TCA: MTV discusses its scripted strategy and goes dark with ‘Teen Wolf’

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In 1981, MTV launched with the music video “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by The Buggles. Russell Mulcahy helmed the clip (as well as other signature MTV videos such as – coincidentally — Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf”).

In 2010, MTV is launching its most aggressive slate of scripted fare ever, including an updated adaptation of “Teen Wolf” – helmed by the very same Mulcahy.

MTV has changed quite a bit. And so has Mulcahy.

“My golden age of music videos was the 80s,” the director told critics at MTV’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. “It was my film school. I was starting to make films while making videos. It’s a great training ground for filmmakers – it always has been.”

This being an MTV session, and this being a group of critics who still bemoan MTV’s evolution from music to Snooki, Mulcahy was asked about the channel’s move away from videos. (MTV still plays music in early, early morning and on its digital channels.)

But Mulcahy gave MTV credit for evolving away from the pure video format.

“The balance of the economy and how you get your music across has changed,” he said. “There are so many different channels now.”

“Teen Wolf” exec producer Jeff Davis said the show – a much darker take on the light-hearted 1980s Michael J. Fox movie – is “funny when it wants to be and scary when it wants to be.”

Davis said he’s glad to be on cable, as MTV has already asked him to play up the werewolf storylines.

“We’ve been told to go for it,” he said. “If this were a network, we’d be told to focus on the relationships. Network sci-fi shows are constantly told to do less sci-fi and more soap.”

Davis had the cast of this “Teen Wolf” watch the original 1985 movie, as well as the Internet parody “Summer of Tears.”

“I recognize (the original’s) datedness, but I think we’re playing good homage to it,” he said.

Fans of the 1980s original will also notice another big difference: While the original focused on Teen Wolf’s prowess on the basketball court, this time, the action centers on lacrosse.

“It’s an extraordinarily violent and action-packed sport,” Mulcahy said.

“Teen Wolf,” along with the domestic adaptation of UK hit “Skins,” comes as MTV continues to dive into the scripted game. Cabler recently picked up a second season of “The Hard Times of R.J. Berger,” and recent MTV hire David Janollari said the cabler hopes to shoot six to eight pilots a year – with an eye toward half of those projects making it to air.

“I wouldn’t have come to MTV if I didn’t believe there was huge upside in bringing scripted to the channel,” he said.

MTV has projects currently in development from Craig Wright, Jack Black and Will Ferrell/Adam McKay. Channel has several pilots in production right now, and will start looking at another wave of pilot greenlights shortly.

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