The MTV juggernaut is getting a remix

By Nick Maslow
October 02, 2017 at 08:29 AM EDT
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A version of this story appears in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now or available to buy here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Stars and screaming teenagers are descending upon Times Square, and nope, it’s not 1998. For its Generation Z revamp of TRL — off the air since 2008, save for a couple specials — MTV is remixing the original formula that made the program a pop-star stomping ground. “We’re obviously honoring the legacy, but we’re bringing it into 2017,” Tamara Dhia, one of five new cohosts, tells EW. What does that mean? Read on for a preview of Monday’s premiere.

1. No Carson Daly

After graduating from MTV in 2003, your baby-faced big brother became a grown-ass man at NBC. Clearly this guy is too busy with The Voice and TODAY to take on another job. Besides, MTV appears focused on improving lackluster ratings by reaching a new generation with a fresh crop of faces boasting strong social media followings.

2. A whole new generation of hosts

Taking Daly’s torch is DC Young Fly, a 25-year-old rapper and internet personality who appeared on MTV’s Wild ‘N Out. He gets support from what MTV is calling the “TRL squad,” comprised of Dhia, Amy Pham, Erik Zachary, and Lawrence Jackson, plus content creators Liza Koshy and The Dolan Twins. “Honestly, if we’re keeping it all very honest, it’s still very surreal,” says Dhia, 24, an Iraqi-born actress and writer who got the gig after working as an editorial producer and news anchor at Complex. “I don’t know if it’s quite hit me yet.” She recalls fond childhood memories of the show’s heyday, when superstars like Mariah Carey would wave to crowds below the studio’s massive glass windows. “To be part of that now and to help represent the kids’ culture for 2017, I’m honored,” she says. “It’s such a dream.”

3. No video countdown

Millennials will recall that TRL stands for Total Request Live, a name inspired by the show’s main premise: Every day, viewers could request the music videos they were dying to see by calling a toll-free number or firing up that dial-up internet. The votes determined a top-10 video countdown, resulting in Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera and *NSYNC vs. Backstreet Boys battles for No. 1. But don’t expect to see Taylor Swift and Katy Perry fans duking it out for their favorite pop star in 2017 — MTV has nixed the countdown formula that YouTube killed. That might not come as a surprise to viewers who remember the show’s evolution; MTV eventually only aired a fraction of the winning clips. However, MTV says exclusive music video premieres — a staple of the original program — will be part of TRL 2.0. “We’re making it our own,” says Dhia. “The first iteration of the show was very much 100 percent music-focused, and while we will be focusing on music, we’re going to be focusing on so much more: film, television, fashion, and sneakers, just kind of encompassing culture as a whole and what it is in this day and age.”

4. A bigger studio

It wouldn’t be TRL without that New York City backdrop, so MTV carved out an 8,000 square foot studio in Times Square. Three times larger than the original studio, there’s plenty of room for live performances and audience participation. And the show already has an impressive list of guests to make use of the space: Ed Sheeran will christen the studio on Monday, becoming the first singer to grace the new stage. The show’s launch week also includes appearances by DJ Khaled, Migos, Noah Cyrus, Playboi Carti, PRETTYMUCH, Demi Lovato, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Why Don’t We, Romeo Santos, and Travis Scott. That list presents several opportunities for TRL to grab headlines, especially after last week’s news that Scott is expecting a baby with Keeping Up With the Kardashians star Kylie Jenner.

MTV is betting the live-TV magic moves kids to come back, baby, one more time. The experiment kicks off Monday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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