MTV tunes up with Graden

New programming prexy fueled ratings jump

NEW YORK — MTV has promoted Brian Graden to president of programming, citing his role in orchestrating the network’s eye-opening ratings growth over the last two years.

In an interview, Graden, 36, said that one of his first moves when he joined MTV as executive VP of programming in the summer of 1997 was to “create a showcase for music videos that would go beyond veejays’ introducing the next video,” as they had ever since MTV kicked off in 1981.

The showcase turned out to be “Total Request Live,” which has become MTV’s flagship series, running every afternoon for 90 minutes, with repeats later that evening. “Request” has helped MTV to increase its total-day Nielsen ratings by 20% in 1999 compared to the previous year, a bigger increase than any other cable network among the top 10.

Aching for attitude

“We also went after series with attitude,” Graden said, pointing to “Celebrity Deathmatch” and “The Tom Green Show” as consistently strong primetime performers. And the 8-year-old “Real World” is scoring its best ratings ever.

Graden is looking to schedule more scripted series as well, having carved out a successful latenight niche with the Roland Joffe-produced “Undressed.” A number of MTV-commissioned original movies are in the works, Graden said, and a new weekly scripted primetime series — still under wraps — will premiere this summer.

All of these original series have allowed MTV to cut back on the number of repeats it had to schedule in previous years, which Graden says were an audience turnoff.

TV-online guinea pigs

Since such a large percentage of MTV viewers are also PC users who regularly surf the Internet, often while they’re also watching TV, Van Toffler, general manager of MTV, says viewers can expect more series like the experimental “webRIOT,” which “is trying to stay ahead of the curve in which TV and online are slowly beginning to merge.”

Graden will work out of MTV’s offices in New York and Santa Monica, and report to Toffler and Judy McGrath, president of MTV.

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