John Norris: Material Man
In two decades at MTV News, Correspondent John Norris interviewed everyone from Tupac to Britney Spears, Janet to Elton, Senator John McCain to Vice President Al Gore.
He began as an intern, seized the anchor desk in 1992, and went on to quarterback MTV’s “Choose or Lose” election coverage and lead pro-social programming on drug use, gun violence, and sexual health.
So how, after climbing the ranks from intern to writer to on-air correspondent, did John know when he’d arrived?
The Material Girl.
“Madonna was sitting up in this little raised VIP area with some of her dancers,” he remembers of the icon’s 1990 “Truth or Dare” film premiere. “I’m standing down there in the crowd just hanging out and kind of trying to bleed into the scenery because I can’t even really believe I’m here. And she kind of yells at me, ‘“’We just want to say we really love you. And we love your clothes!'”
As a perennial figure on the red carpets at the MTV Video Music Awards, Movie Awards, and Grammy Awards, John’s live capabilities were legendary.
“I tend to over prepare for everything,” he says. “And I think part of my preparation comes from a fear of things going sideways.”
I never saw sideways. Instead, I watched in awe as he juggled crowded red carpets, next-guest uncertainty, on-the-fly program changes, and constant chatter in his IFB. That preparation paid off as John riffed on-camera for hours on what would be one of MTV News biggest moments: Michael Jackson’s 2005 criminal trial.
“On verdict day, we ended up having to vamp long before that verdict came down. And they didn’t want to go to music videos, because they were afraid that the verdict would come in the middle of a music video,” he remembers.
“They preferred me to just keep talking. And you could only talk about the charges and history of the case so much.”
How does he reflect on his 18-year run?
“It was a gigantic part of who I was for a huge part of my time,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
As a self-described “retrophobe” whose Twitter profile reads, “The world only spins forward,” I was thrilled to spend a few minutes looking back with a journalist that, as a teenager, I could never have dreamed to know, let alone work with.
Listen to my entire conversation with John on my limited-series podcast, “You Hear It First: An Unofficial & Unfiltered History of MTV News” on Apple (apple.co/3LNpe0C), Spotify (bit.ly/3TEsduX) or wherever you get your podcasts.