Grab your remotes ladies and gentlemen, we’re going back in time to examine one of television’s most notorious networks; MTV. And although this channel is better known now for drama rather than dancing, remember that it hasn’t always been this way.
Music Television, which was acquired by network giant Viacom in 1985, seems to have the magic touch when it comes to staying a step ahead of young generations year after year, no matter what changes that entails. While MTV has arguably remained the most consistent, prevalent, and overall successful television network for teens and college students, what does their ever evolving programming say about us? After all, shows only stay on the air that deliver ratings and reel in viewers week after week, and the network remains to be wildly profitable, no matter how far it has strayed from its original intentions as a musical network.
In retrospect, MTV has undergone a progressive makeunder of sorts. Our generation’s viewership started around the time very scripted and predictable pop star performances ruled the timeslots on shows like TRL, which led to unscripted but still celebrity-based shows such as Newlyweds and Punk’d. Then “reality” shows were introduced, like Laguna Beach and later The Hills, about kids whose lives are normal only to those whose parents incomes make up the top 2 percent of the national income bracket. And of course, let's not forget the latest inclusion of reality shows like Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, that involve real people in extraordinary environments and situations, and are anything but predictable. Turn on MTV today and you're more likely to find Snooki dancing on a tabletop than Usher dancing in Times Square, and while one scene may be slightly more appealing than the other, ratings remain consistent.
Some attribute these changes as a necessary measure resulting from the rise of the internet, which provided most of MTV’s usual audience the ability to access the music they wanted to listen to on demand, eliminating the need for video countdowns and marathons. However, MTV was a pioneer of reality television throughout the nineties with shows like The Real World and True Life. The current newer, more realistic genre of reality television has come to consume most of the network’s timeslots, and seems to attract attention for other reasons as well. The characters portrayed in this new breed of entertainment come off familiar to many of MTV’s usual viewers, who typically come from middle class backgrounds and can relate to the lifestyles portrayed on many of the network’s most successful shows. Others may be inclined to watch out of curiosity, never having encountered a teenage mother or a group of endearing New Jersey natives.
What better place to delve into the question of what keeps younger viewers hooked week after week than good ole' Twitter? In just one hour’s time, the keywords “Teen Mom” received over 200 mentions on the social media giant, with tweets discussing everything from which young mom has the cutest child to which boyfriends have proven to be less than stellar parents. It seems watching the trials and tribulations of young parents handling issues like adoption and child support certainly opens the doors for more interesting conversation, and will possibly even alter the social stigma attached to some seriously controversial issues.
If one thing's certain, the times they are a-changin’. Let’s just hope that fans learn from the actions and events portrayed in MTV’s newest golden shows, rather than aspiring to emulate them.