In 2001, MTV aired a shockingly hilarious and raw episode of its celebrity home tour show Cribs. In the episode, rapper Redman is shown waking up on a mattress with no sheets before he shows the camera what he calls “exhibit A” — seemingly a pile of junk on the floor beneath a window that is covered with what look like broken, second-hand office blinds.
The rest of the segment follows suit: Redman wanders around his modest Staten Island townhouse showing of a tangle of video game cords, his cousin sleeping on the floor, and a kitchen that today you might find in a budget Airbnb. The entire space exists somewhere on the spectrum between lesser frat house and landing pad for a recent middle aged divorcé. Finally, the segment ends with one of the most entertaining moments in MTV history as Redman shows that while his doorbell lacks a button, it still works by rubbing two exposed wires together.
Redman himself has faded from the public consciousness today, but in the early 2000s he was a rising star. The segment is consequently a jarring but delightful case study in what made Cribs so successful: Before social media and online video, “real estate porn” (as this type of content has since been labeled) included some actual surprises.
The question now is if MTV can recapture that magic in a world that has radically evolved over the ensuing years.
This month, the youth-oriented network brought Cribs back, with the first new episode airing Aug. 11. In a statement on the relaunch, the company called the original show a “pop culture phenomenon that revolutionized the celebrity home tour genre,” and revealed that initial episodes would feature the homes of Olympian Ryan Lochte, comedian Kathy Griffin and homemaking guru Martha Stewart.
In a conversation with the Wall Street Journal, show creator and MTV executive Nina Diaz added that Cribs “was the blueprint for these real-estate shows and for celebreality, for the genre.” MTV is now betting there’s still demand for that product.
“People just crave [seeing] how others live, and how the other half lives,” Diaz added.
But capitalizing on that demand may be easier said than done.
Cribs first debuted in 2000, and the basic concept wasn’t revolutionary. MTV essentially updated Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous — which ran from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s — with faster cuts and cooler music, and ditched the British host.
In the vastly smaller media landscape of the early 2000s, the format struck a cord. Within a matter of five years, MTV had produced an incredible 13 seasons and featured the homes of nearly 200 celebrities. According to the Journal, the show peaked during its fourth season, in 2002, when episodes were racking up an average of 1.6 million views.
For the most part — the Redman segment notwithstanding — these episodes highlighted the opulent surroundings of stars such as Mariah Carey and Snoop Dogg. Actor Jason Schwartzman once had a memorable segment where he gave a tour of the Palace of Versailles in character as King Louis XVI.
Along with slightly later shows like Pimp My Ride, Cribs of the early 2000s captured an early millennial ethos — it was part of a transitional period for MTV from the days of music videos and Beavis and Butthead to wall-to-wall reality shows like My Super Sweet 16. And it came when MTV was still arguably the brightest star in the pantheon of American youth culture.
In the years since, though, everything has changed. YouTube launched in 2005, while Zillow launched in 2006. Together, those two sites alone made video and real estate content available to everyone, all the time. Later, in 2010, Instagram launched and officially kicked off the Age of the Influencers — many of whom explicitly focus on disciplines such as interior design and luxury lifestyles.
Even more recently, Tik Tok has become the landing place for real estate influencer content, to the point that a 2009 song from rapper Ludacris has reemerged on the platform thanks to a verse that wonders “what in the world is in that room/what you got in that room?” The song is often pared with video of someone scrolling on Zillow — the idea being that everyone is curious about everyone else’s house, and that thanks to the internet it’s now possible to sate that curiosity.
So what does that mean for the relaunch of Cribs?
For starters, it suggests that the show is competing in a media environment in which literally everyone is both a potential subject of Cribs-style content, as well as a producer of said content. Indeed, real estate gatherings are often dominated by conversations about how to produce video content, and big name agents are effectively media CEOs. Los Angeles super agent Aaron Kirman, for example, has more than 73,000 followers on Tik Tok. Montreal-based broker Tatiana Londono has nearly 2 million.
Which is to say, back in 2000 MTV could count its competitors on one hand. Today, the competition is nearly infinite.
MTV, of course, still has access to the rich and famous, but even there it faces stiff competition. In recent years Architectural Digest has been making hay of celebrity home tours on YouTube, and today the magazine has about 4.6 million subscribers to its channel. That’s about half of what MTV has, which is remarkable for a print publication that focuses exclusively on homes and real estate.
More notably still, Architectural Digest‘s home tours routinely rack up millions of views, and the videos are so popular they were the subject of a Saturday Night Live parody. (The parody was a send up of wealth, but hits quite a bit softer than the Redman episode of Cribs.)
On the other hand, not a single MTV YouTube video from the last month has cracked 200,000 views. The vast majority sputtered out in the low five figures. And when this reporter reached out to his generation Z sibling about MTV, the response suggested MTV has lost its privileged place in the minds of today’s youth.
Over the years, Cribs has experienced a number of different revivals, including a version on Snapchat that began in 2017.
But thanks to both rockstar content creators like Londono and Kirman, as well as big name competitors such as Architectural Digest, this latest version certainly faces an uphill battle for the hearts and minds of America’s luxury real estate junkies.
That’s probably not a bad thing — more content can’t hurt viewers — but it also raises questions about just what kind of real estate video can even exist today. Cribs was at its best when it harnessed the unexpected, swinging from a broken doorbell in Staten Island in one episode to a jokey tour of the literal Palace of Versailles in another.
Years after Redman’s home tour on Cribs, culture publication Thrillist caught up with both the rapper and the Cribs producers to find out if the bonkers episode was actually real. Turns out, it was.
“We didn’t case the joint,” Diaz recalled of the episode. “Each time people opened the door, and that was how they received us. It was a surprise, and [Redman] showed us around — there were dishes in the sink, pizza boxes everywhere, a piggy bank, his bedroom is a mess.”
It’s a refreshing anecdote from a bygone era. And it raises a question: Today, in an era of endless curation, can any joint not be cased?