Total Request Live (1998-2008)
Viewed at the time, TRL was pure kid-candy: A daily afterschool cage-match between the demi-gods of pop music, which usually manifested as a lesser-of-two-evils face-off between rap-rock and teeny-pop. But in hindsight, TRL looks like the origin story for the 2000s. You can spot social networking, the embrace of YouTube, and the ascent of tween culture in the show’s glitzy DNA. —Darren Franich
120 Minutes (1986 to 2000)/Headbanger's Ball (1987 to 1995)/Yo! MTV Raps (1988 to 1995)
MTV targeted specific segments of its audience by airing shows focusing on niche music groups, starting with 120 Minutes on Sunday nights during which host Dave Kendall paid homage to alternative rock artists like Green Day. (The show left MTV for MTV2 — where it now lives again — until ending its first run in 2003.) Heavy metal lovers got a show to call their own next with Headbangers Ball on Saturday nights. (Like 120 Minutes, after a multiyear hiatus it returned in 2003 to MTV2, where it’s still seen today.) After that it only made sense to give hip-hop a place in the MTV nation, for which we got hosts like Fab Five Freddy, Doctor Dre, and Ed Lover to bring a wide array of rappers (from Salt-N-Pepa to N.W.A.) into our homes.
Club MTV (1985-1992)
It was the show that gave us Downtown Julie Brown and a dance party that everyone wanted to join in. Think American Bandstand‘s club-going younger brother. But if you did show up to shake your groove thing at the Palladium, it was probably a good idea to wear panties given that roving camera angle that became a specialty of the show.
Remote Control (1987-1990)
Forget history, geography, or potent potables?MTV’s first game show focused on something far more important: pop culture. Hosted by comedian Ken Ober, Remote Control celebrated all things couch potato, from its sets (constructed to look like Ken’s basement, where contestants reclined in comfy armchairs) to the useless trivia TV junkies collect for sport. (Sample question: ”Who starred in the Happy Days production of Hamlet?”) The show was also a breeding ground for comedic talent, including Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, and a pre-SNL Adam Sandler. —Kristen Baldwin
The Real World (1992-Present)/ Road Rules (1995-2007)/ Real World/Road Rules Challenge (1998-Present)
There is not enough credit we could pay The Real World for its cultural impact. From the very concept of reality shows to the characters (where would we be without Puck, Pedro, Tami, Trishelle, CT, Wes, Paula, Coral… and the list goes on and on…?) to the open, often contentious dialogues about racism, homosexuality, AIDS, and politics, The Real World has informed generations for two decades. Alas, not so much can be said of spin-offs Road Rules and The Challenge. Those shows proved that landing on a television show (no matter how diminishing its quality) could be an effective way to avoid working for the rest of your life. —Lanford Beard
MTV Video Music Awards (1984-present)
Even now, long past the moment when music videos were truly a defining cultural medium, the Video Music Awards remain MTV’s best advertisement for itself. Simultaneously ramshackle and grand, the VMA‘s can still inspire controversy — witness Kanyegate — but it’s on this list because of a history of great performances, from Madonna writhing to ”Like a Virgin” to Lady Gaga’s bloodsoaked execution in ”Paparazzi.” —DF
The Ben Stiller Show (1990-1991)
Lest you think that Ben Stiller was always only about Fockers and Museums, remember that he more than earned his keep with this irreverent, insider-outsider sketch show. It may have only lasted 13 episodes on MTV (it went to Fox for another 12 episodes), but it boasted one of the most formidable writing staffs on record, including Stiller, Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, and Messrs. Show David Cross and Bob Odenkirk. And after its cancellation, it won a well-deserved posthumous Emmy. —Keith Staskiewicz
Liquid Television (1991-1994)
When this animation showcase debuted, Ken Tucker said was it ”often witty and exhilarating.” And it was definitely not for the kiddies. Very adult shows like Celebrity Death Match and Beavis and Butt-head got their starts here and violent ones like Aeon Flux (pictured) and The Maxx helped further ensnare the college crowd.
The Jon Stewart Show (1993-1995)
It was clear from the start that this Stewart guy was funny and was a star in the making, despite the fact that his previous show You Wrote It, You Watch It was quickly pulled. The comedian’s new talk show, MTV’s first, was dubbed the loosest, hippest talk show since the early days of Late Night With David Letterman. In fact, Letterman made a rare talk-show appearance on Stewart’s final show.
Beavis and Butt-head (1993-97)
Beavis was a dimwitted pyromaniac who looked up to his only-slightly brighter bud, Butt-head, and for a brief period in the early 1990s, these two hand-drawn droogs were the most important tastemakers in music, capable of devastating a band’s reputation with a simple, ”This video sucks.” —Jeff Labrecque
Celebrity Deathmatch (1998-2007)
The ultimate fight night for the pop-culture obsessed gave us the matchups we always wanted, and the ones we didn’t know we wanted until we saw them (”Ohmygod, Flea killed Kenny G! Flea killed Kenny G!”). It also gave us serious smacktalk and plenty of gore, which was guilt-free because it was claymation. —Mandi Bierly
If misanthropy ever had a mascot, it’s Daria Morgandorffer, the title character of MTV’s satirical series about life in high school. Sure, the portrait of teens was cynical, but that’s what made it sensational. —Sandra Gonzalez
Adapted from a radio show, this television show was helmed by hosts Adam Corolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky (before he was concerned with rehabilitating the D list), but the best part was when celebrity guests would sit awkwardly on the couch for a TMI session. Watching the members of N’Sync sit there and give a girl advice about her boyfriend’s oversized… body part, that’s something you just don’t forget. —SG
Hilarious slapstick masquerading as drunk fratboy shenanigans, Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass initially earned headlines for the dangerous stunts. But the franchise has lasted over a decade for a reason: The group of chipper masochists at its core, who only stop smiling long enough to cry out in abject pain. —DF
The Osbournes (2002-05)
This *@$#!^& profanity-laced reality program shed new *@$#!^& light on the hapless King of Darkness but it’s greatest *@$#!^& service was perhaps making family dysfunction seem not only normal, but highly *@$#!^& entertaining. —SG
The Hills (2006-2010)
Unfolding like a terrible Sex and the City clone that accidentally transformed into a brilliant Sofia Coppola movie, The Hills is one of those MTV series that regularly gets blamed for everything: Pointlessly famous celebrities, the demise of America, the end of music on MTV. But I think the haters miss the point: The Hills is a weirdly fascinating up-close vision of the corrosive nature of celebrity. (Just compare Heidi in season 1 to Heidi in season 5.) Also, that ending was awesome. —DF
The State (1993-1995)
You have seen pretty much everyone from The State somewhere else — whether it’s Reno 911!, Stella, Party Down, or Wet Hot American Summer but MTV?s bizarre and hilarious sketch comedy show deserves to be mentioned in the same strange breath as Upright Citizens Brigade and The Kids in the Hall. —KS
The Sifl and Olly Show (1997-1999)
Like low-rent public access Muppets, Sifl and Olly were a pair of deadpan sock puppets who would crop up on MTV late at night to deliver what was essentially an early, occasionally argyle version of a podcast, complete with their own Karl Pilkington, Chester. —KS
MTV Cribs (2000-present)
Pure house porn that looks almost impossibly decadent in the post-housing crisis era, Cribs was also a surprisingly fascinating look at the interior life of celebrities. (Of course, Tommy Lee has a room made out of pillows.) —DF
Making the Band (2002-present)
As much as this reality show helped form new bands (O-Town, Danity Kane, Da Band), Making the Band would best be defined by the personality at its center since the second season — Puff Daddy, as he was known back then. The man who ”invented the remix” was all about reinventing these young performers in his own pop-idol image. And it was almost always entertaining to watch.
Their love might not have been forever but there was definite shelflife for this series about two married teen icons who had more clothes than common sense. Yet the best thing about this reality show, besides its undeniable contribution to the Golden Age of celebreality, is that it finally cleared up that pesky confusion about Chicken of the Sea. —SG
Who saw this coming from the That ’70s Show kid? Bringing back a Candid Camera-type show and updating it by pranking your famous friends? Pure gold. Because who would miss the chance to watch Justin Timberlake weep at the thought of all his possessions being confiscated?
Pimp My Ride (2004-2007)
Watching the brilliant engineers at West Coast Customs turn broken down automobiles into moving pleasure palaces was always fun. It was kind of like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, just with 100 percent less preachiness, but 100 percent more Xzibit! —DF
My Super Sweet 16 (2005-2008)
Forget The X-Files or Fringe, this was a true monster-of-the-week series. Not unlike Barbet Schroeder’s 1974 documentary on Idi Amin, every week, it was a terrifying glimpse into the mind of a deranged, frighteningly narcissistic fiend. It was also the most brilliantly effective work of Marxist-Socialist propaganda ever. If seeing a spoiled 16-year-old in a princess costume punch a pony because it’s not small enough doesn’t get the proles to eat the rich, I’m not sure what would. (Have I intellectually rationalized my addiction to this show enough, yet? Please say yes.) —KS
MTV Diary (2006-present)
Before Twitter put the power in the celebrity’s hands, Diary was some of the best behind-the-scenes access that existed. Not to mention, who doesn’t like a little over-dramatic editing? —SG
Two a Days (2006-2007)
This Friday Night Lights precursor was deemed ”a merciful breath of fresh air” by EW’s Ken Tucker. There was a definite sense of edited reality but the coach and players of Hoover High School Buccaneers represented themselves well.
Jersey Shore (2009-present)
Gym, tan, laundry. Shots, beers, clubs. Guidos, gorillas, juiceheads. Grenades, landmines, bombs. Smush, smash, fight. Fight! Fight! Fight! Unfolding like the grimy countersequel to The Hills, Jersey Shore is a hilarious vision of remarkable idiots bottomfeeding their way toward success. Even if you hate everything Shore stands for, credit MTV for assembling one of the great reality-show casts: They are each others’ best friends, as well as their worst enemies. —DF
Teen Wolf (2011 ? present)
To quote EW‘s Ken Tucker, ”Teen Wolf, MTV’s clever, charming new show, makes you marvel at using the words clever and charming to describe an MTV show.” The twisty, hormone-heavy tale of a reluctant shifter (Tyler Posey, pictured) also proves that the network still has a pulse when it comes to scripted fare. —MB