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MTV Plans Follow Script

9/21/2009 2:00 PM Eastern

MTV will look to complement The Hills and its other reality-series fare with a number of scripted series and movies slated to debut on the channel over the next year.

The network hopes to allot about 15% of its overall programming lineup to scripted shows in an effort to better diversify its programming offerings for its 12-to-34-year-old target demo, according to MTV president of programming Tony DiSanto.

“In reality, I think it’s a move toward more creative diversity — that’s what people expect from MTV and that’s what we really want to deliver to our viewers,” he said. “I think that rather than coming from a default position of just reality, we want to be able to offer up a variety to our viewers — reality formats, scripted, animation and even movies.”

While scripted content isn’t new for MTV, the genre has been pushed to the back burner in recent years as the network forged ahead with an aggressive slate of reality fare including The Hills, Made and 16 and Pregnant.

But with so much reality programming on cable, DiSanto feels the network needs to move into other programming areas to keep its audience engaged and tuning in.

“Pure reality isn’t an ownable space anymore — we owned it for a while, but so many people are doing it now,” he said. “When you flip to MTV, you come to see something different and feel like you’re getting a different offering or a flip on the genre or a different kind of feel. To be 100% reality, you can’t really stand out anymore.”

Among the scripted series being developed for the channel is a comedy skein dubbed Warren the Ape, which is set within a fictional reality show and chronicles the trials and tribulations of a down-and-out celebrity puppet who gets a second chance at fame. Also on the docket is Hard Times, a half-hour comedy series chronicling the life of an unpopular teenager.

“There are probably a handful of scripted dramas aimed at the youth audience [and] then there are comedies, so that hole in the marketplace gives us an opportunity,” DiSanto said. “We didn’t approach it that way — our approach was to get some scripted content to complement the reality shows, and it turned out that a lot of the ideas that attracted us were the comedies.”

The network will also delve into the dramatic arena with the 2010 debut of Patito Feo, a series that DiSanto describes as a “teen Ugly Betty soap opera.”

In terms of animation, DiSanto said the network will launch Popzilla, a daily sketch show based on topical pop culture, later this year. In the first quarter of 2010, it will bow The Awesomes, a show written by Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers and produced by SNL creator Lorne Michaels.

On the movie front, DiSanto plans to air an original made-for-TV film each quarter, starting in October with My Super Psycho Sweet Sixteen, which centers on a sweet-16 party plagued by murders.

“We’ve already established Fridays as a movie night with acquired films and then the idea of slipping in originals maybe once a quarter,” he said.

MTV’s scheduling strategy isn’t lost on the head honchos at MTV-owner Viacom. At last week’s Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said that the company began narrowing the ratings shortfall during the summer with its MTV Movie Awards in June — ratings for that program were up 17% over the previous year. “Every couple of weeks, there will either be a series premiere, an event, something that builds on that momentum,” he said.

Last week’s ratings momentum-building event, MTV Music Video Awards, drew 8.97 million viewers, up 6% from 8.43 million a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research live-plus-same-day data. The Sept. 13 performance was the VMA’s best since 2004, said network officials.

The CEO added that MTV will move The Hills to Tuesday, followed by The City, a returning show that the channel hopes will retain much of The Hills audience. A male-oriented programming block that had aired on Sunday will be moved to Thursday.

MTV also will acquire some programming — Fridays will feature movies — and has scripted comedies, live action and animated programming in the works.

“We have a very robust development slate, many more genres giving us more opportunities for hits in different areas, all keeping within the sensibility of our new brand image, targeting Millennials,” Dauman said.

September