Cable network plans scripted dramas, comedies

MTV is venturing deeper into scripted territory.

According to MTV programming prexy Tony DiSanto, the youth-oriented cabler plans to produce as many as eight drama and comedy pilots in 2010. Between two and four of those series will make it to air.

To oversee MTV’s rapid expansion into that arena, the channel has brought on former WB Entertainment prexy David Janollari to serve as exec VP of scripted development. Announcement wasn’t a surprise: Janollari had been in talks for more than a month about joining the cabler; an agreement had been more or less reached before the holidays.

But now that it’s official, MTV confirmed Wednesday that Janollari will be charged with overseeing the development of comedies and dramas, as well as longforms that will double as backdoor pilots. He’ll report to DiSanto, who aggressively pursued the exec.

We wanted to find someone with tremendous experience in this arena,” he said.

Hire is a further sign that MTV, which has spent much of the last 20 years focusing on unscripted fare, wants to expand beyond its heavy diet of staples like “The Real World” and “The Hills.”

MTV has had a lot of starts and stops with scripted series,” DiSanto said. “But we really wanted to push the ball over the finish line and really plant a stake in the ground with scripted.”

MTV has run live-action scripted series going back to 1994′s “Dead at 21″ (and animation even before that), and later ran the soap strip “Undressed” and the comedy parody “2Gether.” After a scripted drought, the network more recently took a stab with “Kaya” and now has several new projects in the works or about to hit the air.

MTV has already ordered 12 episodes of “Hard Times,” which follows the exploits of a teen whose life suddenly improves when schoolmates discover that he’s well-endowed; and “Warren the Ape,” a puppet-based comedy.

MTV also has already greenlit several scripted pilots, such as a new take on “Teen Wolf.”

DiSanto said he and Janollari have already been kicking around several new ideas — everything from single-camera comedies to horror-themed series and a new take on the daily soap opera.

The beauty of MTV is we have a lot of creative freedom here,” DiSanto said. “We’ll be casting a wide net. The most important thing is to make a loud statement to the community that we’re open for business, and that scripted is a big priority.”

To that end, DiSanto said MTV will likely scout out writing talent for potential first-look or overall deals.

I’m going to let (Janollari) dive in and see what’s going on, what kind of ideas appeal to him,” DiSanto said. “He’ll have the leeway to set things up the way he wants.”

Janollari joins a programming team that also includes Liz Gateley, Chris Linn, Brent Haynes, Dave Sirulnick and Steve Tseckares.

With Janollari’s hire, DiSanto noted that each exec has a clearly defined area. While Janollari focuses on new scripted sitcoms and dramas, Gateley will focus on MTV’s bread-and-butter series (mostly nonscripted) in the vein of “16 and Pregnant” and “The Hills.” Haynes handles more alternative comedy and animated fare; Sirulnick heads up news and docs; and Tseckares focuses on day-and-date live programming and specials.

Janollari and former partner Bob Greenblatt (entertainment prexy at Showtime) were behind “Six Feet Under,” “The Hughleys,” “American Family” and the longform “Elvis.” Janollari’s resume also includes a lengthy stint at Warner Bros. TV, where he developed series such as “Friends” and “The Drew Carey Show.”

“I grew up with MTV and have always admired the power of the brand,” Janollari said. “I’m excited to help lead them into the scripted series world at a time when young audiences want entertainment that speaks to their generation.”

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