Carson Daly Looks Back as TRL Counts Down its Final Days
Come Monday afternoon, the streets of Times Square will be just a tad quieter, or at least it will be outside of 1515 Broadway. After 10 years and more than 2,000 shows, TRL is throwing in the towel Sunday (MTV at 8 pm/ET) with a star-studded blowout bash, dubbed Total Finale Live, before the lights dim.
Once the network's most-watched show, the flagship series is, admittedly, past its heyday. But remember when it was prime daytime, after-school programming? The screams, the fans, the airtime actually devoted to videos, and the screams.
Carson Daly, who departed TRL in 2003 to focus on his NBC talk show, Last Call, will be on hand to emcee the finale festivities, alongside current host Damien Fahey, and a plethora of TRL faves, including Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, the Backstreet Boys, Diddy and 50 Cent. But before he jetted back to his east coast claim to fame, the 35-year-old chatted with TVGuide.com about his earsplitting past, what he thinks of new Late Night host Jimmy Fallon, and which boy band was his favorite.
TVGuide.com: Is it time? You've been gone for five years, but is it time to call it day after 10?
Carson Daly: I think, yeah. Ten years, that's a great run. Over 2,000 shows is great by any TV standards. Exponentially, it's been incredible by standards of MTV programs that come and go. So it's definitely had a great history. I think the fact that it's, whatever, you know, taking a little nap here is fine.
TVGuide.com: The show started out small and just suddenly blew up. Why did it become a cultural phenomenon?
Daly: I have no idea. It was a perfect storm of pop culture events happening. You had so many things popping at the same time, which never happens. Look at right now in music, there's now media spread out everywhere. People are spending their time in different ways, but back in '98, for young people, this was their after-school special. This was something they'd come home to that they count on and interact with, which was new at the time.
TVGuide.com: It became synonymous with pop. Do you think someone like Britney [Spears] would have become as big as she did without TRL? The world was basically introduced to her from TRL.
Daly: I don't. I mean, selfishly and even objectively, I don't. I think if TRL never existed, these people would've been, I guess, big stars, but it wouldn't have had the same sort of pop culture phenomenon. We were like the high school. If you didn't go to school and got home-schooled, would you still get educated? Sure, but it wouldn't have been the same experience if you actually went to school.
TVGuide.com: Obviously, there have been a lot of artists and videos on the countdown, and so many people have come and gone since. Could you tell right away who had staying power?
Daly: Yeah...that's a good question. It's easy to say "yeah" now, but at the time... You know, obviously, there are the the Britneys and the 'N SYNCs, which were just enormous. When their videos would stay at No. 1 for weeks at a time, it was kind of clear. And then their record sales went through the roof at the same time, that was clear. The trickier ones were, like, the first time I played "My Name Is" from Eminem. It came on the heels of a music meeting, where the music department was like, "We're not really sure about this. White guy rapping, that's kinda jokey." A few of us really pushed for it, like, "Let's debut the video on TRL." We would throw stuff out there. Some stuff got a really, really strong reaction immediately. And other stuff, we'd world premiere it and it would kind of go away.
TVGuide.com: Were you ever sick of all the teenyboppers there for 'N SYNC or Backstreet?
Daly: No, it was kinda the job that I had to walk this razor-thin line of being neutral. I said it throughout my whole time there, I felt like I was deflecting a lot of potential negative press, especially from the quote-unquote reputable rock magazines and music publications who kinda just poo-pooed TRL as this "teen thing." It didn't really matter what I thought. As long as we were on the air, I was the bartender. If someone wanted to order a cosmopolitan, that's fine. I go home and drink beer, whatever. Did I get sick of it? No, it was my job, and I really respect music too much to get sick of anything.
TVGuide.com: I don't know if you remember this, but the crazy, psycho Backstreet fan who wanted was pissed 'N SYNC was No. 1 that day and threatened to kill you — I know they're trying to find her for the finale.
Daly: I'm gonna wear a bulletproof vest if they bring her back.
TVGuide.com: And Backstreet's gonna be there, so you better watch out.
Daly: Oh, right, right. Yeah, I was terrified of her, but that was A) that was the fun of doing live TV and B) that's what we were up against. We were up against these kids that were just so incredibly passionate and into it.
TVGuide.com: You started hosting less in '02 and left in '03, and you started Last Call. Was that the only reason you left?
Daly: I started getting a little old. I mean, I was always older than the artists and the audience, and as a producer, I was aware relevance was everything. I think I had had a great run there and I had new opportunities to move on. For a year I did Last Call and TRL, which was murderous, and I had an opportunity to move out. MTV was great. They sorta let me key up the next chapter of my career by letting me go to NBC and do both. We found Damien and started to think about life after me and how the show would go. It was a slow transition.
TVGuide.com: A lot of people refer to your era as the "good TRL."
Daly: Those people are right! I read a lot of, you know, digging in archives and things like that, there was a lot of stuff like when Jimmy Fallon did me on SNL — "Carson is a tool" and stuff like that. There was like a whole thing on TRL. Whether you like it or not, it's a high target to have a laugh at. I never took it too seriously or cared. I totally get it. That era was a lot of fun. I loved every minute of it.
TVGuide.com: The show became a different show after you left. Why do you think that was?
Daly: When I left, it was right on the heels of Napster, online music and record companies all took a pass that same year. MySpace was sold. Social networking took off. Technology went crazy. The whole tectonic shift of mass media. There were a lot of reasons why TRL became kind of a different show after I left. I don't necessarily think it had anything to with me leaving as much as it had to do with the changing landscape. The world quickly became a different place.
TVGuide.com: So you couldn't really say it then, but you can now. Who did you like more: BSB or 'N SYNC?
Daly: I always preferred 'N SYNC. I can say that now, 10 years later. I hung out a little bit more with them. We traveled a lot together. There was TRL at the Super Bowl, and Spring Break. We saw each other, this high school group, like all the time, actually. I think I hung out a lot more personally with Justin and Joey and Lance and those guys during that time. And their music to me was just more progressive pop. Backstreet was more R&B.
TVGuide.com: You're gonna make Backstreet fans really, really mad.
Daly: I know, I know, I know. I hope that chick is still not angry.