A decade has passed since MTV began handing out silver moon-men statuettes to the music industry in a raucous and sometimes rude annual awards show that has grown to rival the Grammys and American Music Awards as a spectacle of pop culture to see and be seen at.
So after weeks of pumping and promoting tonight’s Video Music Awards, which will be aired at 8 p.m. on MTV and sister channel VH-1, does MTV have any special plans to commemorate its 10th anniversary?
“Nah. We’re not really dwelling on the 10th anniversary,” said Doug Herzog, senior vice president of programming for MTV. “We spend most of our time looking forward instead of back.”
“This is a great show,” echoed the event’s producer, Joel Gallen. “There’s no reason to get nostalgic once it starts.”
One reason MTV may be so focused on pulling together a great show this year is because of the snafus that occurred last year. Plans backfired when MTV moved the ceremony from its traditional home, the Universal Amphitheatre, to UCLA’s expansive Pauley Pavilion in order to admit more rowdy MTV fans and create the in-your-face energy of a stadium show.
Although the awards show looked the way it was intended to for the millions viewing on television worldwide, the music-industry people in the house complained for months afterward about problems with parking, with seeing the bands from their $150 seats and with getting into the big party following the show.
Not long after, the organizers of the Grammy Awards scrapped similar plans to move from the Shrine Auditorium to the massive Forum. The ensuing buzz in the music industry was that the Grammys took a lesson from MTV.
“This year, because of all the ramifications of the music industry being upset, and some of the informality we lost, I agreed to try it again at the Amphitheatre,” Gallen said.
MTV’s thrust tonight is to create an even looser, freer atmosphere than usual to surround the new and untested host, Christian Slater. Unlike past hosts--Dana Carvey, Arsenio Hall, Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler--Slater is not really known for his comedy.
“Jeez, I don’t know. I’m not really a host,” was Slater’s shocked response, he said, when first asked to do the show.
The young actor did, however, recently beat out Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson as most-desirable male at the viewer-voted MTV Movie Awards.
“Christian Slater is an emerging film star who seems to embody the attitude and spirit that we’re fond of here,” Herzog said. “He seems to have a great dose of rock ‘n’ roll in him. We’re just trying not to go the obvious, obstacle-ridden, cliched route. So we said let’s try this.”
Word is that Slater will come out and do a musical performance--something that MTV won’t confirm. To help him throughout the three-hour event, a cadre of writers from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” where Slater was a guest host last year, and from HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” will stand in the wings and feed him jokes during breaks between performances by Madonna, Aerosmith, U2, Janet Jackson, Nirvana, Sting, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Naughty by Nature and Spin Doctors, among others.
“I’ll be backstage talking to these writers and asking them, ‘What do I say now that will be funny?’ ” Slater said. “I’ll try not to have too many expectations how things are going to go off. I’d rather just do the thing and let the others have the expectations.”
To help lighten the load, some oddball presenting teams have been formed to hand out awards, led by the animated Beavis and Butt-head. Other pairings include crooner Tony Bennett with rockers Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who stopped the show last year with their crude antics.
“This show will definitely have more of a sense of humor than past shows,” Gallen said. “It’s like, why take it so seriously?”
Inspired by U2’s “Zoo TV” stadium tour last year, Gallen gained the cooperation of more than 25 television programs currently in production to shoot the pre-taped video segments that introduce each award category. In one of the channel-surfing bits, Roseanne Arnold is on the set of her ABC comedy series, “Roseanne,” and she turns to John Goodman and says, “Honey, would you come over here and rub my . . . best female video.”
Other TV programs that participated range from “Jeopardy!” to “Murder, She Wrote” to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to “The McLaughlin Group” to “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” to a couple of popular infomercials.
“The Video Music Awards has always had an attitude, but we’ve never taken the tongue-in-cheek approach,” said Gallen, who is producing his fifth straight show. “We figured why not get these real TV shows to cooperate, since they’re all filming now anyway.”
Gallen and Herzog are serious, though, in getting this year’s show back on track as a premier concert event and one of the music industry’s grandest parties--starting with a return to the more intimate Amphitheatre, which seats half the 12,000 people that Pauley Pavilion does.
“It doesn’t mean we won’t try a larger venue again, but rather than fail twice in a row, we’re going back to a place we’re more comfortable,” Herzog said.
Because the Amphitheatre stage is not much larger than a high school auditorium stage, and could not accommodate the scenic looks and set changes the bands needed, Gallen had to reinvent the show there.
He had about 300 wing seats at each side of the stage removed to double the width of the proscenium to 130 feet--the same size as Pauley Pavilion. The back wall was also taken away and replaced with a 30-by-70-foot rear-projection screen for the acts to put up videotape, slide and movie images to enhance their performances.
“My feeling has always been that this should be a rock ‘n’ roll show first and a television show second,” Gallen said.