For MTV, the situation was more than awkward.
In fall 2008, the network was bingeing on manufactured reality shows that celebrated wealth and excess just as the country was staggering into a recession. Banks were failing, people were losing their jobs and college students were facing uncertain futures. But on MTV, the glamorous clique from "The Hills" was indulging in West Hollywood shopping trips and getaways to Cabo San Lucas. And on "My Super Sweet 16," the parents of a South Carolina beauty queen spent tens of thousands of dollars to give her the perfect birthday party, complete with a baby-blue Hummer.
"We needed a total reinvention, a complete overhaul," Stephen Friedman, MTV's president, recalled. At the network since 1998, Friedman has steered many of MTV's social and political causes over the years. He assumed day-to-day management of the youth-oriented cable channel just as the economy was sinking, and cracks in the network's program strategy were becoming glaringly apparent.