MTV Networks Group president Judy McGrath described in detail last week the strain, pressure and “demoralizing” repercussions that MTV: Music Television felt following the Janet Jackson Super Bowl nipple-bearing incident. The channel had produced the halftime event for CBS.
“It’s clearly a company built on creative risks, creative business thinking, and something like this makes you want to go into a cave,” McGrath said during a “Cable Leaders” panel at the Women in Cable & Telecommunications Forum here last week.
The whole controversy, McGrath told the audience, led to a lot of soul-searching at MTV and MTVN.
“One thing happens, and all of a sudden everything about you comes into question. A few weeks before, MTV was riding high,” with hits like Newlyweds doing well, according to McGrath.
But in the aftermath of Jackson’s breast being bared on national television, McGrath said that MTV’s staff was “embarrassed, demoralized, conflicted. … It was very tough. You have to have cultural values in a company and you can’t go against them in a moment of crisis.”
McGrath spoke about the “Nipplegate” incident when a question was raised about dealing with a bad day, a crisis situation.
McGrath described the Jackson incident as “three-quarters of a second on a broadcast television and 13 frames of video.” She said she was sitting in the stadium when the flashing took place, so didn’t see it on TV.
But once the exposure happened, she said, “My ever-present Blackberry kept going off.”
MTV’s staff “has slowly come back” from the effects of the incident, according to McGrath, who talked about the firestorm of debate it sparked. MTV has said it had no idea that Jackson planned to do the stunt.
“The days following, there were so many things that came to the surface … really profound conversations about a black woman and a white man, issues of race, issues of sort of integrity and belief … issues of one of the things MTV prides itself on is reading the room, understanding audiences,” McGrath said. “Did we in fact not read the room, did we not read the 90 million people correctly?”
Ultimately, McGrath said: “You have to be true to your audience and responsible to your industry. In the days and weeks [after], trying to be clear about sticking to what we intended to do this year — which was “Choose or Lose,” and launching a lot of new shows and not get completely distracted — we’d kind of take the temperature on the situation every day, every week, every month. We did a couple of knee-jerk things that I think we regretted.”