As profiled in The New York Times, the producers of MTV’s new show It’s On With Alexa Chung appear to be TERRIFIED of being compared to Total Request Live, better known as TRL, the music video/chat show that dominated the after-school plans of cool teenagers (and wannabes) from 1998 to 2008. (From the article: “According to the network the only thing the two shows have in common is the studio location.”)
Well, no worries, guys, because there’s no chance of confusion. It’s On is essentially the adolescent version of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, pop-culture-heavy, Internet-savvy and (given the fact it airs at 12 p.m. EDT/PDT) not really meant for anyone with a steady day job and/or over the legal drinking age. And while the show may not have worked out all the kinks yet, it definitely knows its audience and how to appeal to them.
Today’s episode of It’s On opened with a jarring attempt to be “in” with the kids and their scene, enlisting Ryan Brockington from the New York Post (whose necktie, rumpled button-down, and waistcoat make him eligible for a Look at This F—ing Hipster post) to provide commentary on the stories currently circulating through the blogosphere. Brockington takes credit for coining the expression “to Boyle out” when referring to Taylor Swift’s love for her cat — he’s, of course, referencing Susan Boyle’s obsession with her own feline. He then says “you Lohaned me” (referring to Lindsay Lohan’s recent acts of petty theft) when Chung steals his pen. Brockington, to quote Mean Girls, stop trying to make “fetch” happen. It is not going to happen. Oh, hey, and then Chung plays a clip of Keyboard Cat (which is several months old, and thus hitting the end of its viral lifecycle). Wow, they sure are up to date on the Internet!
OK, that’s a little harsh, as she does go on to mention the puppy who was flushed down a toilet, a story which started circulating today, and Evolution of Dance Party, a viral clip that only began tracking recently. But that’s the problem with focusing so heavily on web culture — as hard as you try to be cutting-edge, someone else will always be slightly ahead of you.
Chung, a former model-turned-TV host, probably wouldn’t be able to reconfigure your Wi-Fi connection, but her personal Twitter account has 20,000 followers and she shows repeated evidence of fluency in web culture during the hour-long show. And to the show’s credit, it allows Chung’s strong British accent and quasi-reserved, quasi-goofy demeanor to dominate, and her strong personality will be a big factor in driving the show’s success — even Rex Sorgatz wants to be Alexa’s friend.
It’s On‘s aim is to make heavy use of social-networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, to encourage audience interaction, asking viewers to submit photos, videos and comments — and occasionally posting the results on-screen during the show. But those efforts go hand-in-hand with the show’s general obsession with Web 2.0 services. In Tuesday’s episode, Chung interviews the most photogenic members of ridiculous Facebook groups, which is slightly boring to anyone who doesn’t spend half their day filling out web quizzes and posting the results to their status updates. (Sometimes, I do miss temping.)
And oddly, that bit does not end with Chung urging viewers to visit any Facebook pages, including the one for the show — she saves that plug for the segment “Celeb for Hire,” which is also the only time a music video airs during the show. The Knobs, an indie band from Bakersfield, Calif., got the chance to have Aubrey O’Day, an actress/dancer/fashion designer/Playboy centerfold, star in a music video for their song Lick the Blade by making a video request on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, the boys’ favorite part of the video is the part where O’Day does, actually, lick the blade of a sword. If you think that’s awesome, boy, is this show for you.
In comparison to Chung’s personal Twitter account, it’s sadly pretty clear when an MTV producer is updating the official Twitter feed or Facebook page. (Capitalization is a dead giveaway, dudes.) Also, the @ItsOnAlexa account is only following eight people and doesn’t reply to any of the people Twittering it, which is kind of ridiculous given that they show, ON SCREEN, Alexa’s “Team Twit,” four interns manning laptops and wearing funny hats. Certainly at least one of those interns could be given authorization to tell, say, Twitter user Ryannnneee123 thanks for Tweeting “@ItsOnAlexa i love you so much!!! You are so amazingly hilarious!! Awesome job on the show too!!! :DD”. As is, It’s On does show heightened interest in truly making use of the social-networking tools at its fingertips. But fingers crossed that the communication will start being a bit more two-way, on-screen and off.