MTV dreaming of teens

Music net bolsters afternoons

Having made few primetime blunders over the past couple of years, MTV Networks entertainment prexy Brian Graden is ready to whip the music net’s afternoons into shape.

The 4-6 p.m. block came into strong competition for its teen following from Disney Channel and Cartoon Network last year despite the continued success of flagship countdown hour “TRL,” which airs at 5 p.m.

Now, after a year of testing potential strips for the block on air, Graden has finalized the batch of series that will keep the daypart chockfull of new programming — and, more importantly, repeat-free — throughout 2005.

New to the table is “Next,” a speed-dating show, which has been given a 30-episode commitment for the spring. Howard Schultz, Jacqui Pitman and Kallissa Miller exec produce.

Exec has also ordered up 50 more episodes of “Boiling Points” — the highest-rated show in the daypart’s history — and 40 more episodes each of “Room Raiders,” “Wanna Come In” and “High School Stories.” “Date my Mom,” which premiered Nov. 15, is still in its first cycle but will likely receive an additional order next year.

From Ben Silverman’s Reveille and Princess Prods., show sends a single guy on a date with three moms to figure out whose daughter he’d like to take on a dream date. Silverman, Henrietta Conrad, Sebastian Scott and Miller are exec producers.

Monster order will allow MTV to rotate a couple of series into the block every few weeks, keeping both the lineup and the episodes fresh all year long. Cabler had previously greenlit series for the block to last a few weeks and then repeat over the next few weeks.

“As opposed to the short two-to-three-week bursts we used to do, we’re deploying a long-term strategy that will keep new episodes of shows on the air five days a week all the time,” Graden said. Sked goes into effect next year.

Shows are already proven: They’ve already powered the afternoon block to the No. 1 spot in 12- to 17- and 12- to 24-year-olds year-to-date. Those numbers are up from the previous year, 41% in 12-17 and 25% in both 12-24 and 12-34.

Both Disney Channel and Cartoon Network had made strides with teens in 2003, posting double-digit increases from the previous year. And while Graden said MTV’s afternoon ratings don’t make or break the bank, he was concerned enough to explore new ways to bolster afternoons for auds.

“It’s more about continuing and strengthening our relationship with our viewers,” he said. “We want them to keep turning to us as an anchor. These days our audience is this group of super-savvy navigators who migrate from fresh show to fresh show,” rather than hunker down with one channel.

All of the series going forward except “High School Stories” is a variation on the traditional dating skein — inexpensive compared to MTV’s primetime fare but an afternoon staple since the days of “Singled Out” on through “Dismissed” and “Taildaters.”

Still, Graden said they’re produced with a “primetime patina,” and the orders rep a big commitment for the network, which prides itself on reinventing the wheel at every turn.

“We’re working toward consistency, which is sort of a departure for MTV,” he said. “Strips are the most elusive form of TV. Ones that work are hard to find because you’re asking the audience to make five appointments a week.”

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