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Phasing Out the M in MTV


Network that killed radio star now takes out video star.

On November 16th, MTV (VIA) rang down the curtain on its flagship screamathon Total Request Live - better known as TRL, or "that show which makes you feel incredibly old and out of touch."

The network aired a special entitled "Total Finale Live" featuring performances by the megastars whose careers were launced by the program: Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Backstreet Boys and Fall Out Boy.

But the festivities masked a grimmer reality: The end of TRL might also be the last gasp of MTV's dedicated music-video programming, the very thing that made the network so revolutionary when it debuted 27 years ago.

Of course, the death of the music video has been announced more than a few times before - ironically, it probably started right around the time TRL fist premiered in 1998. If MTV's programming lineup were an electoral map, music videos would have conceded defeat ages ago.

The gradual disappearance of music videos from MTV can be traced back to 1996, with the launch of MTV2. Intended as a commercial-free network that exclusively aired music videos, MTV2 now features the very same sort of programming that its much-maligned parent does - a far cry from the channel that aired a 4-month block of 19,000 videos in alphabetical order in 2000.

At this point, both networks have doubled back to negate their original concepts.

As music programming devolved into reality programming -- like The Real World, Road Rules and the horror that is Tila Tequila -- TRL became the network's only venue for music videos. However, the desperate viewers who sought them out had to sit through endless interruptions by shrieking pre-teens and Carson Daly's perma-grin.

Then again, given the bands they were showing at that point, this might've been a good thing.

Today, the chief platform for music videos is undeniably the internet. Although YouTube (GOOG) has removed copyrighted material with marginal dilligence, music videos have found their savior in the unlikeliest of places: MTV itself.

In October, the network launched - a site streaming thousands of music videos from its backlog. A good share are represented - though Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" is conspicuously absent.

Nevertheless, this past weekend represented a dark day in the history of the televised music video. It's a sad state of affairs when fans can't watch their favorite band perform in a cheesy musical short sandwiched between an intro by John Sencio and an ad for a Pauly Shore movie.
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