A Brief History of MTV Trying to Make Old Hits New Again

Posted June 21, 2018 7:16 p.m. EDT

MTV announced Thursday that it was creating MTV Studios, which will develop new shows and revive old favorites for a variety of platforms and partners.

Revivals of “Daria” (with writer Grace Edwards, from “Inside Amy Schumer”), “The Real World” and “Aeon Flux,” as well as new projects such as “Straight Up Ghosted” (in which subjects attempt to reconnect with the people who have ghosted them) are among the projects the network will presumably try to sell to services like Netflix and Amazon.

“With MTV Studios, we are for the first time ever opening up this vault beyond our own platforms to reimagine the franchises with new partners,” Chris McCarthy, president of MTV, said in a statement.

The move to outsource some of its original programming is a departure for the company, but the methodology is hardly new. In recent years, MTV has unabashedly courted new generations of young viewers by revamping — or just repackaging — old shows, many of which began airing long before much of its core audience of 18- to 34-year-olds was even born.

“MTV’s reinvention is coming by harnessing its heritage,” McCarthy told The New York Times last year, just before the revival of its once-popular video countdown show, “Total Request Live.” Below, a few of the company’s various attempts to make its old hits new again.

‘Beavis and Butt-Head’

Mike Judge’s vulgar animated hit aired on MTV beginning in 1993. It ended in 1997, so he could devote more time to “King of the Hill,” which premiered that year. “Beavis and Butt-Head” returned in 2011, and was revamped to reflect MTV’s programming evolution: While the eponymous teenage duo used to crack jokes about music videos, in the new version they also commented on MTV reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “16 and Pregnant.”

At the time, in an interview with The New York Times, Van Toffler, then president of MTV Networks, said he was excited about the show and that he had tried for years to bring Judge back to create new episodes. At least at first, it seemed that a sizable audience shared Toffler’s enthusiasm — the premiere drew in 3.3 million viewers — but there have been no new shows since that season concluded. Old episodes were brought back in 2016 when VH1 Classic was rebranded as MTV Classic, alongside other old shows such as “Daria” and “Cribs.”

‘Real World’

Since its premiere in 1992, the groundbreaking reality series has never really left, though it has gone through many updates. What began as a bare-bones series about several strangers “picked to live in a house” in a major U.S. city became more contrived as the show aged and reality TV became its own genre, with familiar tics and beats. The most recent seasons of “Real World” have channeled programs like the “Real Housewives” franchise and MTV’s own “Jersey Shore” — “Real World: Ex-Plosion” and “Real World: Skeletons,” for instance, centered on cast members being ambushed by their exes and others from the past.

“The Real World” no longer makes sense on a cable platform like MTV, McCarthy told The Hollywood Reporter. “In order for that to work on traditional cable today, it’s going to look a lot more like ‘The Challenge’ and I’m not necessarily sure that’s the ethos of that show,” he said.

‘Jersey Shore’

Essentially “Real World” with an Italian-American conceit, “Jersey Shore” was a breakout hit when it premiered in 2009. Its core cast — including Snooki (Nicole Polizzi), “The Situation” (Michael Sorrentino) and JWoww (Jennifer Farley) — parlayed their success into lucrative business deals and social media fame that outlived the show’s conclusion in 2012 after six seasons. (It also spawned a few cast-member spinoffs.)

MTV has attempted to recapture the spirit of the show on multiple occasions, including with “Floribama Shore” last fall. But the original has been hard to match: For its premiere episode in April, “Jersey Shore: Family Vacation,” which brought back most of the original cast, drew nearly 4 million viewers. In an interview with The New York Times, McCarthy pushed back against the idea that the network only seeks the teenage market, pointing to the now older “Jersey Shore” cast members and their vastly different lifestyles. “What coming-of-age looks like for a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old is one thing,” he said. “What it looks like in your 20s or 30s is different, but the sentiment is a lot the same.”

‘Total Request Live’

After it launched in 1998, “TRL” quickly became a crucial platform for the biggest pop stars of that era, including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. Viewers voted for their favorite music videos and tuned in each weekday afternoon to watch host Carson Daly count down the top 10 choices and interview celebrity guests.

The original incarnation ran for a decade, though the show’s influence mostly petered out long before the end. (Daly departed in 2003.) The rise of YouTube and other instantly gratifying corners of the internet meant teenagers no longer had to wait for MTV to play the music videos they craved. Artists now promote and premiere new works across multiple streaming platforms, including Snapchat and Instagram, none of which stopped MTV from bringing back “TRL” in 2017.

The reboot, which featured several internet personalities as hosts instead of one, was widely derided for being out of touch and confusing. It did away with the countdown format that was integral to the original in favor of game-show gimmicks (YouTube stars competing to plate a Thanksgiving turkey while bound to one another in a giant pool of cranberry sauce, for instance) and dull banter, which meant viewers weren’t actually “requesting” anything. It also opened to dismal ratings — ranking 146 out of 150 in cable originals within its first week. (Though it did bring an uptick in MTV’s teenage viewers, according to the network.)

In April, initial reports that MTV had canceled “TRL” proved inaccurate, with the network clarifying that the show was on hiatus but would return in yet another revamped form. It currently airs weekday mornings, is no longer live, and Sway Calloway, an MTV mainstay, is a host.