VH1 to launch original shows, toons

Music web adding pix to slate

NEW YORK — VH1 said it has 12 pilots in production as part of its original programming development slate, ranging from “The Johnny Rotten Show,” which features the Sex Pistols frontman mixing musicvideos and anarchy, to “Animal Tracks,” a cartoon that puts a literal interpretation on the music business being a jungle, with a snake as a record company president and a bat as the A&R guy.

In addition to series production, VH1 also has ambitions to produce original films, and has hired Michael Larkin as the network’s first VP of movie development. VH1 began looking at scripts months ago and the channel will announce five or six films in development at next month’s Television Critics Assn. Tour in Pasadena, Calif., said Jeff Gaspin, senior VP, programming and production, VH1.

Gaspin said the network is trying to develop new series to build on the success of VH1’s “Behind the Music,” “Pop-Up Video” and “Storytellers.”

“We’re aggressively trying to get new shows out there,” said Gaspin. “We all want the momentum to continue.”

Steady growth

Taking into account that cable networks can muster only a small fraction of the millions of viewers that tune in to broadcast network shows, VH1’s viewership has been growing over the past two years. In the advertiser friendly 18-49 demo, VH1 primetime audience grew 33% this May (186,000) compared to May 1997 (140,000), according to Nielsen Media Research.

“This year we beat last year,” said Gaspin. “But how do we beat this year? We need another hit.”

Of the series in development, Gaspin said that at this point in the development process he was most excited by “Viva Le Rock” and “VH1’s Rock & Roll Confidential.”

He described “Viva Le Rock” as a “Roger Moore’s ‘TV Nation’ for music.” The satirical newsmag features four investigative journalists who explore absurdities in the world of music. One of the show’s segments examined the multimillion-dollar business of merchandising rock star products. After finding a Janis Joplin Cabernet for sale, the show’s producers invented their own products, such as Celine Dijon mustard, Mick Jagger wax lips and a Hanson starter shaving kit.

“VH1’s Rock & Roll Confidential” is a weekly half-hour show that investigates rock’s mysteries, such as: Was John Len-non’s murder a political assassination? Were members of the Grateful Dead British Intelligence Operatives? and What really happens whey you play the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” backward?

With “The Johnny Rotten Show,” VH1 said it will put the first anti-VJ on TV in a latenight, weekly half-hour magazine in which Rotten promises “everything is possible except mediocrity.”

Toon boon

“The Agent,” is a half-hour animated show that follows the life and times of a music agent and his diverse and entertaining clientele. The show is being developed in conjunction with Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video.

“Animal Tracks” is another animated half-hour about survival of the fittest among the “animals” in the record business.

“Six Degrees … ” is a half-hour video show peppered with music and entertainment. Produced by the creators of the trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, each episode will begin with a celebrity, who, through the use of musicvideos, will be linked to the ubiquitous Bacon.

The pilot of “Couch Potato Video” is described as part sitcom and part humorous musicvideo commentary. The show re-volves around three different pairs of TV-watching “couch potatoes” in the same apartment building. Using musicvideos as the catalyst, their stories unfold.

“Random Play” will feature vintage music parodies intercut with current musicvideos to poke fun at the music world. The pilot includes the comic actors and writers Bryan Callen (“Mad TV”), Jim Caffigan (“Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist”) and Jeff Cross (“Pulp Comics”).

Each episode of “I Want to Be a Rock Star” features a nationwide talent search for a particular genre of musical talent. The final show will be a competition between all the previous winners, with the grand prize winner to have a video produced and aired on VH1.

VH1’s development slate also includes three shows whose pilots have already premiered on the network. “Rock of Ages” explores how musicvideos engender diverse opinions in people of different ages. “Video Time-Line” chronicles the lives and careers of a legendary artist through his or her musicvideos; the pilot focused on Rod Stewart.

Gaspin said that the network will greenlight four to five of the shows in development and announce which ones are going to series at the TCA. This batch of programs will join the VH1 schedule at the end of August. A second group of shows will be put into production with the goal of premiering around January.