The countdown clock will come to an end Sunday for MTV's flagship series "Total Request Live," and fans of the show are struggling to say goodbye.
Damien Fahey, the longtime host of the pop culture barometer, said: "It's the end of an era for a lot of fans. A lot grew up on 'TRL' and never thought they'd see the day where it ended. It was an American institution for kids. Seeing that go away and fade out is pretty shocking to them, I'm sure."
While old fans may be stunned, after a decade-long run, the former must-see for Generation Y teenagers (and must-appear for artists) has been wilting for awhile. At its peak in 1999, "TRL" averaged 761,000 viewers a day, with 360,000 of them ages 12 to 17, according to Nielsen Media Research. So far this year, the show -- now seen at 3:30 p.m. ET -- averages 322,000 viewers a day, Nielsen said. The 12- to-17-year-old audience is only 79,000.
The end of "TRL" also illustrates the Viacom network's struggle to find a place for videos on MTV as viewers increasingly have migrated to the Internet to feed their cravings.
"It's kind of upsetting," said Annie Whitaker, 19, of Silver Spring, Md., who has been a fan of the show since its inception. "It's like for 10 years, it was a big thing to sit around the TV waiting for a video premiere from your favorite artist. Now, how will we know when there is a new video out?"
With reality shows like "The Hills" and "Paris Hilton's My New BFF" filling up most of the network's programming schedule, "TRL's" weekday afternoon hourlong time slot remained one of the few opportunities for record labels to promote music acts and one of the last outlets for MTV viewers to see music videos by their favorite artists.
"It was kind of the epicenter of pop culture," said Stephen Seebaran, a 25-year-old fan of the show from Tampa, Fla. "It's where artists had to go if they wanted to become somebody. Without 'TRL,' acts like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and the Jonas Brothers wouldn't be where they are today."
Launched in 1998 and originally hosted by Carson Daly -- who left the show in 2002 to host his own late-night show on NBC -- the program aired the 10 most popular videos as voted by viewers online or by phone.
Whitaker recalled the moment the MTV show entered her pop-culture diet. The then 9-year-old was at a friend's house, oblivious to the phenomenon that was taking place just clicks away on the remote.
"My friend's older sister came in the room and said, 'Move, I'm going to watch 'TRL,' " Whitaker said. "Once she changed the channel, my life was changed. I was hooked. I voted like crazy."
The interactive, participatory nature of the show made it stand out long before the "American Idols" of the TV world hit the airwaves so it's no wonder the fans so integral to the show's success are sad to see it go.
"Fans felt a sense of investment with the outcome of each show," said Jason Mittell, associate professor of media culture at Middlebury College in Vermont. "They felt a sense of validation through seeing the success of a video they voted for."
"It kind of predates the whole social networking thing," Seebaran said. "People could participate in this communal thing. It was the camera pointing the other direction: to the viewer. It was empowering."
Fans weren't initially part of the studio setting, with Daly introducing music videos in front of a few cameramen in a dimly lit studio. It wasn't until 1999 that a studio audience was added. Those not blessed with a coveted wristband to go inside, patiently waited behind barricades outside the Times Square studio, holding signs such as "I'm BSB's #1 fan" or "Eminem ROCKS!!!" -- rain or shine. Those in the crowd did just about anything -- cry, dance, wear costumes -- to be selected by a host to come up to the studio.
If ratings weren't enough proof of the show's initial success, the hordes of people standing outside the studio waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite artist through a thin-sheet of glass were another indicator. So much so, that police briefly shut down Times Square for separate appearances by 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys.
"The 'N Sync-Backstreet Boys battle between the fans was always intense," Fahey said in a telephone interview. "It was like the Sunnis and the Shiites . . . but a lot more peaceful. They voted and waited to see where the Backstreet video or the 'N Sync video landed on the countdown. If they weren't satisfied with the outcome, they went back to their computer and voted, hoping the next day would be different."
And some fans even became "TRL" celebrities. Like Tiffany, the angry Backstreet Boys fan who notoriously fought with Daly on the air after losing a game to an 'N Sync fan.
But the intensity waned.
Seebaran, like many his age, watched the program less frequently as his schedule called for more time at work or school and less time viewing his generation's "American Bandstand."
"I graduated high school, got a job and kind of lost touch," Seebaran said. "Things kind of picked up in my own life. I suddenly didn't have time to tune in."
But he's managed to fit the two-hour finale celebration into his Sunday schedule.
And some of the biggest names in pop music are expected to appear for the final telecast, including performances by Beyonce, Ludacris, 50 Cent and Backstreet Boys. Also scheduled to reminisce are "TRL" staples Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Fred Durst, Mariah Carey and Kid Rock. Hosts from throughout the show's history will also appear on the finale.
"It's had 10 years -- that's a long life span, especially for an MTV show," Seebaran said. "It's like 40 in MTV years. What kind of fan would I be if I didn't tune-in to say my goodbye?"