Life in the Slow Lane

November 17, 2008

Good riddance, ‘Total Request Live’

Filed under: Television — pauljlane @ 1:47 pm

MTV’s “Total Request Live” video countdown show signed off for the last time Sunday night, surprising viewers like myself who thought the show had been off the air for years.

The viceo countdown show was a juggernaut in the late-1990s, helping establish the careers of Eminem, Britney Spears, N Sync, 50 Cent and many others. The show had largely become irrelevant in recent years, though, so the network decided to remove it in order to bring you more banal, celeb-obsessed reality programming.

I caught a portion of Sunday night’s send-off, hosted by original host Carson Daly and featuring a cavalcade of A-listers. They all reminisced about “a member of the family” leaving or how “it’s so sad to see the show go.”

Really? Just because a show is ending doesn’t mean that we have to feel bad. Many shows just reach an expiration date and should be cast off to sea, allowing us to remember the good times but without a feeling of regret that they hung around too long.

“TRL” was at that point.

It’s not sad to see the show sign off because it’s obsolete. Musicians have known for years – decades, really – that they won’t get reliable support from MTV and that they have to go to MySpace or elsewhere on the Internet to actually reach fans. Even MTV2, the channel started by MTV to “devote to music” after the original became the 24-hour “Hills” network, has been taken over by the reality wave, with only a few scant slots of airtime devoted to actual music.

In true MTV fashion, the final “TRL” video shown was named the most important video in the show’s history, Spears’ “Baby One More Time” – only they cut away halfway through the video. Lest we forget, even when “TRL” mattered, it was more about screaming idiots in the stands (I was one of those idiots during a NYC visit in 2005, so I am allowed to speak on the matter) and big-time celebrity guests than the music, as nary a complete video ever was shown. The show wasn’t about helping musicians but in attracting pre-teens with the next big thing.

So peace out, “TRL,” and I wish you’d left years ago.

•••

Here, from The Associated Press, is a report on the “TRL” finale.

Carson Daly chatted with Eminem, Beyonce gave a show-stopping performance, girls shrieked at the sight of Justin Timberlake and hundreds of fans lined up outside in Times Square for a glimpse at superstars.
For few hours, it seemed like old times at MTV’s “Total Request Live” — back when the show was not only music’s most powerful force but a dominant part of pop culture. Unfortunately, it took the show’s demise to make it relevant again.
MTV pulled the plug on its most influential franchise Sunday night following years of declining ratings, but not before marking the occasion with celebration and nostalgia, as some of pop’s biggest stars paid respects to the show that helped launch their careers.
“I feel like they’re kinda tearin’ down my home,” Eminem said via phone as he and Daly, “TRL’s” first and most famous host, commiserated during the live, three-hour broadcast from the show’s headquarters.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Diddy, the show’s most frequent guest, said as he cried mock tears and gave one of the final waves to the Times Square audience from “TRL’s” glass-encased studios above.
MTV has had other shows that will be remembered for changing the musical landscape, including “Yo! MTV Raps,” but perhaps none greater than “TRL.” It made its debut in 1998, just as the teen pop phenomenon was about to explode, when the rap-rock hybrid was bubbling over, and groups like Destiny’s Child were considered emerging acts.
While its concept of a video countdown show wasn’t new, its model — which included a live show, an audience full of enthusiastic kids and viewer feedback — helped energize the teen fan base and made them music’s tastemakers. Soon, “TRL” would become an integral part of boosting the careers of superstars like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync, Eminem and Christina Aguilera. It’s no coincidence that their biggest sales, and pop’s huge sales boom in the new millennium, came during the show’s most potent era.
“If it wasn’t for ’TRL,’ I don’t think I would have this launching pad for my career,” said a cigar-smoking Kid Rock, who came to prominence as a raucous rap-rocker on “TRL” with his baudy hit “Bawitdaba” but has since morphed into a country-rock career that is more CMT than MTV.
“It’s a big loss, not having this as a platform to promote our music,” said 50 Cent in the show’s waning moments.
In its prime, “TRL” had “American Idol”-like power to influence sales on the pop charts, and became a required stop, not only for those on the road to pop stardom, but those in TV, movies and even sports superstars. Tom Cruise and Will Smith made stops before a new movie; all-star athletes like Derek Jeter mingled with the teens; even legends like Madonna and Michael Jackson made sure they got “TRL” face-time.
The moments weren’t always cheery, though. The Backstreet Boys broke news of member A.J. McLean’s drug and alcohol rehab on the show; Mariah Carey’s bizarre moment involving a striptease and ice cream defined her time of emotional instability.
Both of those moments were replayed during Sunday’s show, but the event mostly recalled its musical legacy, highlighted by performances from its most important alumni. Beyonce opened the show with her new singles, “If I Were A Boy” and “Single Ladies,” but also gyrated to one of her superstar-making hit “Crazy in Love,” which got endless plays on “TRL.”
“This show obviously launched the careers of so many people,” said Daly, the now late-night talk show host who could include himself in that category. “This is a sad moment.”
Timberlake didn’t perform, but arrived with JC Chasez, his fellow ’N Sync member, and hailed the show for making his launching-pad group one of music’s best-selling acts.
“This is like a high school reunion in a way,” said Timberlake. “I feel like we all grew up together. ’TRL’ was so integral to our careers.”
Like all reunions, the show featured appearances from its past graduating classes, like former VJs Vanessa Minnillo, Hilarie Burton (now an actress on “One Tree Hill”) and trivia game answer Jesse Camp. Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Ludacris rapped some of their biggest hits in a hip-hop melody; Fall Out Boy performed in Times Square without the services of soon-to-be-dad Pete Wentz, who spoke later via phone (Wentz is the host of the video show that is taking the place of TRL — “FNMTV.”)
But TRL’s greatest claim to fame was a no-show. Spears entire career, from its meteoric rise to tragic downturn to recent resurgence, was chronicled on TRL, but she didn’t attend the goodbye gala. Still, her presence loomed large: As the show did its final countdown of all-time videos, her now-iconic first hit, “… Baby One More Time,” emerged as the top video, and played as the credits of the show ran for the final time.

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