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MTV Fires Up ‘Siesta Key,’ ‘Catfish: Trolls’ for Summer Slate

MTV has set its summer slate of original series anchored by “Siesta Key,” an unscripted soap that the cabler hopes will be a worthy successor to “Jersey Shore” and “The Hills.”

“Siesta Key” follows a group of seven longtime friends in the Sarasota, Fla., area as they graduate from high school and through their reunion back home in the summer following freshman year in college.

This time around, the storytelling in “Key” aims to dive deeper into the emotional lives of the key players rather than the frothier approach of past MTV serials. “Key” and other shows on MTV’s summer slate are laser-focused on reflecting the way teens and twentysomethings live today. That means the cameras capture how much of those lives play out on social media.

“Throughout the series you’ll see that each character has their own complicated stories,” says Chris McCarthy, president of MTV, VH1 and Logo. “We’re looking at the emotional health and mental health of these people in a way we haven’t done in other series.”

“Siesta Key” begins its 10-episode run on July 31. Four other series rolling out between this week and September are even more focused on how social media and the prevalence of online communication tools have changed the behavior and world view of millennials and post-millennials compared to prior generations.

The new series launches come a little over six months after McCarthy and his programming team from VH1 and Logo took on oversight of MTV. One of Viacom’s flagship cablers, MTV has been in a long ratings slump. McCarthy and his team scrambled to assemble a slate of new shows that would bring teens and young adults back to the channel.

The themes of MTV’s new shows are still familiar — coming of age, first loves, first breakups, etc. — but the prism through which those experiences are filtered have changed dramatically in just a few years. “Catfish: Trolls” is an extension of MTV’s existing series that aims to look at the ramifications of cyber-bullying and harassment that has become an unfortunate rite of passage for so many youths.

“The digital component is what’s new but we’re still looking at the tried and true principles that young people face,” McCarthy tells Variety. “So much of it plays out in the social and digital world. Our shows need to reflect that.”

After a number of schedule changes and the launch of “Fear Factor” — which de-emphasized the gross-out component in favor of fear-conquering aspirational stories — viewership of MTV was essentially flat for the month of June in year-over-year comparisons. Given the channel’s recent trends, that counts as a small win.

Here’s a rundown of new shows joining “Siesta Key” on MTV’s summer slate:

“SAFEWORD”
July 13 at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT
A new comedy series, MTV’s “SafeWord” is where famous friends become famous frenemies, all for a laugh.  From the producers of “Lip Sync Battle” and hosted by Terrence J, the season will feature high profile talent like Kevin Hart, Damien Dante Wayans, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Marlon Wayans, Kelly Rowland, LaLa Anthony, Amber Rose, Ross Butler and Justin Prentice, Lil Rel Howery and more.  In each episode, celebrity guests will partner with comedians to play games in front a live audience. In a friendly roast, the celebs are tasked with taking the heat, but can stop the pain using a “safeword.” “SafeWord” is executive produced Jay Peterson and Jerry Carita for Matador.  James Sunderland serves as showrunner.  Terrence Jenkins serves as host and executive producer. The series is directed by Michael Simon.

“WIN BIG” (working title)
September 2017
As a pro-skater, television star, and serial entrepreneur, Rob Dyrdek, is a professional “dream-achiever” who carved his own path to fame and fortune by transforming his passions into reality. Now, Rob is teaming up with MTV for a new game show where $100,000 will be given away in every episode to help young people take life to the next level. “Win Big” (wt) is produced by Superjacket for MTV. Rob Dyrdek, Shane Nickerson and Blake Levin serve as executive producers for Superjacket.

“CATFISH: TROLLS”
September 2017
Radio host, television star and internet provocateur Charlamagne tha God, and co-host Raymond Braun, will give everything they’ve got to stop internet trolls, the most pervasive and consistent troublemakers online. Using the “Catfish” brand of investigating the truth, “Catfish: Trolls” unmasks the internet’s most vocal trolls to drag them out of hiding and into the light. “Catfish: Trolls” is produced by Critical Content.

“MTV UNDRESSED”
August 16 at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT
“MTV Undressed” is a one of a kind social experiment that strips away the distractions and superficiality of the digital world. In each episode of this dating experiment, MTV brings together two strangers who must undress each other before getting to know one another for the next thirty minutes, answering questions and performing simple challenges – all designed to test whether or not romance can blossom.  At the end, each partner must press a YES/NO button to decide if he or she wants to continue the fledgling relationship or say goodbye. “MTV Undressed” is produced by Bunim/Murray Productions (“The Real World” and “The Challenge”) and Kreative. Executive producers for Bunim/Murray are Gil Goldschein and Julie Pizzi and from Kreative, Joel Karlsberg.

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