On Sept. 14, 1998, MTV’s Total Request Live debuted, airing from a glass-box studio hanging above New York’s Times Square. There was no studio audience, no fans waiting outside carrying imploring signs. The glory days of ’90s music videos seemed to be waning -- and here was a network offering an American Bandstand for a new generation, hosted by a neo-Dick Clark in black nail polish named Carson Daly. Fans would vote on their favorite clips by phone and email, and the top 10 videos would be broadcast live every afternoon at 3 p.m.
But within six months, TRL became appointment after-school TV, its studio at 1515 Broadway a pop-culture fishbowl where rabid teens could catch a glimpse of their favorite stars (when the Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync would drop by, the police would have to shut down Times Square). The thrill of the show was built into its name: It was live, so anything could happen. Eminem teased a post-Funky Bunch Mark Wahlberg on-air. Sean “Diddy” Combs spent an entire hour running on a treadmill, while Britney Spears stood by with a hand towel. In one of the show’s most infamous moments, Mariah Carey came by with an ice cream cart, apparently unannounced, to promote Glitter, rambling, “I just wanted one day off when I could go swimming and look at rainbows and eat ice cream and maybe, like, learn how to ride a bicycle.” (A week later, she was hospitalized for exhaustion.)