Pranks, pop & ‘Posse’ pump MTV reality slate

Singer Simpson, comic Green to topline shows

NEW YORK — Unscripted series were the order of the day as MTV unveiled its slate of greenlit and in-development programming for the coming year, leading off with an “I Love Lucy”-style series starring pop singer Jessica Simpson and a talkshow for comedian Tom Green.

Net is making a big wager on the reality genre, following its recent success with unscripted fare like “The Osbournes” and “Jackass.” MTV logged its highest ratings ever in the first quarter of this year, landing five of the top 10 basic cable series for the quarter.

Programming prexy Brian Graden says the emphasis on reality shows does reflect certain realities in the marketplace, but he added that the network isn’t interested in the kind of brinkmanship that the reality genre has spurred among the broadcast nets.

“Of course these shows have done extremely well,” he told Daily Variety. “But we’ve been moving away from the really gimmicky stuff — we reached a decision to tack back in the other direction. You come to a point where you can’t outdo your competitors in terms of insanity.”

MTV said it has greenlit two new series this year. The as-yet-untitled Jessica Simpson project, set to bow in August, will be exec produced by R. Greg Johnston. It follows Simpson and new husband Nick Lachey in their first year of marriage, as she records her new album.

The second will revive the left-field comic Green (who toplined bizarre comedy series “The Tom Green Show”) as a latenight talkshow host. Show, which premieres June 16 at midnight, will feature Green grilling guests in his trademark offbeat style.

Nostalgic celebs

Among those receiving the go-ahead for a pilot are “When I Was 17,” which profiles celebs waxing nostalgic about pivotal events in their teenage years. Exec produced by Dave Sirulnick, the series will feature such music luminaries as Eve, Pharrell from the Neptunes and Sum 41’s Deryck.

The MTV News project “High School Stories: Scandals, Pranks and Controversies” will investigate high-school pranks, scandals and “sports mishaps.” Pilot, bowing April 16, focuses on a prank in a Florida school involving the release of 80,000 bees on campus.

Spinning off from “Jackass” is an untitled project from erstwhile cast member Bam Margera that will chronicle the masochistic star’s daily life, set to bow in August. And “The Scene” follows a group of young people following their dreams and trying to gain fame in the same local music scene.

‘Roommates’ matches

Another reality skein on deck is the Tony DiSanto/Lisi Harrison exec produced gameshow “Roommates,” in which a contestant pours through the contents of three different bedrooms in an apartment in an attempt to determine which of the inhabitants would be his/her perfect match.

And “Posse” will focus on the entourages of pop megastars, following a different set of celebrity hangers-on each week to get a slice of life in “the inner sanctum of fame.” Swift River Prods is producing the project.

Development slate for the year includes a behind-the-scenes docu/reality show, set for July, following Orange County pop-punk trio Blink 182 as they make their new album. Also on deck is “Girl Makes Band,” in which a cadre of teenage girls act as A&R execs to create a new pop act.

Cheerleadering contest

Paula Abdul, the ex-Laker girl-turned-pop act-turned-“American Idol” judge, returns to exec produce and star in a reality project that will chronicle a cheerleading contest pitting top college cheerleaders against one another.

Former ‘N Sync choreographer Wade Robson gets his own contest show as well, in which dancers compete for fame and fortune. And in “Homewrecker,” a group of roommates will plot to force one another out of a group house; the last one remaining gets to keep the house. And finally, “Lifeguard” will follow the lives of several young lifeguards in a “Baywatch”-style reality skein.

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