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Class Clown

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As Walter Winchell might have said, MTV is becoming a place where they shoot too many reality programs and not enough marketing executives.

Although it is keeping conveniently quiet about the particulars, the cable channel is looking into launching a college-dedicated network that would pump entertainment programming and commercials directly into campus dorm rooms, lounges and cafeterias via university cable systems. Advertisers must be drooling at the thought.

No doubt MTV executives are. Their minds presumably boggle at the lucrative prospect of hooking advertisers up with such a young computer- and car-buying audience.

The Ivory Tower is hardly raising an eyebrow. University officials with dollar signs dancing in their muddled heads see MTV University—MTVU, for short—as something that can lure students to live on campus.

And it gets more nauseating than that. In its marketing report, MTV heralds MTVU as "another reason to cut class," according to a recent New York Times article. Other college-focused entertainment networks, like Burly Bear and Zilo, haven't gone that far.

The network claims it's just looking into the idea. "Nothing is confirmed at this point," says one representative. "We are always looking for new ways to reach our audience, which is the 18-24-year-olds. So it makes sense for us to look into the idea of doing a network for colleges."

So now the same channel that offers up cultural gems like The Real World, Celebrity Deathmatch and Flipped thinks it can deliver original college programming worthy of cutting class. Perhaps it can do a reality show documenting what happens when students miss enough classes to flunk. I'm not sure how entertaining that would be, though.

I teach journalism and writing courses at the college level. The last thing any college professor needs is another reason for students to cut class, unless it's for a good reason. Snagging an interview with Maryland Terrapins coach Gary Williams after he won the NCAA championship last week is the kind of thing that fits the bill. That experience could land a student a job someday. Cutting class to watch MTVU just prepares the student for being, in MTV lingo, a jackass.

Simply put, MTV's marketing gurus are misreading their audience. Colleges now offer remedial reading, math and writing courses because so many freshmen lack the basics they need to succeed. Consumers can't be hooked on certain products for life if they fail to earn enough to buy them.

Students may not buy into this scheme, either. They know when they're being hustled, and they're savvy enough to conclude that there is nothing in it for them.

Consider the opinion of one of my students. Kyle Bacon, a senior communications major at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., thinks MTV has lost the essence of what once made it so unique and popular. "It started out as a way to see a new medium for music," he says. "Now, it is a showcase for debauchery."

In the words of Walter Winchell, "Nothing recedes like success." MTV ought to know.