Back in the early ‘80s, “I Want My MTV” wasn’t only the catchy slogan of a fledgling cable network, but a battle cry for the weird and cool. It seems odd in context of what the network has become, but once upon a time, fashion, music and trends were all dictated by the 24-hour music network.
From the day it debuted on Aug. 1, 1981, MTV caught the attention of the under 30 sect and quickly because ruler in which everything awesome was measuring. The MTV Generation looked to the cabler for trends, from Madonna headbands to leather pants.
As the network entered the ‘90s , MTV continued to rage on as a new generation of teens, queens and wanna-bes looked to the cable network for guidance.
At this time, MTV began introducing original content. MTV News with Kurt Loder was already a staple of the network, ushering in topics including politics, chart toppers and info on bad benders by assorted frontmen. Now there were reality shows such as Real World and Road Rules, game shows such as Remote Control and mind-bending doses of animation with Liquid Television and Beavis & Butt-head.
Among all the original content, were cultivated video shows such as Headbangers Ball, Yo! MTV Raps and 120 Minutes, each offering videos for different subsets of society.
Yet, despite all of the new original content, there were still videos. As this time, the network still remembered what the M in MTV stood for, and it was still the driving force of the cable giant. For now.
During this era, the top-rated show was Total Request Live with Carson Daly. Taped in front of a studio audience in Times Square, the show introduced new bands to large audiences and carved the Billboard charts in its image by crafting hitmaker after hitmaker. Superstars such as Eminem, Christina Aguilera, N’Sync and Britney Spears all have the countdown show to thank for their summer houses.
As MTV moved into the 2000s, music videos and the cult-like influence of TRL began to dwindle. It became harder and harder to find the music videos that were still being lauded by the network’s annual awards show, which new shows such as Pimp My Ride, Jackass, The Osbournes, Jersey Shore, Made and MTV Cribs because to take up time slots.
(Note: It is during this time that the best half hour of television was ever documented: MTV Cribs episode featuring Redman. His grand tour of his shitty two-bedroom apartment decorated with shoeboxes of money and passed out cousins is pure comedy genius.)
And after 10 glorious trend-making years, TRL was canceled, leaving the network with a large, gaping hole where music once lived.
As the new era of MTV trudged on, the net became a shadow of what it was. Reality shows and original content dictated the schedule to the point that an MTV2 had to be created to show music videos. In recent time, the network’s original content became such a burden to MTV2, that an MTV3 had to be created.
And now, in the 2010s, MTV’s original-content strategy is failing, taking the network and its parent company Viacom down like a sinking ship.
Despite several revamps and new original content, ratings are at an all-time low.
To tackle this issue, MTV topper Chris McCarthy is returning to the basics that made the network great: The return of Total Request Live.
This October, the flagship show of ‘90s and ‘00s MTV will return to broadcast and Times Square, bringing with it guest stars, live bands, and of course, videos.
In addition to TRL, the network is also bringing back the iconic shows of yesteryear, such as Fear Factor.
“MTV at its best — whether it’s news, whether it’s a show, whether it’s a docuseries — is about amplifying young people’s voices,” McCarthy told the New York 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.”
The new hour-long Total Request Live will be hosted by funnyman/rapper DC Young Fly and radio personality Erik Zachary. The overall announcement has had a positive effect on the 36-year-old network, as artists and music fans welcome the old format back.
The next year will be a wait-and-see for the former music network as it attempts to reclaim its roots. As Viacom and investors await with bated breath to see if the cabler can reclaim its former audience, fans of what the network used to be have their own personal reasons for wanting the new format to success:
Because despite the success of original programming and the must-watch reality fare, at the end of the day, we all want our MTV…with emphasis on the M.