MTV’s “Total Request Live,” familiarly known as “TRL,” went to its rest Sunday night with a three-hour special, “Total Finale Live.” The actual last regularly scheduled “TRL” aired Thursday afternoon, as workmen dismantled the set around final hosts Damien Fahey and Lyndsey Rodrigues, (nonperforming) guest band the All-American Rejects, actor-producer Seth Green and the studio audience, who, by the looks of them, were still in elementary school when the show went on the air in 1998.
The “American Bandstand” (and also the “Today” show”) of Gen Millennium, “TRL” was never the place to turn if your thing was Wilco, Sigur Ros or Portishead. It fed and channeled the mainstream, although a mainstream broad enough to include Britney, Christina, Diddy, Green Day, OutKast, Korn, Ludacris and the Jonas Brothers. As summed up snarkily on Thursday’s show by Jim Cantiello, of MTV News, “TRL” promoted “bubble gum pop, heavy metal dreck and the ginormous career . . . of Carson Daly, a likable dude who was going to be a priest until he realized his true calling was hooking up with D-listers and introducing 20-second clips of J.Lo music videos.”
Daly, the show’s first host, was back from the furthest reaches of late-late-night talk-show TV to helm the special. Times Square, full of fans -- though not as full as in the traffic-jamming days of yore -- took up its usual position outside the studio’s floor-to-ceiling second-story windows.
The party started off on a high point it never again equaled, with Beyonce, backed by the same band that backed her the night before on “Saturday Night Live,” throwing herself into a medley. The effect of her performance, which was AWESOME, was redoubled by the intimacy of the venue and proximity and feedback of the audience. Getting the kids close to the stars was always the juice on which this after-school tradition ran: “Omigod! I’m 5 feet from Nick Carter!”
The temperature rose again -- though never quite as high -- with subsequent performances, but there weren’t very many (Nelly, Snoop Dogg and Ludacris as a trio, Fall Out Boy, the Backstreet Boys and 50 Cent). The long stretches between were taken up by clips and interviews -- some by video hookup or telephone -- with the major forces in the show’s history and an overuse of the phrase “back in the day.”
But the clips were mostly not illuminating -- ‘N Sync demonstrating that 10 years in teen fashion is a lifetime -- or too abbreviated to make an impact. Thursday’s show, which featured longer samplings of old live performances, did a much better job of making you feel like you might have missed something by, you know, not being 16 years old sometime in the last 10 years.
And pop singers do not always have much to say.
Daly on the phone to Eminem: “What’s going on in the studio?” Eminem: “Just working.” Daly: “Just give us a vibe.” Eminem: “Well, you just got to hear it.”
Britney Spears, officially the Queen of “TRL,” was a total no-show, though ". . . Baby One More Time” was declared the No. 1 “iconic” “TRL” video of all time (as if you had any doubt). Ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake was much in (non-singing) evidence, however. And Diddy, the show’s most frequent and ardent guest, was given one final chance to promote himself. He chose his new fragrance, I Am King -- “It’s at Macy’s now” -- and added, “Save energy, turn off the lights.”
‘TRL Finale Special’
When: 9:30 a.m. today
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)