Net ready to launch new series, need to make decision on others

As MTV’s programming toppers David Janollari and Chris Linn stood onstage during the network’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. tour Friday, it was clear that change is in the air.

While reality shows continue to make up the majority of original programming at the Viacom cabler, scripted fare is beginning to generate more heat than imaginable only a few years ago. Shows such as “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” still outperform series such as “Awkward” and “Teen Wolf,” but the genre-shifting at the network is noticeable.

“I think the balance will be dictated by the quality of the shows,” Janollari told Variety about the network’s evolving sensibilities and how he sees the ratio of scripted vs. reality in the next few years. “There is no quota. We’re going to look for the best shows that speaks to this (12-34 year-old) generation.”

The high school dramedy”Awkward,” which averages about 1.8 million viewers a week, just received a healthy third-season order for 20 episodes — nearly double those for the first two seasons — and “Teen Wolf” also recently received a big season-three order.

Up next: British import “The Inbetweeners,” set for an Aug. 20 debut, and “Underemployed,” from “Dirty Sexy Money” creator Craig Wright, which arrives Oct. 16.

If either of those shows connects, other reality-flavored nets will continue to take notice. Both E! and Bravo have scripted fare in development, and OWN is open to the idea as well.

Of course, not all of MTV’s scripted programming has worked. “Skins” and “I Just Want My Pants Back” were each pulled after one season.

“Skins” received a PR shellacking when several advertisers bowed out after they felt the content was too sexually explicit for a teen audience. “Pants,” from exec producer Doug Liman, opened to a healthy 5.1 million last year after a sneak preview following the popular Video Music Awards but then lost ratings steam after its official February premiere.

MTV, whose target aud remains the 12-34 crowd, feels its best shows are steeped in real-life scenarios for that age group, but a 30-year-old’s tolerance for sexually suggestive scenes is very different from a 14-year-old’s.

“‘Pants’ probably went up to that line but didn’t cross it,” said Janollari, defending the content some had questioned as too risque. “We always say we don’t want to be edgy for edgy’s sake and don’t want to be controversial for controversy’s sake. We want to be authentic.”

Scripted fare, of course, means higher production costs, and Janollari says Viacom is willing to pony up. Though MTV’s scripted production budget remains relatively small, the 20-plus episode orders mean a “larger financial commitment” from the cabler’s parent company, Janollari said.

“Viacom’s No. 1 mantra every time they talk to us is ‘Content is the lifeblood and content is where we’ll spend. Programming is everything.’ That’s the great news,” he said.

As for “Jersey Shore,” which will return for its sixth season on Oct. 4, its future remains up in the air. The show became a national obsession after it launched in 2009 and still remains the net’s top-rated program. Last season each episode drew a healthy 5.8 million viewers (live plus same day), but that’s down substantially from its heyday.

As to how much longer the Situation and Co. might continue, Janollari, the net’s head of programming, said the franchise’s staying power should not be underestimated.

Spinoffs “Snooki & Jwoww” and “The Pauly D Project” both opened below expectations, however. Despite that lower turnout, “Snooki” was just renewed for season two. Show is averaging 2 million viewers and 1.4 million in the 12-34 demo. The fate of “Pauly D” remains unclear, and a renewal would seem unlikely. Series drew 1.4 million viewers per episode and 1.1 million in the demo.

As for whether “Pauly D” will get a second season, Janollari said, “He’s a giant star to us, and we’re having conversations.”

There’s little doubt about the future of the “Teen Mom” franchise, though. Reality staple has been a big winner for net and should be a longtime player.

In looking at new reality fare, MTV is bringing theatrical docu “Catfish: The TV Show” to the smallscreen, set for a Nov. 12 premiere. Like the film, series will examine online relationships and the surprises they bring.

“From the network’s standpoint, it’s important to us that this is not a gotcha show,” said Linn, exec VP of programming and head of production. “It’s a very relatable issue, and it happens far more than, I think, anyone understands.”

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