On Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. local time, for a 17-minute stretch sandwiched between two episodes of Catfish: The TV Show, MTV will suspend its programming. So, too, will Viacom’s other networks, including Comedy Central and BET, which will switch to coverage of the National Student Walkout over gun violence.
Instead of their regularly scheduled broadcasts, the networks will be covering the news: Students across the country are participating in the protest, with each 60-second stretch a tribute to one of the victims killed on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Over 2,800 schools and groups are expected to participate, many of whom have the blessings of their school districts, the walkout’s organizers told Reuters. (This protest is brought to you by Empower, the youth branch of the Women’s March.)
During the walkout, MTV will hand the controls of its social media accounts over to students.
Viacom will also be using its channels to promote the March For Our Lives, the large-scale rally that’s expected to attract hundreds of thousands of students and supporters to the nation’s capital on March 24. MTV and Comedy Central’s logos will turn orange for the ten days leading up to the march. BET is offering grants to “youth activists with innovative ideas about addressing gun violence and mental health issues.” Comedy Central’s satirical news shows, led by The Daily Show host Trevor Noah and Jordan Klepper of The Opposition, will keep covering “the growing anti-gun violence movement in the country.” Even Nickelodeon, Viacom’s channel for children, will recognize the march during the Kids’ Choice Awards, which airs the night of the march.
Perhaps most surprising is the promise from CMT (Country Music Television), which Viacom says will “work with the country music industry on its efforts to support gun safety.”
After a mass shooting at a country festival in Las Vegas left 58 people dead and hundreds injured — among the deadliest slaughters by firearm in modern American history — the country music community remained skittish as ever about gun violence, largely unwilling to take a more aggressive stance beyond sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. Because the only thing more dangerous than an AR-15 is the ever-looming threat of getting Dixie Chicked.
Artists’ cozy relationships with the NRA, formalized through NRA Country, a branch of the NRA “that endeavors to strengthen the gun lobby through partnerships with the country music industry,” came under renewed scrutiny. “Featured artists” at the time included Lee Brice, Gretchen Wilson, and bro-country outfit Florida Georgia Line, though after Vegas, Florida Georgia Line insisted “they had no ongoing partnership with the organization.” (Similar “I don’t know her”-style denials came from Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, followed by the swift erasure of their names from the NRA Country website.)
At the CMA Awards just weeks after the shooting, reporters were initially forbidden by the Country Music Association from even asking questions about “the Las Vegas tragedy, gun rights, political affiliations or topics of the like.” Amid backlash from journalists and musicians alike, the CMAs eventually reversed course.
As for what Viacom is calling “a pause to remember victims,” Marva Smalls, Viacom’s Executive Vice President of Global Inclusion, said, “We believe it’s critical to support the inspiring efforts of our youth, who are literally fighting for their lives. Viacom also has a responsibility to our audiences to do everything we can to elevate the many brave and bold activists to help them extend the reach and impact of their voices in this important movement.”