After more than 20 years at the cabler, DiSanto and longtime lieutenant Liz Gateley are teaming to form a production shingle dubbed DiGa.
With DiSanto exiting, it’s believed that David Janollari, who joined MTV in January, will step in as MTV’s new programming topper, but no deal has been made yet (and it’s unclear what his title may be or whether he’ll assume all of DiSanto’s old duties).
DiGa — the first two letters of both producers’ last names — has set up shop at Ben Silverman’s Electus production entity.
MTV Networks Music/Film/Logo Group prexy Van Toffler told Daily Variety that planning for DiSanto’s turn to producing has been ongoing for a year.
“The plan was always to build a great team around Tony, and we knew, and expected, all along that his real strength was as a producer of programs,” Toffler said.
Toffler declined to comment on who may replace DiSanto but said an official announcement would come within the next few weeks.
DiSanto and Gateley leave MTV in a blaze of glory: Thanks to the success of Snooki, the Situation and company at “Jersey Shore,” as well as other entries like “Teen Mom,” MTV’s ratings are up — and the youth-oriented cabler, always subject to the whims of its fickle aud, is once again a pop culture force.
DiGa will focus on producing reality and scripted series for primetime cable and network outlets and also plans to enter the feature film and digital domains.
Under the deal, Electus will hold on to exclusive distribution rights for all content created by DiGa. Electus will also work with DiGa on bringing marketing and advertising partners to the duo, and Electus Distribution will handle DiGa programming internationally.
DiSanto and Gateley aren’t severing ties with MTV. They’ll remain at the cabler through the end of the year to tie up loose ends and assist with the transition. The duo are also now expected to serve as exec producers on four upcoming series, including the new scripted shows “Teen Wolf” and “Skins.”
DiGa has also secured a commitment from MTV to produce two more scripted projects. DiSanto and Gateley will also serve as consultants for the channel.
As for Janollari, the move to assume much of DiSanto’s job would make sense, as the exec took a bit of a title cut — to exec VP of scripted development — when he first joined MTV. It’s believed that MTV topper Van Toffler has been specifically grooming Janollari to take over once DiSanto exited to pursue his producing ambitions.
Janollari has both production and executive chops, having served as WB Entertainment prexy and a Warner Bros. TV exec, as well as a producer (“Six Feet Under”) with Bob Greenblatt at their now-defunct Greenblatt/Janollari Studio label. Since hopping to MTV in January, Janollari has moved quickly to ramp up MTV’s scripted output.
As for DiSanto, rumors of his exit have swirled for some time, and he was believed to have been pursued by several entities. At different periods of time, he’s been chatted up for broadcast network gigs; at one point he was rumored for a job at the CW, but he ultimately wanted to try his hand at being an independent producer.
“He’s a producer at heart,” said one insider. “It’s good for him and good for MTV.”
Exec is known for bringing the groove back to MTV. Most recently, when “Jersey Shore” launched, the show opened to mountains of criticism and so-so ratings. But DiSanto stood by the show, and it soon blossomed into a cultural phenomenon.
DiSanto first joined MTV in 1989 as an intern. He worked his way up through production, eventually co-creating “Total Request Live” with Bob Kusbit and overseeing production for MTV’s Times Square studio, music specials and series, special events and video programming. He later headed up MTV’s East Coast development and programming for MTV2.
DiSanto was named president of programming in 2007 and given the challenge of reinventing the MTV brand.
Gateley first joined MTV in 2003 as VP of production and development. She joined the cabler from Lifetime, where she was a development exec on shows such as “Strong Medicine” and “The Division.”
(Tom Lowry in New York contributed to this report.)