In celebration of New York Magazine’s 50th anniversary, this weekly series, which will continue through October 2018, tells the stories behind key moments that shaped the city’s culture. When MTV debuted a video-countdown show called Total Request Live on September 14, 1998, the cable network was in the throes of an identity crisis — a perpetual state for the flailing company in recent years but only a recurring one back then. The problem, as it tended to be, was with music videos, which were synonymous with MTV but were no longer engaging its young audience the way they once had. Tom Freston and Judy McGrath, who ran the network and had been there since Neil Armstrong planted an MTV flag on the moon in 1981, had weathered this storm before through one programming sleight of hand after another, either by grouping videos into genre-specific blocks that platformed metal or rap or alternative rock, or by presenting an animated series in which two teenage dirtbags named Beavis and Butt-Head deconstructed videos, or by ghosting videos altogether and green-lighting the first reality-TV show, The Real World. Typically, a new artist or sound would come along and make music videos, as happened with gangsta rap… Read full this story
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