- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

MTV’s “Total Request Live” is no longer totally live.

It’s another sign of how both the audience and cultural juice have faded for “TRL,” once the most influential program on television for music superstars from the Backstreet Boys to Beyonce even if they just dropped by to push an ice cream cart.

Two weeks ago, MTV began taping “Total Request Live” two days a week in an effort to save money. After live shows air Monday and Wednesday afternoons, shows are taped for the following day.

“Total Request Taped”? No, the show’s title won’t be adjusted for the less-than-live days, spokeswoman Marnie Black says.

“We’re not editing anything,” she says. “We’re not changing anything. The spirit of the show is going to be exactly the same.”

The television term is live-to-tape, which is how late-night programs hosted by David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart are done. It’s still a significant change for “TRL,” a show that touts its interactivity with audience members, who vote online for their favorite videos.

“TRL” is one of MTV’s landmarks, the third-longest-running program in the network’s history. It nailed the cultural zeitgeist upon its September 1998 debut, becoming the epicenter of the teen pop scene with Britney Spears, ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. So many fans crowded the streets outside MTV’s studio for an October 1998 appearance by the Backstreet Boys that police briefly shut down Times Square.

Artists go to “drop” new music, movie stars to tout new films and celebrities just to stay celebrities sometimes to disastrous effect. Mariah Carey’s surprise appearance in 2001 pushing an ice cream cart filled with Popsicles was so odd, she checked into a hospital for “exhaustion” a week later.

At its peak in 1999, “TRL” had 757,000 viewers a day, 346,000 of them aged 12 to 17, according to Nielsen Media Research.

So far this year, the show seen at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time averages 351,000 viewers a day, Nielsen says. The 12-to-17-year-old audience is just 113,000, half what it was two years ago.

“TRL” still has cachet, but now it is only one of many places where music executives try to break in a new artist. The most prominent destinations are online, says Jon Caramanica, music editor at Vibe magazine. Pop music also is much more fragmented than it once was, he says, lessening the desire of fans to congregate at a central place.

Original host Carson Daly left in 2003, and a rotating group of MTV VJs play host: Damien Fahey, Vanessa Minnillo, Susie Castillo, Cipha Sounds, La La (Alani Vazquez) and Stephen Colletti.

The “TRL” change comes at a time of retrenchment at MTV Networks, a division of Viacom Inc. MTV Networks said last month it was cutting 250 jobs and shutting down MTV World, a package of digital channels geared to Americans of Asian descent. Miss Black says MTV is trying to consolidate resources at its Times Square studio, where “TRL” is filmed.

“We’re still committed to the show, and it’s the cornerstone of the afternoon schedule,” she says. “‘TRL’ is not the same show as it was when Carson Daly hosted it. The show has evolved and will continue to evolve.”

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