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MTV’s Live 8 mea culpa

Cable net will air perfs from U2, Jay-Z, Pink Floyd

Admitting — more or less — that its coverage of last Saturday’s Live 8 concerts was subpar, MTV is asking for a “do over.”

This Saturday, July 9, MTV and sib VH1 will each air five commercial-free hours of selected performances from “Live 8: A Concert to Make Poverty History.”

VH1 will air footage from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., MTV from 3 to 8 p.m. The channels will both air some of the same performances, including U2, Coldplay, Paul McCartney and the reunion of Pink Floyd.

But the nets will divide other performances by audience interest: MTV will air, among others, the Killers, Kanye West, Green Day and Linkin Park with Jay-Z, while VH1 will include Sting, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5 and Rob Thomas.

MTV also plans to air a half-hour news special, “Live 8: Next Steps,” on Friday at 9 p.m. and again on Saturday, following the concert recap, at 8.

MTV has been widely criticized this week for its weak coverage of the historic event. The network, which came of age in 1985 with its telecast of the original “Live Aid” event, was upstaged by AOL’s online coverage of the Live 8 global concerts.

“At MTV and VH1, we’re in a constant and candid dialogue with our audience,” said MTV Networks Music Group prexy Van Toffler. “In the wake of our coverage last Saturday, our viewers have resoundingly told us online they want to see full performances from their favorite artists. As a result of viewer demand and thanks to the Live 8 organizers and performers, MTV and VH1 will air 10 consecutive hours from one of the most important musical events of our time.”

The MTV/VH1  “Live 8” coverage was in some ways symbolic of the direction both cablers have taken in recent years: more talk, less music.

Most of the time, net chose to air partial footage from performances, joining in the middle of a song or cutting away midway through a number. Only a handful of artists — including Madonna and Pink Floyd — appeared for more than one song, but even then, the restless MTV producers couldn’t keep their hands away from the controls.

Pink Floyd’s finale of “Comfortably Numb,” for example, was interrupted before it ended, resulting in viewers missing out on the chance to see the band members’ poignant final bow. (The clip showed up in a roundup later in the night).

U.S. viewers could be forgiven for not knowing concerts were being staged in more than a half-dozen countries. MTV’s coverage focused almost exclusively on Philadelphia and London, with concerts in Italy and Canada showing up only in a two-minute recap at the end of the day.

Equally puzzling was what MTV did choose to air. Will Smith got a heavy dose of airtime, even though he’s mainly known for his acting these days. By contrast, Coldplay’s rousing collaboration with Richard Ashcroft on “Bittersweet Symphony” barely existed in MTV’s version of the concert.

Net also opted on many occasions to show pre-taped bits about the problem of poverty, including scenes from an upcoming VH1 documentary, rather than the actual performances or live celeb testimonials. Cabler said such segs were mandatory, according to published reports.

Most MTV commercial breaks began with a well-intended anti-poverty PSA; VH1 opted against the PSAs to squeeze in more promos for “The Surreal Life.”

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