MTV’s Reinvention Mines Heritage as TRL Returns

For my 11th birthday, my parents bought me a 13-inch, white Panasonic TV/VCR set. I was most excited about the fact that it was white, and therefore girly, but also the fact that it gave me access to the exclusive club of sixth grade girls at my school who could invite their friends over to watch MTV.

My neighbor Lauren had been the first of my friends to enter this coterie when her older brother moved out and gave her his TV. I skip my bus stop and get off at her house, raid the fridge for Pepperoni lunch-ables, Dunkaroos and Cherry Coke, and head to her basement playroom, where we’d turn the TV straight to TRL and watch Carson Daly countdown the day’s 10 hottest music videos.

On a typical spring afternoon in 2002, we’d watch the same *NSYNC video for the fourth time that week, along with hits from Blink 182, Christina Aguilara, Britney Spears, Shakira, Michelle Branch, Brandy and Kylie Minogue. Sometimes we’d call in our request, but usually we’d just try to guess which one was coming next. Most of the time, we were right.

Check out this TRL throwback:

By the time my new TV allowed me to form my own girls club to watch TRL, Carson Daly had stepped down as host, and we were introduced to a downright dreamy group of regular “VJs” (video deejays, something I learned much later in life). My friends and I crushed hard on Damien Fahey, and wanted to look just like the trendy, chic Vanessa Minnillo.

Now, MTV is bringing back this iconic video countdown show, which ran for 10 years between 1998 and 2008. TRL’s revival is set for October 2, to be broadcast from a renovated version of its iconic Times Square studio.

TRL will be different than the one I remember— the video countdown model and audience request integration will stay, but the new show yanks the format into the post-2008 world of social and interactive media, with a mélange of linear, social and digital dimensions (expect some TRL Snapchat filters and daily updates on Instagram and Twitter).

A new generation of VJs will rotate through the studio, including, as of now, D.C. Young Fly, Erik Zachary, Amy Pham, Tamara Dhia and Lawrence Jackson. Learn more about the hosts here.

The revival of this flagship show is a logical move for the network as it shepherds in a new era of MTV that is remarkably similar to the one my friends and I would watch on that 13-inch TV in my bedroom.

With revivals of My Super Sweet 16 (a reality show I watched religiously as a teen, which I wrote about here) and Fear Factor (NBC’s gruesome game show, re-invented with a millennial twist), as well as a new show called Siesta Key (created by the same producers responsible for MTV’s original, laid back teen-paradise reality show, Laguna Beach), MTV seems ready for a millennial renaissance.

Watch the teaser for Siesta Key:

And why not? All of us who grew up watching these shows as kids are now in our 20s, able to buy our own TVs (albeit without VHS players attached), subscribe for VOD streaming services or cable packages and browse the internet without parental controls. Above all else, we’re nostalgic for the carefree shows of our childhood.

When I used to watch Kristin Cavallari flirt with Stephen Colletti back in middle school, I desperately wanted to be in her $300 Tory Burch kitten heels. Now, I’m in my mid-20s and have slightly different summer aspirations than spending it prancing around a beach with my high school crush, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relive the fun.

MTV President Chris McCarthy is largely responsible for this mining of the network’s history to inform its current programming. “MTV’s reinvention,” he told recently told The New York Times, “is coming by harnessing its heritage.”

As a business strategy, this has been remarkably successful. In June and July, ratings for MTV’s target demographic – millennials, aka 18 to 34-year-olds—soared. It was the first time the network experienced two consecutive months of ratings growth in four years.

As Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish told The New York Times, “[McCarthy] reset the brand filter, cleaned out the pipeline and began building a new MTV that’s much more based on reality, unscripted and music content.”

What next?

As Kanye would say, “Listen to the kids, bro!”

And that’s exactly what MTV executives are doing by bringing back TRL.

“It’s the right route,” said McCarthy to the 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.”

Petals, Pizzazz and Politics—How the Season Finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race Sashayed to the Mainstream

A 29-year-old drag queen from Brooklyn, New York known as Sasha Velour is lip syncing to Whitney Houston’s So Emotional. She’s gliding across the stage; a graceful avant-garde, bald ballerina.

Arms clad in opera-length bronze gloves, Velour vogues alongside fellow queen Shea Couleé, sauntering her hips and moving her lips soundlessly. Then, she craned her neck and began tugging at her wig. Pantomiming a seizure, she grabbed each scarlet lock to unleash a cascade of rose petals—just as Houston’s ballad reached its dénouement.

Watch the performance:

It was the season 9 finale of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. Nearly 9 million people watched as Velour won the coveted title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, making Drag Race history for the most-watched finale. It was, in the eternal words of Whitney Houston, “So emotional.”

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Viacom Scores 18 Emmy Nominations for a Diverse Roster of Programming

Sketch comedy, potluck, political satire, lip syncing, drag queens, kid-friendly rock and roll and animated, nostalgic purple grapes: these are a few of our fans’ favorite things. And it turns out that the esteemed voting committee for the 69th Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Awards likes them quite a bit too.

Between VH1, Comedy Central, SpikeNickelodeon, and our Paramount Television production studio, Viacom brands scored 18 nominations.

Take a look at Viacom’s diverse roster of brands and the eclectic shows that impacted TV’s most prestigious award celebration:

Created by Viacom Catalyst

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Save the Date for the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards: Live From Los Angeles On Saturday, August 27

Dust off your spacesuits and queue your favorite “New & Noteworthy” YouTube playlist, because the VMAs are swiftly approaching.

After transforming Madison Square Garden into a terrestrial dance hall, aerobics studio and lemonade stand for last year’s ceremony, MTV is heading back to California—specifically the Forum, a historic venue in Inglewood.

“MTV, at 35 years old, has been around almost as long as the Forum,” said Forum manager Shelli Azoff in a press release. “Together, we’re 85 and enjoy lifetimes of music history.”

The Forum—sometimes called the “Fabulous” Forum—is the nation’s largest indoor performance venue, hosting sporting events and musical extravaganzas, including the 2014 VMA telecast.

MTV lands in Los Angeles for the 2014 VMAs. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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How CMT Transformed Nashville Into Its Most Successful (And Progressive) Show

In 2015, Rolling Stone said ABC’s Nashville “reflects real-life struggles in the entertainment industry.”  This was in reference to the country soap’s gay characters, Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) and Kevin Bix (Kyle Dean Massey).

At the time, Bix was a new addition to the Nashville family, and as an openly gay singer, struggled to have a successful career. Lexington was hiding his sexual identity from his fans, while flourishing professionally.

Flash forward to 2017. Nashville moved to CMT for its fifth season earlier this year. Now, Lexington is out and proud, realizing he could still embrace his role as a country music star as an LGBT individual after being forced out of the closet in season three by a rival musician.

Since joining the CMT roster, Nashville has become the network’s highest-rated and most-watched series ever. Even after losing a beloved main character (Rayna James) in a tragic car crash, the show has remained wildly successful.

At least part of this success can be attributed to CMT’s inventive and progressive storyline and character development. Take Lexington’s evolution, for example. Entertainment blog Cinemablend commended CMT on “sprucing up” his character, giving him more than just romantic story arcs and LGBT-drama to fill his screen time.

Even the network’s portrayal of his sexuality has adopted more realistic angles. Even though Music City is full of heartbreak and drama, being a gay country singer doesn’t have to be riddled with conflict. In a recent episode that aired during Pride Month, Lexington got the opportunity to be a brand spokesperson for Budweiser.

Watch the fictional spot:

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Jim Jefferies Thinks We Can All Do Better

I became familiar with Australian comedian Jim Jefferies after a college roommate showed me his now infamous 15-minute-long diatribe on gun control. It was a sarcastic, evidence-laden lecture teasing Americans for our wanton adoration of firearms.

“I am all for your Second Amendment rights,” said Jefferies. “I think you should be able to have guns – it’s in your Constitution. What I am not for is bullshit arguments and lies. There is one argument and one argument alone for having guns: F&%k off – I like guns! It’s not the best argument, but it’s all you’ve got.”

The New Yorker praised his “brilliant, hilarious, and astonishingly complete discussion” of the gun control debacle. Even pro-gun commentator Dan Zimmerman admitted, “This is best summary of the gun control lobby’s arguments that I have ever heard.”

GIF courtesy of Tumblr user Alan Macraffen.

GIF courtesy of Tumblr user Alan Macraffen.

Material like that propelled Jeffries career forward, and he is now part of Comedy Central’s stellar late-night roster, sitting behind the desk of The Jim Jefferies Show. Jefferies quips about politics, creates outlandish stunts and uses a mashup of news clips to highlight the ridiculous, repetitive buzzwords in mainstream news reports. One hilarious montage showed multiple news sources calling the GOP health bill “secretive,” leading to Jefferies’ astute conclusion that the bill is akin to the self-help pseudo-scientific book, The Secret.

Watch a clip:

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Viacom Signs Historic Legal Petition Defending LGBT Rights

No one deserves to be fired for their sexual orientation.

This is the logic behind Viacom and 49 other companies’ decision to sign a formal legal petition asking the U.S. 2nd  Court of Appeals to extend a federal law prohibiting employers from firing workers for being gay. This is the first time businesses have explicitly taken this position, according to Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan campaign group that Viacom consulted with on this issue.

“All Americans deserve the right to go to work and provide for their families without having to fear that they might lose their job simply because of who they are,” said Freedom for All Americans Acting CEO Katie Belanger in an email to Viacom.

“Unfortunately, most states do not have laws explicitly prohibiting employment discrimination against LGBT individuals. That is why this case is so important. We are grateful for the leadership of Viacom and the 49 other businesses who have called on the court to ensure the fair and equal treatment of gay and bisexual employees,” said Belanger.

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Logo’s Trailblazer Honorees “Stood On the Shoulders of Giants” to Become Pioneers of Change for This Generation

Throughout history, art has defended the human spirit. Especially in times of political crisis, art and activism become inextricably related.

This was clear after attending Logo’s Trailblazer Honors, which celebrates the work of honorees who have made indelible contributions to LGBT civil rights—through writing, dancing, singing and producing. This year’s honorees included Cyndi Lauper; activist and author Cleve Jones (his memoir, When We Rise, inspired ABC’s miniseries by the same name); the late Alvin Ailey, who is credited with making modern dance an inclusive space for LGBT African-Americans; and the creators of NBC’s Will and Grace, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan.

Logo taped the event on Thursday, June 22 at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and aired it the following night on VH1 and Logo.

 

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VH1 Celebrates 20 Years of Saving the Music with 20 Custom Gibson Guitars

Those passing in and out of Viacom’s Times Square Headquarters throughout June found a collection of Gibson Les Paul guitars nestled in a sunlit corner of the lobby. The exhibit flows effortlessly with the building’s groovy aesthetic, and could easily be an installation at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s the brainchild of VH1 Save The Music Foundation, executed in collaboration with Art at Viacom and over 40 renowned visual artists and musicians.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of VH1 Save The Music, the artists worked in pairs to create 20 stunning, ornate instruments—enough to make any music fiend, art collector or investor swoon. And they will get their chance to do more than just admire them when VH1 Save The Music auctions off these guitars in October, partnering with Julien’s Auctions Los Angeles as part of their Idols & Icons: Rock and Roll sale. The proceeds are expected to fund musical instruments for at least 30 school band programs in the U.S.

Until then, these guitars are on tour—starting at Viacom headquarters and touring the New York-metro area until the fall, so fans and admirers can appreciate the majestic endeavor.

The Gibson installation at Viacom Headquarters. Photo by Bart Stadnicki.

I spoke with VH1 Save The Music Executive Director Henry Donahue to learn more about what promoted this massive, creative collaboration, and what he hopes to achieve with such campaigns.

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Logo’s Trailblazer Honors Will Recognize Pioneers of LGBT Equality, Including Cyndi Lauper: Friday, June 23

What do Cyndi Lauper, Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, Debra Messing, RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Valentina, activist and author Cleve Jones, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi all have in common?

They’re trailblazers of the LGBT community—using their prominence in society to spread a message of love, acceptance and equality.

Logo’s fourth Trailblazer Honors special taped Thursday, June 22, at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (famous in the LGBT community for being a progressive, welcoming house of worship) and will air Friday, June 23 at 9 p.m.

Trailblazing Honors, unlike other award shows of its ilk, isn’t just about celebrating star power—it’s about celebrating the power stars have to change the world for the better.

Logo’s tentpole event, which culminates Pride month along with the New York City Pride Parade, presents “Trailblazing Honors” to three individuals or entities who have made outstanding contributions to the LGBT community. Past honorees include activist Harvey Fierstein, Edie Windsor, Judy and Dennis Shepard, the Obama Administration and the cast of Orange Is the New Black.

This year, Logo recognized Cyndi Lauper, Will & Grace’s Mutchnick and Kohan, and the late Alvin Ailey as honorees. The ceremony will include musical performances inspired by these leaders, as well as presenter speeches celebrating the tireless work of these honorees.


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