Biz

Britney Spears found early fame in "Total" eclipse

MTV's "Total Request Live" is interactive hitmaking at a fever pitch. And as viewers call in, the stars come calling.

It's the Friday before the release of the Gulf War adventure Three Kings, and even though hunky costar Mark Wahlberg is standing in the flesh just steps away, the studio audience watching the daily MTV show Total Request Live seem about as interested in the actor as they are in their homework. Instead, as the program's host, Carson Daly, tosses to an interview clip of 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey talking about his group's hit ''I Do (Cherish You),'' the mostly female teenage crowd squeals uncontrollably at the monitors. Off camera, Daly rolls his eyes and echoes them mockingly: ''Oh! Ooohhhh! He's so hot!''

Where was this show when Wahlberg was Marky Mark?

Over the past year, Total Request Live — or TRL, as it's known among industryites and kids — has become the driving force in pop music. Elementary in format (Daly counts down the top 10 videos based on the previous day's Net and call-in requests), the show has both capitalized on and fueled the favorites of the mall (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, 'N Sync) and the mosh pit (Korn, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit) — many of whom TRL launched almost single-handedly. As Columbia Records video promotions senior VP Gary Fisher sums up: ''It's one of the most important vehicles right now for getting new music to the right people'' — those right people being the fickle yet disposable-income-laden 12- to 34-year-olds the show attracts in droves. Since its debut in September '98, TRL's ratings have more than doubled: Today, over one million fanatics tune in a day, a feat for any cable program, particularly one that airs at 3:30 in the afternoon.

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