On Aug. 1, 1981, with the help of the Buggles and their song "Video Killed the Radio Star," MTV launched into orbit. That means that MTV is turning 30. That's nearly a generation older than those in its 12-to-18 target demographic. Break out the dentures and Depends!
Seriously though, MTV is far different now. Really, with the boost of Jersey Shore and the 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom shows, it's a different animal from when the channel was 27. When people talk about its changing face, the "Play videos again!" critique is never far from the discourse; yet, it's hard to see how straightforward music-video programming would fit in to a YouTubed world. Plus, MTV already has a bunch of offshoot stations like MTV Jams to do just that.
That said, it would be nice for MTV to relive what it once did well as a general pop-culture authority.
Check out five suggestions of themes the network could revisit to cover its age spots:
1. Make The Real World about people who have more going on than The Real World — Remember when this show was populated by motivated young people who wanted to make a difference in the world? Remember when this show was a means to their goals, not an end? Remember when the Season 1 cast painted Jerry Brown's phone number on their wall? If not, then that's even more of a reason for the show to return to its initial casting M.O. We can turn to any channel and watch young people get drunk and talk about themselves and each other.
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2. Foster thoughtful interactivity — Hello! It's 2011! Instead of scrolling tweets and online chats, why not bring back the likes of Remote Control, which pushed pop-culture consumption well into the realm of the active and out of the passive?
3. Resurrect the sensibility of mocking adoration —Bringing back the original recappers Beavis and Butt-Head is a start, but to really marinate in this subtle sensibility, a Julie Brown revival is in order. Her Just Say Julie was the first to feature on-screen video commentary, showing us that pop music was not only fun but funny. And at least one of her targets got the joke: Brown publicly reviled Sheena Easton so much that Easton eventually joined her on the show. So yeah, more of that please!
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4. Curate! — Maybe people don't want to watch a block of random videos, but shows like Yo! MTV Raps, 120 Minutes and Headbangers Ball could once again provide the service they once did: Giving viewers a survey of what's new in various genres, courtesy of experts such as Ed Lover, Dr. Dré and Matt Pinfield. Yes, people listen to music in a more splintered way now and genre lines are looser than ever, but that's exactly why conveying some sense of those boundaries is crucial.
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5. Put people in a room, make them dance and film it. — Dance music is more popular now than it has been since the days of disco. Why, then, is there not on TV a cheap American Bandstand rip-off that turns a bunch of cameras on people enjoying the sound of now? After all, there's no shortage of young people who want to be on camera. Bringing back Club MTV/The Grind would also be a nice antidote to all the formalized dance competitions that flood the airwaves right now. It's time for the freestyle routines!
Obviously, with reference points like the early seasons of The Real World, Remote Control, Just Say Julie, Yo! MTV Raps and Club MTV, my prescription for MTV reliving its youth is for MTV to become what it was in the late '80s/early '90s — when I was a child. (I'm sure if I were older, I'd be saying bring back Martha Quinn.) So, this would be a chance for me to revisit my youth. And, after all, what does youth-oriented TV do better than provide vicarious living?