E! News/October 2, 2017
The show of a generation is ushering in a new era.
TRL, MTV’s flagship live show and the program that played a part in the careers of the millennium’s biggest stars, is on its way back into the pop culture zeitgeist. During the show’s decade on television, it gave up-and-coming stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and groups like 98 Degrees, the Backstreet Boysand ‘N Sync the chance to showcase their latest hit, debut their newest music video and connect with their screaming, adoring fans.
Now, as the show returns to TV screens today after a nine-year hiatus, E! News is looking back on the rise of the beloved program with the man that helped it all come to fruition—the show’s original co-creator, Tony DiSanto.
To start, the fans were as much a part of the show as the stars they came to see. “Over time, as the show became more well known, and word spread that people outside could be selected to come and be part of the in-studio experience, and that even being outside gave fans a chance to participate and interact with the show, the crowds started getting larger and more creative,” DiSanto told E! News.
However, as eager attendees painted their faces, sported elaborate outfits and crowded outside of TRL‘s Times Square studio with their signs in the hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite singer, the activity began to pose a potential hazard. “Sometimes it would get so crazy outside that we would have to shut the windows to calm everyone down for safety reasons,” the former MTV President of Entertainment recalled. “I could hear the crowds cheering outside hours before the shows even started, and my office was on the 25th floor at the time!”
Particularly, DiSanto, who is now CEO of DIGA Studios, couldn’t forget the time Eminem came on the show as 8 Mile was about to debut and his album, The Eminem Show, was at the top of the charts. Simply, the rapper’s stardom was shining as brightly as possible—and the fandom reflected it.
“The crowd outside was just massive…almost to the point of shutting down the street,” DiSanto described. “Every time Marshall would go to the windows, the roar was incredible.”
As proof of the fans’ power, one fan even ultimately became a VJ. Hilarie Burton was a college student when she caught the eye of the show team outside of the studio.
“We noticed her outside and had her involved in a few segments,” DiSanto remembered. “She was great…fun, confident. It felt as though she was born to be on camera and had been doing this for a long time.”
In a full-circle turn of events, Burton became an official TRL VJ in 2000.
Longtime fans of the series probably can’t forget the time longtime host Carson Daly stepped down from his post at the helm of the program in 2003. According to DiSanto, filling that hole was tricky.
“When Carson left the show, I was reluctant to replace him because I thought no matter how good any host was, stepping in to that role would invite immediate comparisons, and knowing that it takes a while for a host to get into a rhythm on a show like this, I didn’t want undue negative attention to derail that process,” the co-creator explained. “The show of course had to go on, so what I decided then was to not replace Carson with a host, but rather, have TRL reconfigured to be hosted by an ensemble, each bringing something to the table.”
The result? A lineup of future famous co-hosts including Damien Fahey, Quddus, La La Anthony, Susie Castillo and Vanessa Lachey. In her time on the show, Lachey crossed paths with her future husband Nick Lachey while he was still married to Jessica Simpson, but DiSanto doesn’t remember anything notable between the future spouses at the time.
However, he does have a particular memory of Howard Stern at the moment he realized the show had morphed into something quite special.
“I think Madonna was a guest on set, and backstage, Howard Stern was there with his daughter,” he recalled. “It turned out she was a big fan of the show and wanted to meet Carson. I remember sitting with Carson in his dressing room, or makeup, and Howard came in with his daughter to introduce her. It was clear that the show had now become more than just a TV destination for viewers…it had truly become a huge part of the pop culture it celebrated.”
As for the artists that will grace the stage, Ed Sheeran and Migos will appear on Monday; Noah Cyrus, Playboi Carti and PRETTYMUCH on Tuesday; Demi Lovato and Lil Uzi Vert on Wednesday; Lil Yachty and Why Don’t We on Thursday; and Travis Scott and Romeo Santos on Friday.
As DiSanto pointed out to E! News, “The beauty of TRL is that it came at an incredibly diverse period in music.” Judging by this week’s lineup, that time has come once again.