Graden grows MTV garden

20-pilot slate is music-driven

NEW YORK — MTV has given the greenlight to a whopping 20 new pilots for the 1998 season, marking new programming czar Brian Graden’s maiden effort as the “biggest development investment” in the cabler’s 16-year history.

In the two months since he was named exec VP of programming, as part of MTV: Music Television’s end-of-the-year restructuring, Graden has been looking for ways to free the channel from its 0.5 ratings blues.

“I want this period in our history to be known as the time we really embarked on invention – it’s about an assault of new ideas,” Graden told Daily Variety.

Just what will stick from this multi-million dollar programming plethora remains to be seen, but Graden and MTV prexy Judy McGrath are banking on a mix of new and established talent as they continue to mouth their more-music mantra.

“Revolutionizing music videos” is one of Graden’s goals and several new pilots seek to do more than play the same-ol’, same-ol’. “Artist’s Cut” will have musicvids playing while a bandmember is simultaneously featured on the screen sharing insights on the making of the video, and “Videographies,” will have the feel of a “CD-ROM, exploring the artists’ histories and providing hard-to-find info.” “Videosectomy” will have “expert” panelists analyzing today’s most popular videos while dishing out doses of sarcasm.

In developing the new slate, MTV was keen on attracting some big names and allowing them to “try things they can’t do in normal life,” Graden said. Thus, viewers will be treated to such offerings as “Diary of a Horny Young Man” from “Barney Miller” writer Jordan Moffet, and “D.U.M.B.O” from writer Steven de Souza, of “Die Hard” and “48 Hours” fame.

Graden, who came to MTV by way of Foxlab and Comedy Central, where his best move was grabbing the creators of “South Park,” is also committed to finding “raw, underground talent.” He is hanging high hopes on “The Sifl and Olly Show,” a musical variety show featuring a pair of sock puppets, from British composer Liam Lynch and partner Matt Crocco.

From first-time filmmaker A.D. Miles will come “Ray,” a comedy about a guy who steps out of a 1950s educational film and is confronted with living in the 1990s. High-tech marionettes protecting the world provide the basis of a comic adventure series titled “Super Adventure Team.” “Youth In Revolt” promises to be the “world’s first summertime serial,” and is based on the cult novel by the same name.

MTV will also offer up a new talk show called “The Couch,” as well as “Six Degrees of MTV,” which will have viewers connecting musicians through personal and professional relationships. Hip-hop and mini rock opera shows will also see the light of day in coming weeks.

Two shows that industry observers expect will do well are “Fanatic,” a series offering viewers the chance to interview their dream celebrity, from producer Ed Connolly, and “Revue,” from Palomar Pictures, a one-man show, intimate performance series featuring artists reflecting on their careers (the pilot will feature LL Cool J.).

“The constant in all this change is the focus on music,” Graden said.

What effect the changes will have has yet to be seen, but a ratings comparison showed flat numbers, with the cabler’s 1997 total day average at 0.5 and 304,000 households – nearly the same as its 1996 performance, as well as that of January 1998.

Still, though fourth-quarter earnings have not yet been reported, MTV did see an 18% increase in third-quarter earnings to $175.1 million over a year ago, making it a powerhouse earner for parent company Viacom.

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