The End of MTV's 'Total Request Live'

As someone who works in print media, there's a conversation I'm forced to have over and over again, despite how much I loathe having it: the one in which I tell people I work for a magazine and watch their faces contort with pity. "Isn't that a dying industry?" they ask, as if I said I sold washboards for a living. It's no secret that the print media is suffering as it figures out how to pivot in the direction of the Internet age. This week, McClatchy, the nation's second largest newspaper company, announced a 10 percent workforce reduction, and The Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger is facing a possible sell-off or closure.

Elsewhere in media bombshells, MTV announced that it would be ending "Total Request Live" ("TRL" as it's affectionately known) after a 10-year run, with the final episode airing in November. "TRL" is a video countdown show that once was a ratings phenomenon for MTV and became for pop stars what "Meet the Press" is for pols. So what does McClatchy have to do with "TRL"? Pretty much everything.

Sure, Dave Sirulnick, executive producer of "TRL," is offering a cheery, optimistic spin on the show's end. "We want to close this era of "TRL' in a big celebratory way, and 10 is a great number," Sirulnick told The Associated Press, insisting that it wasn't a permanent end, just an indefinite hiatus. "We thought, 'You know what? This feels like the right time and let's celebrate it and let's reward it. And let's let it have a little bit of a rest for a minute.' Let it catch its breath! Been working hard--for 10 years!" Let's be clear: "TRL" is not a housekeeper at the Ritz-Carlton. It's not tired or burnt-out after 10 years of hard labor. It's just a television show that has outlived its usefulness, mostly because of the rise of online media consumption. Whether it's movies, music, television, books or video countdowns, everyone who makes their money providing content as part of a pre-Internet model works in a dying industry.

None of this is inherently bad. It's actually good in a way. No company, no profit structure, no medium has an inherent right to survive, and the rise of à la carte media allows consumers to take what they want and leave the rest. As Apple's iTunes grew to become the nation's largest music retailer, many musicians bemoaned the death of the album. If consumers can purchase songs individually, they fretted, will they ever again listen to a 15-track concept album about a young man's coming of age in the year 2312? My answer at the time was a callous "No, but who cares?" Maybe I want to hear Green Day sandwiched between Eartha Kitt and Gwen Stefani. I'm the consumer and it's my prerogative. This is why there's no future for a video-countdown show that determined its order using viewers' votes. Why watch a democratized sequence of videos when it's just as easy to go to YouTube and watch them in whatever order you like?

Still, the extinction of "TRL" is a sad occasion. We live in a society with deep divisions. Republicans and Democrats watched each other's conventions convinced their televisions were receiving a broadcast from some bizarre alternative universe. It would be somewhat comforting to know that there was a great equalizer in pop culture, a 900-pound gorilla like "The Cosby Show" or "Titanic," something everyone could agree on even if they disagreed on everything else. There are occasionally boffo releases, but they are fewer and further between as, thanks to the "long tail," people can create a cultural diet that's unique to them. There's no good reason for "TRL" to have survived, but hopefully we'll find new ways to gather around new forms of media. Perhaps, in the same way we're reflecting upon the loss of "TRL" now, a future generation will mourn the day Perez Hilton announces he will blog no more forever.