Pics aim to boost cabler's scripted presence

With premiere dates for “Worst Prom Ever” and “The Truth Below” two months apart, MTV believes it has found a rhythm for its original movies that will pay dividends across the network.

MTV isn’t abandoning unscripted series anytime soon, not with “Jersey Shore” delivering a best-ever 7.6 million viewers in its season-three finale Thursday. With TV’s No. 1 series among young viewers for the year, Snooki and friends are delivering a massive aud to the net.

A reunion special is on tap for this Thursday, and “Jersey Shore” will return to MTV for a fourth go-round later this year with a season shot in Italy.

However, the ever-evolving cabler is still seeking to establish itself as a go-to channel for scripted programming.

According to exec veep of programming and production head Chris Linn, MTV’s growing pipeline of homegrown pics — with at least one newbie per quarter — can aid the cause by persuading millennials with different tastes to tune in. Though the initial audience numbers obviously haven’t been Situation-like, Linn is encouraged.

“There’s an education process that happens with our audience in terms of acclimating,” Linn said. “(Film) allows us to try out new genres that maybe aren’t reflected on our air. … It also allows us to work with emerging talent.”

“Worst Prom Ever,” a comedy starring Daryl Sabara, Haley Ramm and Chloe Bridges, will premiere May 10, while “The Truth Below,” an avalanche-induced thriller featuring Gillian Zinser, Reid Ewing, Ricky Mabe and Nick Thurston, bows July 3. Of note, the films are airing on a Tuesday and a Sunday, respectively, rather than being lumped on Fridays as MTV’s original pics often have been. That allows MTV to align the films with target audiences based on the nights they tune in for the channel’s series.

Linn said that the idea for “Worst Prom Ever” came from a conversation he had with go-to exec producer Maggie Malina, during a “My Super Psycho” shoot, about “how horrible our prom experiences were,” while “Truth Below” came from a spec script that “felt handcrafted for the MTV audience.”

MTV launched its current original film foray in October 2009 with “My Super Psycho Sweet 16,” which drew a 0.8 rating in the target 12-34 demo. (For perspective, the season finale for “Jersey Shore,” TV’s No. 1 show in 12-34, had a 7.3.) “Psycho Sweet 16″ spawned a sequel that aired a year later and delivered the same demo number, and a script is in progress for a third.

The potential of creating a franchise is definitely attractive to MTV, which also adapted long-running reality series “Made” into an original film that aired last August and pulled a 1.1 in 12-34. Similarly, the films have the potential to serve as backdoor pilots for future series.

“Our strategy is essentially to build on current franchises that are working on air or be inspired by genres and issues that are resonating with our audience,” Linn said, “as well as connecting them to iconic rites of passage: prom, Valentine’s Day, spring break. That way the movies have a real reason for being.”

The process continues this fall with an original film based on the true story of a teenager who was egged on during a live webcast to commit suicide. The project is part of MTV’s ongoing “A Thin Line” campaign against cyberbullying.

Other projects in development include a musical adaptation of “Faust” with Trey Songz, in the vein of 2001’s “Carmen: A Hip Hopera” that aired on MTV with Beyonce and Mekhi Phifer.

The end result is that, combined with some notoriety for such series as “The Hard Times of R.J. Berger” (whose second-season premiere Thursday drew a 3.2 rating in 12-34 and 3.1 million viewers overall) and “Skins,” the notion of MTV as a home for scripted programming is less and less a foreign one.

“From a promotional standpoint, we can link (the films) to other promotional pushes,” Linn said. “These movies become another asset that our ad sales team can use when selling packages and offering product to sponsors.”

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