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by Tonya Pendleton (Daily News Staff Writer )

New York
-- The same group of teen-age girls -- Ivory-scrubbed faces, baggy pants, Airwalk sneakers -- is back again. They saunter casually through the shiny new Times Square lobby of MTV Studios, heading for the studio entrance. But their earnestness gives them away.

They appoint a ringleader, a tall blonde who does all the talking. The security guard has seen them coming, schooling his features into impassivity. "Are they shooting outside today?" the blonde asks him.

The security guard doesn't know.

"Can we come in?"

Behind the security desk is a single black door. Behind it, "MTV Live" is ready to begin.

The answer is no.

"Well, can you turn your head while we go in?"

The answer is still no, but clearly "MTV Live" has become a phenomenon. From his chair on the set of "MTV Live," host Carson Daly can look out on the street where crowds of adoring music fans gather each evening, anticipating his 6 p.m. show.

The group can be minimal or huge, depending on who's scheduled to be interviewed. Hundreds of Marilyn Manson fans crowded the street when he appeared, as did frenzied Hanson and Backstreet Boys' groupies.

At 5:59, Daly gets his final dusting of powder and makes sure an enormous mug of cola is nearby. If he's nervous, it doesn't show. Dressed in a blue-and-black bowling shirt, black pants, his low-level pompadour moussed in place, he's ready to go.

"MTV Live" is on the air. Today, he talks to K-Ci and JoJo, who perform their song "All My Life." Then Busta Rhymes' video "Fired Up" is premiered, and Busta himself calls in. Al Franken drops by to promote "Lateline," his new NBC sitcom. Daly fields callers, poses the question of the day, provides intros to Kurt Loder's news report, a sports feature and MTV's spring break coverage. All in an hour.

"The most common thing any guest who's ever been on the show has said to me -- Bill Murray said it to me, and Pierce Brosnan said it -- is 'I don't know how you do this,' " the 25-year-old Daly said. "And it's weird coming from a big actor. It's so natural to me. Its live, there's no room for mistakes, but it's not like I'm acting . . . I'm just doing. It's real, and that's what I appreciate about the show the most."

A Santa Monica, Calif., native, Daly's background as a radio DJ has served him well. He was working at K-Rock, the Los Angeles rock powerhouse, when he auditioned for MTV. After a stint on "Motel California," he landed the "MTV Live" gig.

The show was born during MTV's revamp of programming late last year. They dumped sexy but vapid VJs Simon Rex and Idalis DeLeon in favor of music-savvy jocks like Matt Pinfield. They also decided to take advantage of their midtown location by designing a studio that faced onto the street a la "The Today Show."

While this is MTV's first attempt at a live show, it's getting a great response from viewers.

"People like MTV because they want it to be unpredictable," says Bob Kusbit, executive producer of "MTV Live." "The beauty of having Times Square is we can go out and get people involved in our programming." Recent examples: Blues Traveler's John Popper played harmonica on Broadway. Drew Carey set up a karaoke stage on the street. When Aerosmith appeared on the show, "MTV Live" followed them across the street to their autograph signing at the Virgin Music Store.

Daly has learned to expect the unexpected. When an "MTV Live" caller expresses the politically incorrect opinion that Leonardo DiCaprio is a "queer," Daly says, "Maybe we need to do a show on homophobia," and moves on without missing a beat.

During breaks, he confers with his producers and goes over his cue cards. While interviewing Franken, a clip rolls too early, and the unflappable Daly says, "Hey, stop that clip." After taping more than 100 shows, the frenetic pace doesn't phase him.

"The whole thing just happens for an hour. I just kind of lead the way," Daly said.

Copyright The Philly Daily News

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