Friday, February 26, 2010

The Solution to MTV's Ratings Woes Is Obvious to Me, Not Obvious to MTV

From the LA Times:

Can a well-endowed teen make MTV hot again? ¶ The youth-obsessed cable network, seeking to stem a years-long ratings slide, thinks it has found just the thing to get back on track: "The Hard Times of RJ Berger," a scripted comedy about a boy with an, um, anatomical "gift."

You get the idea. I'm not sure that this premise could carry an SNL skit, let alone an entire series. But whatever.

What I am going to say has been said so often by so many people that it has become a tired cliché. But I'll say it anyway: If MTV's ratings are down, why doesn't the channel go back to playing music videos? I understand that I'm no longer part of MTV's target demographic, but I know plenty of people who stopped watching MTV early last decade as music videos were replaced with tacky reality shows. (MTV's only quality reality programming remains the first few seasons of The Real World, and possibly the first season of The Osbournes.) While I often took issue with some of the artists the network decided to promote in the 1990s, I still watched. I watched a lot. So did just about everyone I knew. During those far-from-prime-time hours when nothing else was on television, we could always watch music videos. Even the videos we couldn't stomach made for good conversation starters.

Here's another cliché: MTV legitimized the music video as an art form. While some artists made compelling promo videos in the 1960s and 1970s, the cliché is mostly true. MTV made having a familiarity with a wide variety of music videos a requisite for cultural literacy in the 1980s and 1990s. ("Will rap for food"; a lion roaming the streets of Venice; a classroom full of students frozen in terror and splattered with blood.) During my formative years MTV was a pillar of western popular culture. Now the network just shows the same garbage that one can see on E! or (sadly) Bravo or (sigh) VH1.


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