This weekend, MTV confirmed that it is making an official pivot to its past: Total Request Live, the flailing network’s signature show back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, will return in October after a nine-year hiatus. MTV is investing in a massive new Times Square studio in the hopes of reviving a long-lost world in which social media doesn’t exist and Carson Daly is still in his twenties. “It’s the right route,” MTV president Chris McCarthy insisted in Sunday’s New York Times. “When you talk to artists and they say to you, unaware of what we’re doing, can you bring back TRL? We’d be crazy not to reinvent that.”
Except we all know this isn’t going to work, right?
Let’s be real — does anybody outside of MTV’s corporate office really believe that a music-video countdown show is the cure for what ails the beleaguered cornerstone of youth culture in the late 20th century? Isn’t the problem existential and irreparable, i.e. the fact that the late-20th century is now nearly two decades in the rearview?
The issues here are so obvious I feel a little silly enumerating them. I’ll just assume you know what I’m talking about. I won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out the myriad changes to media consumption habits since MTV’s prime. No doubt we’re all aware of Youtube and Spotify and Instagram and Facebook. I also don’t need to remind anyone that teenagers in the ’80s and ’90s tuned into MTV all day long because there was literally nothing else to do.
In spite of myself, I still care enough to have an opinion about MTV’s future. As someone who grew up watching music videos practically every day between the ages of 6 and 18, MTV is iconic to me, and I’ll always have positive feelings associated with the brand. But I’m also a 39-year-old man, hardly the desired demographic for a youth-oriented culture hub. For people who were born around the time that Daly left TRL in 2003, signaling the end of the program’s glory years, MTV’s brand value seems more dubious.
“MTV at its best — whether it’s news, whether it’s a show, whether it’s a docu-series — is about amplifying young people’s voices,” McCarthy told the Times. “We put young people on the screen, and we let the world hear their voices. We shouldn’t be writing 6,000-word articles on telling people how to feel.”