique the sauce, the cheese, the crust, etc…
According to you, where is the best pizza in New York?
Frank Pepe’s in Yonkers, which was originally in Connecticut. Lombardi’s is a little touristy, but it’s good. Grimaldi’s has always been good, and then there’s Emmy Squared in Brooklyn. But supposedly the best pizza is in Phoenix, Arizona.