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Posted at 3:25 a.m. EST Friday, January 28, 2000



Associated Press


As host of MTV's Total Request Live, Carson Daly is at ground zero every day of a booming new teen-age culture. It made him interested in talking with someone who stood there before.

Daly called the ageless wonder himself, Dick Clark, to set up an appointment when he was in Los Angeles recently.

`Carson Daly! You're the man!` the former American Bandstand leader greeted his 26-year-old heir apparent, before settling down to chat about what happens when hormones and the hot lights of television intersect.

Just a year on the air, TRL is the force behind an MTV ratings renaissance. More than one million youngsters tune in at 3:30 p.m. each weekday to hear their favorite music -- and often hundreds of fans turn up on the Times Square street below MTV's studio to gape at Daly and his guests.

The program's format is simple: viewers vote on their favorite videos, and TRL counts down the top 10 every afternoon. Fans `shout out` tributes, either on camera from Times Square or the studio audience, or through phone calls and e-mail. Their favorite musicians often stop in, usually on days their new discs `drop` in the stores.

The lingo may change, but everything else sounds familiar.

Most Total Request Live fans will stare blankly at any mention of American Bandstand, the daily, then weekly, house party for teen-agers that aired nationally from 1957 to 1989.

At the heart of both shows is the energy and excitement of young music fans. TRL does today what American Bandstand used to -- it lets kids know what their peers are wearing, what they are listening to and how they talk. It gives their heroes a chance to speak directly to people buying their music or seeing their movies.

Aside from the music itself, the most obvious difference between the two shows is the direct impact MTV fans have on what is played every day.

Oh, and the TRL studio audience doesn't dance -- even if there's a good beat.

`It gets my blood pumping,` said Dave Willey, 17, of Hicksville, N.Y., as he sat in MTV's intimate studio to watch a show one day this fall. `Britney Spears, she's so hot.`

So hot, and so near. The former Mouseketeer turned teen diva is the guest host this day, filling in for Daly. Melissa Joan Hart, star of Sabrina, the Teen-age Witch, is her co-host.

Duties include bantering with rappers Redman and Method Man, who have new music to promote. They play a millisecond-long sound bite from a current song, and a call-in viewer identifies the artist as Kid Rock. Spears says she takes no offense at a Blink 182 video that spoofs her own work, among others.

While videos play, Spears and Hart peer through the window at about 300 fans on the street below, most fruitlessly pleading to be let up. `Britney and Melissa, you drive us crazy!` says a sign carried by one boy.

`We like it because it's live,` said Steve Demko, a college student from New Jersey who came in to Times Square with his buddies, Chris Sorber and Brian Mieczkowski, to stand on the street and look up at the studio.

Spears and Hart were their main motivations -- two came to see Britney, one to see Melissa.

When the taping is over, Spears puts on her game face, talking earnestly with a reporter about why Total Request Live is so cool, and so important for burgeoning teen idols.

As she speaks, Hart comes up from behind to tug on Britney's sleeve. She has a question that just won't wait. What are you wearing to tonight's movie premiere?

Both may be successful businesswomen, but they're still young.

Total Request Live caught the wave of young fans who have made Spears and the Backstreet Boys stars, a new generation eager for their own heroes. Since the audience determines the TRL playlist every day, the show is guaranteed to reflect what's hot minute-by-minute.

A mix of styles Because TRL serves a wide constituency, a typical show careens from style to style in a way few radio stations would dare: the blue-eyed soul of 'N Sync bumps against the corrosive metal of Korn, which segues into the rap of Warren G.

Young fans are hungry for variety, said Tom Calderone, MTV's senior vice president of music and talent.

`I don't think five years ago you could have had Stone Temple Pilots and Coolio on the same show and have it work,` he said. `Now you can have Jay-Z and Limp Bizkit on the same show and it does work.`

He said viewers `have surprised us on many occasions. They really are just as risk-taking in their music choices on TRL as we are as a music channel.`

The show is a virtual community to fans who expect an interactive experience, said Brian Graden, MTV's executive vice president for programming.

Graden wanted a music show that gives viewers a chance to relax after school and before homework. It began informally -- Daly introducing videos while standing on a boardwalk -- and has taken over MTV's storefront studio as viewership increased exponentially. MTV this summer expanded TRL from an hour to 90 minutes.

Daly was plucked from a job as an overnight DJ at a Los Angeles radio station to become MTV's latest heartthrob.

`I don't really host the show,` he said. `I'm just engulfed in it.`

His deadpan demeanor leaves it up to the audience to figure out whether he likes what he's presenting or not. He has his favorites, but he won't let on. His comments don't bite; if some of his viewers love a talentless singing group, who is he to insult them?

`He has an ability to be reverential without being fawning,` Graden said. `That whole mold of interviewers who fawn excessively, I don't think it passes muster today.`

He's an expert now Television executives now call him for advice, anxious to hear what he thinks makes today's teen-agers tick.

For MTV's trend-conscious audience, Total Request Live has the potential to be a franchise. That's important for a network with a lot of programming that burns bright and fades fast. Where have you gone, Beavis?

Theoretically, a Total Request Live fan who outgrows the show will quickly be replaced by someone younger, with another set of likes and dislikes.

`It's always going to change,` Calderone said. `It's not going to be stale.`

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