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MTV, Joan Rivers Embrace New Era of Nice

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When MTV says that it’s focusing on making earnest, socially minded TV shows, something weird is going on in America. When Joan Rivers then follows MTV to say she’s making an uplifting, aspirational TV show, something really weird is going on in America. Or at least in TV land. (And, in Rivers’ case, on TV Land network.) 

MTV used its segment of the TV critics’ press tour to highlight two new shows. Gone Too Far is basically Intervention for twentysomethings: DJ AM, a superstar DJ and recovering crack addict, helps families stage interventions for their substance-addicted 18-to-25-year-old loved ones. In The Buried Life, a team of four fresh-scrubbed, bright-eyed young men go on a road trip to complete a bucket list of things they want to do before they die (even if, actuarially, they have 60-odd years left), while in each episode also helping someone else achieve a personal dream of theirs. 

The two shows may be different in tone, but MTV programming resident Tony DiSanto said they each reflected a zeitgeist shift among the channel’s fans: “Our audience has changed. Our audience changes every few years, and I think our audience is now much more socially aware.” The recent success of 16 and Pregnant is a sign to the network that “Milennials” are more interested in the outside world, in service, and in serious subjects.

One of the Buried Life stars credited Baby Boomer parents with raising Millennials with a sense of social responsibility. Well, maybe; it’s not like Millennials have become uninterested in The Hills, which is not going away from MTV. But maybe it’s up to Generation X, as usual, to keep carrying the banner of bitterness and cynicism alone. 

Following MTV, sister network TV Land brought Rivers out to talk about her new Mark Burnett-produced show, How’d You Get So Rich? In it, Rivers talks to nouveau riches of various stripes and gets them to spill about how they made their money. There seems to be plenty of Joan sarcasm, and her riffs for the assembled critics were typically pointed and blue. (“Our follow-up show is How’d You Get So F*cking Poor, and that’ll be hosted by the Madoffs,” she said.)

But there also seems to be an un-Riversian thread of earnestness and celebration to the show as well. Many of the examples focus on rags-to-riches stories of broke entrepreneurs who struck it rich with one good idea. “You can still do it on a dollar and a dream!” she says. 

Joan Rivers, positive? What is happening to people? Who will they get their hands on next? Somebody put a guard on Anthony Bourdain!

Fortunately, Joan can still be mean when it comes to some rich people. Talking about Jay Leno’s upcoming 10:00 p.m. show, she said it would be a great idea, because it would bore Americans and help them get to sleep earlier. “When was the last time you heard someone say, ‘Hey, did you hear what Leno said last night? Ha ha ha’ Never!” 

Rivers, of course, once tried a late-night show of her own, so maybe she’s biased. But I’m glad the Nice Patrol hasn’t completely converted her.