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It can’t be easy for anybody to watch something change in a big way after they poured their energy into the foundation, so it must be incredibly difficult for MTV co-creator Tom Freston to see his former network resemble less and less what he helped to build. MTV is very different from what it was back in its first quarter century on the air, and the changes don’t sit well with everybody. When asked for his thoughts about what MTV has become in recent years, Freston did not mince words.
Yeah, it breaks my heart. Of course, when you spend 25 years working someplace and you see its fortunes wither away, it sort-of hurts. You’d like to leave a company and see it prosper and do real well. But they’ve hit some rough patches and have definitely not been in the zeitgeist while others around them have. I think there was a creative drain at the company that was significant.
Tom Freston’s interview with Bloomberg is quite illuminating. There’s been no denying the major changes that have been happening at the network over the years, but the co-creator coming out and saying that he is disappointed with the “creative drain” is a mild shocker. Nobody would know better than Freston, so his words paint a troubling picture of the state of MTV at the moment, at least in comparison to its heyday.
MTV losing touch with the zeitgeist in the ultra-modern age is particularly tragic. With a presidential election with incredibly high stakes for the young people likely to be affected by future political policies, the time is now for the generational network to channel return to affecting change in a positive direction with things like Rock the Vote. MTV used to be a network that brought coverage to real world events through the lens of entertainment in addition to its regular programming, but that does not seem to be the case anymore.
The biggest change in MTV is arguably the switch in programming mostly focused on music – hence Music TV – to scripted and unscripted series. Video may have killed the radio star back in the 1980s when MTV first hit the airwaves, but reality series seem to have killed most music videos. Nowadays, it’s easier to find music videos on YouTube than on MTV. Tom Freston certainly doesn’t seem off base in his statement about MTV not being what it used to be.
Luckily, Freston doesn’t think that MTV is beyond all hope of recovery. Given that he believes that big problems afflicting the network come from a creative standpoint, new creative minds and strategies have the potential to change MTV for the better. Pop culture isn’t going anywhere; hopefully for Freston’s sake and legacy, MTV will once again be able to tap into in the future. Who knows? Maybe TRL can come back someday.