The last time MTV presented its Video Music Awards without a host they had the allure of a bizarre experiment in Las Vegas to pull in viewers. It was not just no host, there was no central stage, just a lot hopping between hotel rooms. Visually it was a mess.
Proceeding without a host for Sunday's VMAs comes as a surprise - MTV executives were high on the possibility of helping another comedic talent breakthrough from the fringes of the mainstream, an effect the telecast has had on Russell Brand and Chelsea Handler in last few years.
Clearly, the no-host idea is Plan B. Insiders have said discussions with potential hosts did take place, though no one is saying whether any talent rejected MTV's offer. The no-host plan means the show needs to hold onto any eyeballs it attracts at the start with Lady Gaga's performance if it hope to continue its run of securing more than 10 million viewers.
MTV has managed to recover from the ratings depths the VMAs suffered when the network was in its 25th year and most observers were bashing it for eliminating music from its programming. In 2006, when Jack Black was host, the show sunk to 5.77 million viewers, per Nielsen Media, making the host-less year after looking better by comparison as it had an audience of 7 million. Both of those numbers, though, pale against the nearly 12 million viewers who tuned in in 2002 and 1999.
The VMAs recovered considerable last year, pulling in 11.4 million viewers and topping 10 million for the first time since the 2004 broadcast. Hosts in recent years have played significant roles in promotions and their comedic voices have helped set the tone of the shows.
Lady Gaga will be this year's opener, which will certainly attract viewers if for no other reason than people will want to know what she is wearing. In terms of memorable, non-music occurrences, last year's meat dress is up there with Howard Stern's Fartman entrance, Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift and the fights that often involved members of Guns N' Roses.
But after that, beyond the promise of a Britney Spears tribute, does MTV have a sufficient number of unique party rock anthems to keep the show compelling? The idea of Beyonce and Chris Brown doing anything controversial is far-fetched, but maybe Beavis and Butt-head, scheduled to get back on their ratty couch in 2012, make their MTV return early by doing some stand-up at the VMAs. Who knows?
Lil Wayne could have a trick up is sleeve, Adele will undoubtedly shine and Young the Giant is hoping for a Florence + the Machine moment, but is there really a need to have Pitbull and Ne-Yo perform "Give Me Everything" as they have on countless TV shows? Once the show moves past, Weezy, Adele and the Young rock band, musical originality takes a big dip in both the acts announced and the nominees - this is a dance pop celebration, not a variety show.
Old-timers reminisce about the fabulous parties that would follow the VMAs, bashes that took place in New York's Bryant Park or Universal Studios or even a UCLA football field. This year, a handful of events precede the awards show which has the folks running the VMAs somehow relieved that after the final award is handed out they can just go home. No party anthems for them.