You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Chris McCarthy on Reinventing MTV, Moving From ‘Buy to Build Mentality’

As goes MTV, so goes Viacom. For the industry, there is no stronger measure of the health of Viacom than the state of MTV.

Chris McCarthy, a 15-year Viacom veteran, has been leading the effort to revive the brand since October 2016, when he added oversight of MTV to his portfolio that already included VH1 and Logo. His appointment came just as Bob Bakish was elevated to acting CEO of Viacom.

The pressure was on from the moment McCarthy got the job. Bakish figured the entire company had about nine months to show demonstrable growth to Wall Street. MTV was crucial to the rehabilitation of Viacom’s corporate image.

McCarthy’s first order of business was to bring some lightness back to MTV, which had been pursuing edgier scripted programming and grittier topics in its unscripted fare (one project that was in development at the time McCarthy took over was dubbed “Knocked Up and Locked Up”).

The watchword under McCarthy’s regime became “fun.” The other focus was on embracing the importance of youth culture and the coming-of-age experiences of millennials and post-millennials. McCarthy also put a big emphasis on the MTV programming team digging into development of concepts and sought-after talent and relying less on pitches from outside producers.

“The first thing we did was switch our entire mentality from ‘buy to build,’ ” McCarthy said. “I was lucky enought to grow up at MTV when we had some of the best content creators and culture-makers under our roof. We didn’t buy, we built.”

MTV has seen slow but steady ratings improvement for more than a year. New unscripted programs have put the spotlight on breezy and beachy fare, starting with “Siesta Key” and “Floribama Shore.” In April, McCarthy’s mission turned a corner with the strong return of “Jersey Shore Family Vacation.”

McCarthy and his programming team — which also took on oversight of cabler CMT in October — are leading the charge in Viacom’s strategy of mining its library of IP for new content. In October, MTV surprised the industry by unveiling a revival of “The Real World” that will air next year, not on MTV but on Facebook Watch, in an effort to connect the show with a generation of viewers that wasn’t born when the series first became a sensation in 1992. 

McCarthy and his boss share a level of infectious optimism about Viacom and its prospects for moving away from being a company that operates cable channels to a portfolio of brands that have potential in a host of businesses and platforms. McCarthy and Bakish also share similar backgrounds — both were trained as engineers who went on to earn MBAs.

For engineers, McCarthy notes, the focus is always on the elements of a solution rather than the size of the problem. Bakish has led the problem-solving brigade that he assembled with a get-it-done spirit.

“You have to respect the engineer in Bob. He always says ‘Walk me through it, tell me the ‘why’ and then let’s figure out how to do it,” McCarthy said.

Read VarietyBob Bakish cover story here

More TV

  • Robert Mueller Report

    TV News Scrambles Schedules in Wake of Mueller Report

    The “Mueller Report” has prompted a bevy of new reports from the nation’s big TV-news outlets. CBS News plotted a Monday primetime special to cover the disclosure of a summary of the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that had examined Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election and probed whether President Donald [...]

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Bette Midler, Judith Light Join Netflix's

    Bette Midler and Judith Light Join Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician' on Netflix

    Bette Midler and Judith Light will guest star on “The Politician,” the first series Ryan Murphy will launch on Netflix after he inked a deal with the streamer last year. Murphy made the announcement at the end of Saturday’s PaleyFest panel for his FX series “Pose,” and noted that Midler and Light will both appear [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Indya MooreFX's

    Patti LuPone Joins FX's 'Pose' as Season 2 Jumps to 1990

    “Pose” co-creator Ryan Murphy revealed that Broadway legend Patti LuPone will guest star on the upcoming second season of the FX drama, and that the series will jump ahead to 1990. Murphy made the announcement while moderating the “Pose” panel at PaleyFest on Saturday, telling lead actress MJ Rodriguez that she will share many scenes [...]

  • The Good Doctor

    Series Mania: Freddie Highmore Talks ‘The Good Doctor,’ Arsenal, Norman Bates

    LILLE, France —  God, Freddie Highmore’s good at crying. There’s a scene in “Neverland,” screened at his Series Mania masterclass, where he’s acting opposite Johnny Depp. His mother has just died. Highmore sits on a park bench, clutching a notebook, which she helped as tears well in his eyes, and he tries to keep in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content