Following massive layoffs to MTV News’ editorial staff and a harrowing intonation of that most feared phrase in online journalism—that is, “pivot to video”—MTV has set its sights on a relaunched TRL. For a generation of viewers, TRL was a cultural juggernaut, a sort of preteen water-cooler show that in large part directed the cultural zeitgeist, at least for the popular kids and their mall-punk-loving “alt” counterparts. Today all of that cultural conversation occurs online—people learn about and discuss music and pop culture there, obviously, but moreover the notion of a single cultural hub for youth culture seems insane. Can they bridge the gap between Tumblr kids and 4chan ones? Are they going to have Lil’ Miquela and XXXTentacion on there? Is it legal for that much vaping to occur indoors at the same time?
Esquire enlisted former MTV VJ Dave Holmes to pen some suggestions for the new show. You remember Holmes—the strait-laced, professional rock writer dude who lost to Jesse Camp on the ill-fated Wanna Be A VJ, which perhaps we should have taken as early proof that people will vote a joke into existence. Holmes got hired anyway, and while he isn’t as iconically associated with the program as Carson Daly, he did host it regularly, and so his insights on what could make it work are worth taking a look at.
Largely, Holmes calls for them to welcome their role as a traditional program, saying they should “embrace the old-fashioned” and double-down on the fact that, yep, it’s just a variety show full of celebrities. Jimmy Fallon’s version of The Tonight Show did something similar to wild success, leading to viral moments rather than attempting to somehow bring viral moments onto the show. That leads to Holmes’ most interesting point: “Do not attempt to be the internet.” He writes:
As our culture’s recent flirtation with “on fleek” reveals, the surest way to appear old is to attempt to look young. It will be tempting for the producers of the new TRL to incorporate musical.ly clips or whatever else the kids are using these days, at the expense of what they already have: a brand name and a massive, iconic studio overlooking Times Square, the world’s most famous mall. The show was always at its best when it kept it simple, and did what only it could do. It was enough!
Also: no YouTube stars. They will tarnish your brand and annoy all but their most devoted fans. You’re better than the Paul brothers, MTV. Believe it.
While the Paul brothers and a billion other terrible YouTube people have largely filled the role MTV vacated, Holmes is correct in that merely bringing them onto a soundstage would not work. It’ll be interesting to see what the show tries and if it clicks. Read all of Holmes’ thoughts here.