The screaming kids. The red-hot stars. The chart-topping hits. For its devoted viewers, MTV’s “Total Request Live” - or “TRL” - was a generational touchstone. For former host Carson Daly it was a lifestyle.
“It became so much more than a TV gig,” he recalls. “I spent more time behind that famous glass window than I did in my apartment. I treated it like my living room and that’s the way it felt.”
He’s referring to MTV’s second-story Times Square studio where the likes of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, N’ Sync, Christina Aguilera and many others routinely dropped by to schmooze with him and peddle their latest wares. From 1998 to 2003. Daly, serving as a much cooler version of Ryan Seacrest, presided over the interactive video countdown show as it grew into a colossal hit.
Alas, Daly left to take command of his own late-night talk show on NBC. In the years since his departure, “TRL,” under an ever-changing roster of hosts, gradually lost much of its relevance and its audience. And now MTV is pulling the plug on the show, but not before a glitzy farewell special Sunday night.
Scheduled to perform are Beyonce, 50 Cent, the Backstreet Boys and Fall Out Boy. Other big names have promised to drop by and reminisce. Daly will return to mark the send-off, along with current “TRL” host Damien Fahey.
“I’m expecting a party-like atmosphere,” Daly says. “For me, it’s going to be like going to my high school reunion.”
A party-like atmosphere is what “TRL” was all about during Daly’s reign. After modest beginnings, the show blew up big right about the time boy bands and pop princesses became all the rage. And “TRL” became the place where stars were born.
“We had so many lightning bolts going off at the same time,” Daly says. “It was the perfect storm.”
Never mind that critics often blasted “TRL” for its blatant commercialism, or that the deadpan Daly was skewered on “Saturday Night Live” as being a “tool.” For many young Americans, “TRL” was a can’t-miss daily dose of madness.
How crazy did it get? Appearances by big acts such as the Backstreet Boys or Eminem would turn Times Square into a giant mosh pit.
“Thousands of kids showed up, and we would literally shut down the crossroads of the world,” Daly says. “I’d get calls from angry people because it took them two hours to get home.”
Among Daly’s most memorable “TRL” moments is the day in 2001 when Mariah Carey burst onto the set unannounced, wearing a baggy T-shirt and pushing an ice cream cart. She began hugging fans and babbling about how this was her “therapy session.”
“It was very weird, but I just went with it,” Daly says.
A much more somber moment occurred only three days after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, when “TRL” was one of the first television shows to resume production.
“At first we were thinking that we absolutely wouldn’t go back that early - that television just isn’t important right now,” he says. “But we also realized we were a comforting place for young people. There was no screaming and yelling. We became more of a counseling session. We opened the phone lines and talked. It was kind of cathartic.”
These days, “TRL” is no longer the mecca of teen coolness, most likely because kids no longer have to rush home from school to catch the premiere of the new Lil’ Wayne video when, at any minute, it will be available on YouTube or iTunes. (So did Internet kill the video star?).
Meanwhile, MTV, the so-called music channel, has become more obsessed with reality shows.
“I don’t watch it that much anymore. I guess I’m a little old,” Daly says. “I’ll flip around once in a while and catch a couple minutes of ‘The Hills,’ but I feel like a pedophile. I feel a little dirty.”
Daly is “bummed out” by the demise of “TRL,” but takes heart in the fact that producers have claimed the show is only going on hiatus. The plan now is for it to return someday in revamped form.
“It’s just time for it to go away and take a little nap,” he says.
Then again, there could be an alternative plan in the works - especially if Daly finds himself getting caught up in the frenzy of Sunday’s finale.
“Maybe I’ll go rogue,” he says. “Maybe I’ll announce that I’m coming back, and we’re not stopping this thing.”