MTV VMAs Executive Producer Van Toffler Reveals What Didn't Go as Planned
Plus: How the boob made it to broadcast and why MTV has had to learn "to expect the unexpected."
Longtime MTV executive producer Van Toffler can breathe an extra-long sigh of relief this week, having not only wrapped the 2015 edition of the MTV Video Music Awards, but his last in 20-plus years as executive producer.
Toffler closed out his run with a bang, recruiting Miley Cyrus to host the Aug. 30 show and inviting Kanye West to the stage for music video's highest honor, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award.
Not all went as planned -- West, Toffler reveals, was expected to perform a medley; Cyrus' flashing moment was a surprise, as was her barb-trading with Nicki Minaj -- but in the end, it made for an entertaining spectacle. The 2015 VMAs were watched by 3 million fewer viewers than in 2014, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but some of that difference will be made up in later broadcasts and online views.
Speaking to Billboard less than 48 hours after the circus left town, Toffler reflects on his VMAs swan song -- the good, the bad and the gnarly.
Team Nicki or Team Miley?
Or, for that matter, Team Kanye? Oh, I can’t choose. Team Mayhem. Team Gee-I-Wish-We-Knew-What-Kanye-Was-Going-To-Do-But-We-Didn’t.
Were Nicki and Miley really mad or just playing?
I would say ... not playing. We had no idea what either of them was going to say, and we didn’t anticipate that. Clearly, from Miley’s reaction, it was genuine.
Did you expect Kanye to talk for so long when accepting the Video Vanguard Award?
We originally thought Kanye was going to do a medley. Then we thought he was going to not do music and talk. Then, about two acts into the show, we thought he would do a couple-song medley. This is after the show started. Then, about an act before, we found out that he might not do music and just speak -- but we had to be prepared for both, so we had a track cued up. We were in the truck and we heard this 10 minutes before he was to accept the award.
Is that the latest someone’s thrown you a mid-show change-up?
It’s never happened that way before. But I think part of the magic and the unpredictability of the VMAs is that probably no other producers in TV would go into a show not knowing what their biggest award winner was going to do. We decided to be open to whatever Kanye wanted because he’s given us so many moments -- unexpected ones. So we weren’t sure whether he would break into song or not. We had a track -- he would have rapped to his biggest hits.
The track was ready, the speech was ready, and he just went on?
I’m not sure the speech was ready! He didn’t rehearse. I saw him on the red carpet beforehand, but he didn’t tell me what direction he was going to go in. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Someone from his camp was with us in the truck and he was surprised too. Nobody knew what he was going to do -- or announce that he was going to run for president. We were all surprised. Even Taylor Swift.
You were involved in the infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, which MTV produced, where Janet Jackson had a "wardrobe malfunction" while performing with Justin Timberlake. Were you surprised that Miley Cyrus’ breast ended up on MTV as well?
I was -- let’s call it an executive producer of the halftime show, when we were surprised. And Miley was a surprise as well -- we had no intention at all of showing that on MTV. The bit was, we were doing a cutaway of her, getting ready to tease her final musical performance, and she was doing a wardrobe change but she didn’t have a mic. So she picked up the mic and the curtain fell -- it was a complete accident. Nor was Janet’s breast at the Super Bowl intentional -- we had no idea that she and Justin had worked out some finale with her wardrobe. I’m not sure if she intended that, either.
Why was one such a big deal and not the other?
The Super Bowl is the biggest event in television -- it’s family viewing. With Miley, she had done an Instagram naked the day before. People anticipate her nudity -- that’s her statement. She had surprised people in 2013 when she danced with the foam finger with Robin Thicke, so she had gotten her shock value already.
In terms of new talent does Miley Cyrus really have a pet pig named Pig Pig? And is there some kind of pig wrangler who makes sure the pig hits its marks?
Absolutely, its name is Pig Pig. She handled it. Miley’s great with animals.
A burning question: Who has better weed, Miley or Snoop Dogg?
I can only tell by the smell. They both smell really strong to me, so I’m going to say they’re on par.
There’s a rumor that this is the last VMAs. Is there any truth to that?
There is absolutely no truth to that. It is the last time I will produce the VMAs, but no truth to it being the last one.
A lot of stuff on the show got big traction on Twitter and other social media platforms -- be it the beef between Nicki and Miley, Kanye’s speech. Is that something you consciously try to maximize? Do you think about it?
We love when people talk about the event. Ever since Kanye walked up on the stage and interrupted Taylor we felt that social media was the telephone and we had to provide the conversation. We don’t plan the beats but we put those chaotic elements in the room together and then we kind of let go. We don’t produce things really tightly the way other awards shows might. They have a regimented format -- each year we try to change up the format and we try to put some unpredictable musicians in the room.
Musicians aren’t great listeners. We might say to Kanye, "Here’s how we want you to do the acceptance speech," and he would say, "Thank you very much -- I’m going to do what I’m going to do."
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.