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Video Music Awards awaits total reinvention

"New and Improved" is corporate cliche. If Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards are a success, perhaps "Complete and Total Reinvention" will become the new buzz packaging.

In recent years, what once was the most entertaining awards show on TV has become a victim of its own excess, failing to match such immortal moments as Britney tongue-kissing Madonna or Eminem assaulting an insulting puppet. To bounce back, MTV (which is owned by Viacom Inc.) upended its longtime format in a variety of ways, including moving the show to a Las Vegas hotel and moving some performers to "fantasy suites" where they will jam for their hand-picked entourages.

MTV President Christina Norman spoke with The Associated Press about recreating the anti-awards show.

AP: So why should people tune in this year?

Norman: To see the complete and total reinvention of the VMAs. Last year's show had all the great music stars, but didn't connect with the audience in the way they wanted it to. They wanted us to mix it up. If you think about when the show first started, no one did what we were doing. Now a lot of other people were able to adapt.

AP: Is it harder to create a compelling show when viewers can see these artists anytime they want on demand?

Norman: Live is what they love the most. They want to see what the band hasn't done everywhere else. These fantasy suites fit perfectly. You've seen these artists before, but never like this. If artists just want to come on stage and do their single, this is not the show for that.

AP: Last year you had live backstage feeds on your Web site. Why aren't you doing that again?

Norman: This year we're driving them online to have a different experience. The show is live that one night only. There are no reruns. If you don't watch it on Sept. 9, you won't see it. The repeats will be three different remixes. One is the artist commentary version, the second is an all-music version with tons of footage from the fantasy suites, and the last version is the audience viewers' choice. We want people to go to mtv.com, look at everything and rate the segments.

AP: How do you define success for this show? Just viewers, or something else?

Norman: Obviously we'd like having a huge audience watch and go online and interact with the show, and having great success for our partners (who offer video on demand and streaming to wireless customers). The show takes place in different forms everywhere. To have those touchpoints work with the audience determines the success for me.

AP: Why do you think last year's show was called dull?

Norman: I wouldn't say anything went wrong. It needed a complete and total change. That's the thing about MTV - music is always evolving and we should evolve with it. We didn't take the cues to evolve the show. Producing the same show now as you do in '99 is ridiculous.

AP: After all the incredible things that have happened on the show, can you be a success without that `eureka' moment?

Norman: It's great that people have fond memories, it gives us a lot to aspire to. It's a lot to live up to, but we are poised to deliver.

AP: It sounds like there's a lot of alcohol available for the talent this year, kind of like a Golden Globes setup.

Norman: We've always had a green room and hospitality. In Vegas we're doing tables for the audience as opposed to rows; that gives talent more reason to stay in their seats. There's no green room. They're sitting in the green room.

AP: This is year 24 of the VMAs. What do you think it will look like at year 50?

Norman: Maybe it'll take place on this planet; maybe it won't.