The cable music channel is pulling the plug on its regular slate of programming Wednesday, going dark for 17 hours as a way to combat hate crimes.
As part of its "Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination" campaign, the network will first broadcast the commercial-free premiere of Anatomy of a Hate Crime: The Matthew Shepard Murder, a docudrama about the vicious attack and murder of the gay student in 1998.
That will be followed by a special MTV News report, after which, Carson Daly and the rest of his veejay brethren will disappear, replaced by a continuous scroll listing the names of hate crime victims. It is the first time in the network's 20-year history that MTV will go dark--a move that will cost about $2 million in lost advertising revenue.
"Through MTV's unique connection to our audience, we want to provide young adults clear ways to identify and stop discrimination in themselves and in their communities," says Brian Graden, MTV's programming president.
"It wasn't even a debate internally," Graden adds. "We have to do this. It's our mission. It's what we do. We will make up the money somewhere else."
MTV did some soul searching recently for its part in launching the career of superstar rapper and controversy-magnet Eminem, whose violent, profane lyrics have been attacked from homosexual and women's rights groups. (Just last week Eminem received four Grammy nominations for an album that has been labeled homophobic and also depicts the killing of his wife and the rape of his mother.)
Graden acknowledges Eminem's immense popularity and says MTV wants to take advantage of its captive audience.
"Our primary purpose is to entertain. We do that," Graden tells the Hollywood Reporter. "[But] we began to feel in 2000 there was a particular shift happening and a lot of pop culture was beginning to cross the line in a way that was dangerous."
MTV recently surveyed young adults and the poll showed nearly 90 percent believe racial, sexual, and religious or gender discrimination are serious problems facing the country.
"A station blackout [is] really a profound statement that they understand what happened," says Cathy Renna, the spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "Hopefully we'll be seeing a lot more [similar activism]. We are obviously not going to ignore this and keep it on the front burner of people's minds. This is not simply about Eminem, this is a larger discussion."
MTV is partnering with such groups as the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Conference for Community and Justice for the program.
Viewers can log onto FightforYourRights.MTV.com for more information on the campaign and to lobby Congress and President Bush to act on hate crimes and other civil rights legislation.