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MTV Changes Its Tune

Three VJ’S among parties to go

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Let’s face it: For the past couple of years, MTV’s slogan might as well have been ”Music Last.” It’s no secret that the network has been derided by viewers for replacing much of its music programming with such frat-boy fodder as Road Rules and Singled Out. With ratings down 20 percent for the first quarter of ’97 compared with the same period last year, the station has just unveiled a bold new marketing scheme that involves … playing music videos. MTV now boasts that viewers can look forward to between 10 and 20 additional hours of music each week, with an increased focus on electronica, dance music, and independent-label rock.

The makeover, which had been announced last fall, went into effect March 24. Just two weeks earlier, a report by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers found that MTV had become ”surprisingly irrelevant” to music consumers — a charge MTV execs pooh-pooh but which rings true to anyone who has ever wondered just where the music on MTV went.

Andy Schuon, MTV’s executive vice president of programming, insists that MTV has always been ”first and foremost, a music channel,” though he adds that the network is now spending ”a lot more time, money, and creative resources on blocks of music.” Most of the station’s non-music programming (including such successful fare as Beavis and Butt-head and The Jenny McCarthy Show) will now be wedged into a weeknight time slot called The 10 Spot, which runs between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

As part of the overhaul, MTV has jettisoned VJs Idalis, 33, John Sencio, 27, and Simon Rex, 22. Surprisingly, none of the three appear to be bitter. Sencio and Rex have been given development deals with MTV Productions that will allow them to take part in future ”off-channel projects” (such as an as-yet-unnamed, MTV-produced Fox sitcom for Sencio). Idalis, who received no such parachute from the network, still gushed, ”I had a great run for three years, and the split is amicable.”

Ex-VJ Adam Curry, now the entrepreneur of an Internet-based company called Think New Ideas, is less starry-eyed about MTV’s routine of dumping its video jocks (where are you now, Alan Hunter?). ”Most [ex-VJs] move on to that white-noise channel at the end of the dial,” jokes Curry, who considers himself lucky to have carved out a post-MTV career. Curry’s advice to incoming VJs: ”Immediately start looking for something else.”