Remember when there was a cable channel that played music videos? There still is one. It's called Fuse.
Franz Ferdinand blazes through six songs in a cramped Midtown Manhattan studio. It's your typical MTV scene - teenagers singing along, fists pumping, cameras swiveling to catch it all - only it's not MTV. This is Fuse, the Cablevision-owned music channel poised to place a chink in that other channel's teenage monotony - I mean monopoly.
"This ain't your mother's music television," says VJ Steven Smith as he films outros for the commercial break. He also adds a cuss word, but I'll leave out that part.
Now that MTV has become reality-show central and VH1 is the nostalgia channel for TV-addicted adults, there's only one thing missing: actual music. "Empty-vee" was the slogan Fuse came up with a few years ago. They're good at that kind of irreverence. One Fuse ad showed Sally Struthers on a Save-the-Children-type poster that read, "Every day thousands of music videos go unplayed." Fuse has been around for a while - it used to be called MuchMusicUSA - but now the company is throwing its muscle behind a campaign to increase the channel's visibility and make its way into teenagers' hearts and iPods.
"We want to be wherever kids are, whenever they want us," says Catherine Mullen, the channel's new general manager, who came to Fuse from MTV UK.
To that extent, Fuse is almost hysterically interactive, beginning with its massive website. Kids can also text the new sign outside the studio on Seventh Avenue, and their messages may appear on the ticker. The channel's countdown show, Daily Download, doesn't merely run through the most popular videos (although it does do that); it counts down the nation's most downloaded songs (thus the name).
Daily Download, hosted by Smith and Marianela Pereyra, is filmed live in the studio every weekday at five p.m., with celebrities dropping by to chat while teens sit on risers TRL-style. This afternoon, Jared Leto is here with his band 30 Seconds to Mars, a rock group he fronts when not acting in films like the upcoming Mark David Chapman biopic, Chapter 27. The band's appearance is interactive in the classic sense of that word - Leto pulls a kid out of the crowd to thank him for being at every show, and the band hugs and high-fives audience members. They even give everyone a ticket to their concert the following night.
"Wow," says one excited girl as the studio empties out. "I guess I'm not going home after school tomorrow either."