MTV is the axis of pop culture and Carson Daly is at the center of MTV.

Good-looking and personable, the 29-year-old has gone from the "guy who introduced videos" on MTV's wildly popular Total Request Live to creating a couple of syndicated radio programs and Last Call, NBC's nationally televised late-night talk show.

His romances and breakups appear regularly on Page Six, where a lot of ink was spilled on his split with his former fiancée, actress Tara Reid.

Now, almost a year later, Daly says he was devastated by the end of the affair.

"Everything in life goes in cycles," he told The New York Post from the gym where he was working on his boxing moves.

"I had a crazy year with my breakup. Now I'm solo, I'm focused and I love what I do for a living. I'm healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually. I've never been better."

A lot of this well-being he attributes to boxing, which he's been doing for the last three or four months.

"I come to the gym and let it all out," he says. "It's really good for me."

Isn't he afraid of a left hook to the kisser?

"No" he said. "There's no time for fear when you're trying not to get hit."

Post: The year's about to end. What's been the biggest story?

Daly: Without even blinking, it's Eminem. He's the biggest thing in all of entertainment.

Post: Why?

Daly: I have a neighbor in my apartment building, she's 67, who told me, "I just saw 8 Mile and I get it." She told me she thought it was just going to be a lot of bad words and this white guy who raps. She said, "I understand it's the story of struggle." Everybody who sees it, gets it. That's why 8 Mile cleared $100 million so fast. That's not just MTV watchers who saw it.

Post: What does Eminem do next?

Daly: Rest. Sleep. I think we'll be seeing him be a little more on the business side with his record company -- that's going to really blow up in 2003. He has this new rapper, 50 Cent, who is arguably the hottest new artist in music -- and he doesn't even have a record out until February.

Post: Is $18.99 too much for a CD?

Daly: You're asking the wrong person, but I think so. That's expensive, but kids buy two and three CDs at a time. Kids have credit cards nowadays. My allowance was $10 a week.

Post: Ever considered directing a video?

Daly: I would have to do it under an alias. It would be a conflict of interest, but I have helped a bunch of my friends by giving them suggestions.

Post: You've dated many celebrities. Is notoriety part of what you look for?

Daly: No. I've had bad luck dating women in the business. I'm looking for a normal girl. I'd prefer to be with someone who wakes up in the morning and heads off to a normal job and has normal views on life.

Post: What's a normal view?

Daly: That life isn't one giant green light. I don't really care for the morality of the entertainment business, but I'm smack dab in the middle of it.

Post: Have you found a normal girl yet?

Daly: I don't even look anymore. I get up, go to work, head to the gym, go to my other 10 jobs. What happens to me is out of my hands.

Post: So you're single and available. What's your plan for New Year's Eve?

Daly: We're throwing a pajama party at MTV where friends of the network come down and have some fun. It's the hottest ticket in New York, and we certainly have the best view of Times Square from the glass studio.

Post: That's not really a party. You're doing a TV show.

Daly: Maybe when we first did it, but over the last couple of years, it really has been a party. It has a good, genuine vibe, and we captured it on camera. This is the ultimate live TV.

Post: Your pajama party runs against Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Show. Many think of you as Clark's protégé. Is the competition a problem?

Daly: People make a connection between us. It's very flattering to me, and I'm sure it's annoying to him. But he's been an incredible mentor to me. He's taught me everything I know about the business.

Post: What has he taught you?

Daly: One thing is how to maintain longevity in your career, like he has.

Post: What did he say that's stuck with you?

Daly: Work. You have to have a good work ethic. You get younger people now who want to work a little and then retire. The best thing Dick Clark taught me is, don't be afraid to work. He said in the entertainment industry, the minute you slow down, there's going to be somebody on your heels who's more hungry than you.

Post: Ever think you're the one nipping at his heels?

Daly: I don't know about that. I've joked with him that since his logo is DCP (Dick Clark Productions) that when he's gone, I can flip the initials to CDP.

Post: Did he laugh?

Daly: I think he said, "Get away from me, you creepy kid." He has an empire. I'm not close. We'll see where I'm at in 25 years, if I'm still working; then maybe I was the wolf at his heels.

Post: Would you say you put in an 80-hour work week?

Daly: I don't count hours. What I do isn't really work. I'm not going to be like a celebrity who bitches about how hard their life is. This isn't manual labor -- I don't get up and dig ditches.

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