The TRL reboot couldn't be timed more perfectly. Not only does August mark MTV’s third consecutive month of year-over-year growth (marking the first time in six years that the network has seen three months of year-over-year growth in a row), but the pop culture juggernaut is returning in a time where stars are using their voices to amplify social causes.
Premiering Monday (Oct. 2), the music-centric show has a star-studded first-week lineup, with the likes of Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran and Romeo Santos. In anticipation for the show’s anticipated return, MTV president Chris McCarthy talked to Billboard about his expectations for the show and how it is poised to be a platform for important social messages: “Now could not be a better time to be an activist, unfortunately. And young people are at the forefront of so much social change.”
Billboard: How is the new format of the show different from its previous iteration?
McCarthy: When you think about what TRL was, it was social media, in many ways, before social media existed. It was about creating those unique and iconic moments, whether it was Britney and Justin together, or whether it was Jay-Z and Beyoncé, whether it was shutting down Times Square with Eminem. It was these moments that you really couldn’t be able to see anywhere else. I think at its core that’s what the show is about. And that core, that’s what we’re looking to recreate.
How do we create these unique fun shareable moments with some of the biggest stars that you know, and some stars that you maybe don’t know yet? And then, the other thing that’s different today is, young people are requesting all day, every day. -- it’s just called a “like.” And so they do that on their feeds all day long, and so the idea of a Top 10 is a little bit of an antiquated model, given the way young people listen to music. What we’ll be doing is sort of three that are trending up, three that are trending down, the winner of the day, and then the thing that we request more of, and the thing we request go away.
Why did you wanna bring TRL back now?
I think for MTV when you think of which franchises do we have and brands that are iconic, TRL is one of those franchises that just really rises to the top and shines. When you talk to any artist or when you talk to anybody who is in their late 20s, everybody remembers it as a moment in time.
This is our DNA. Like when Marvel reinvents Spider-Man or reinvents one of their heroes, TRL is one of our heros.
What is the audience you’re trying to reach?
We’re trying to reach the MTV audience, which is young adults. So whether you’re 17 or whether you’re a young at heart 34-year-old and you wanna see what’s happening. It’s definitely gonna lean younger than our primetime stuff. Our sweet spot is around a 17 to a 24-year-old.
What has the reaction been from the music industry?
The industry’s been unbelievably supportive. Everyone from the artists to the managers to the labels, everyone’s been really really fantastic. In many ways, they were some of the first people really requesting it in a big way.
This year’s VMAs had a lot of successful social messages throughout the broadcast. Do you expect TRL to have a similar tone?
Absolutely. Now could not be a better time to be an activist, unfortunately. And young people are at the forefront of so much social change, whether it’s what’s happening with DACA or what’s happening in Puerto Rico, or whether it’s college tuition. There’s going to be a soul to the show.
So, what are your expectations for the show?
It’s gonna take a minute but it’s all about creating cultural moments. The original TRL took probably a year or two to even click in. I think we’re going to [catch on] a lot quicker than a year or two, but my expectations are measured on the caliber of the artists that we have coming in the door and the moments that we create. It’s about breaking through in culture. That’s the heart and soul of MTV, and it’s the heart and soul of young people, and so amplifying their voices is really what the success of the show is gonna be measured on.