Music Television Without the Music

Rick Porter on Zap2It offers a perspective on how the demise of MTV's "TRL" ("Total Request Live") represents the final abandonment by the network of any connection to music. (MTV announced this week that the venerable weekday-afternoon music request show will leave the air before the end of the year.)

Like Porter, I am not going to further lament the fact that the "M" in MTV no longer has any meaning--that train has long since left the station. Personally, I have not watched MTV in years and years, so the final nail in its musical coffin is not going to affect me one iota. I had already abandoned the network before "TRL" ever took to the air in the first place. Still, it's a notable development that this pioneering cable network (established in 1981) is making the last step in a complete transformation that makes it virtually unrecognizable from what it was at its inception. The long transformation began in the late-1980s when the game show "Remote Control" became the first traditional program on MTV, accelerated in the early-1990s with the additions of "Beavis & Butthead" and the pioneering reality TV program "The Real World," which began a long shift towards such programming on MTV, and will end now in 2008 with the expiration of "TRL."

The evolution of cable networks is an interesting phenomenon, one that I think is begging for more analysis and research. Porter makes the perceptive observations that ESPN (the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) no longer has any connection with the "E" in its name (if it ever did) and that A&E (Arts & Entertainment) has abandoned its commitment to the "A." Other cable networks have evolved more radically and abruptly: witness last year's transformation of TNN (first The Nashville Network, then The National Network) into Spike, and this year's change of Court TV into TruTV and Discovery Health into Planet Green. In comparison, its been a slow evolution from MTV into just plain TV.

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