Writing MTV’s New Script

1/26/2010 2:00 AM Eastern

 MTV’s programming shift toward scripted content will give the network more ammunition to stop declining ratings and draw more viewers from its target demographic of young adults, according to newly named executive vice president of scripted development David Janollari.

The network, which experienced a 10% drop in total primetime viewers in 2009 compared to the year prior, will launch two scripted shows in June and has two additional pilots in development, Janollari told Multichannel News during the recent Television Critics Association press tour here.

The former president of entertainment at The WB said MTV’s fast ratings start in 2010, through strong performances from such reality series as Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, will help pave the way for its scripted fare.

“Last year was challenging with regards to ratings, but there’s a circulation of eyeballs on the channel now in really big numbers that can only gives us true momentum going into the first half of the year when we start launching our new shows,” he said.

Janollari believes that the network’s upcoming scripted shows — including Warren the Ape, a fictional reality show that chronicles the life of a down-and-out celebrity puppet who gets a second chance at fame — and The Hard Times of RJ Berger, a comedy series about an unpopular teenager who becomes infamous after accidentally dropping his pants and exposing his anatomical gift during a school assembly, will appeal to the network’s target audience of adults ages 12 to 34.

Other scripted pilots in development are Teen Wolf, a series remake of the 1980s movie starring Michael J. Fox, and Skins, adapted from the BBC America drama series of the same name about a group of teenage kids.

“MTV has always been a pioneer in its ability to offer young people programming that really speaks their language and speaks to the essence of their very of-the-moment contemporary lives,” Janollari said. “The question we all keep asking ourselves is: 'What’s the next thing the audience is going to connect with that feels relevant and resonates with their lives?’ From a scripted point of view, I’m eager to dive in and hear who the new voices are and put young adult voices on the screen in a very vibrant and authentic way.”

Janollari said the network will have to “train” MTV viewers weaned mostly on reality shows like Real World and 16 And Pregnant to watch scripted fare in big numbers, but he believes the young adult audience will gravitate to quality programming.

“Our audiences are movie-goers that also watch everything from Glee to The CW, so there’s no reason why they won’t accept scripted programming on MTV,” he said. “Qualitatively it has to be executed different and a bit more relevant to the audiences, but I think once they get that idea and finally see the shows, I really believe that they’re going to love them.”

Janollari, who developed Supernatural and Beauty and the Geek while at The WB, said he welcomes the move to a cable network from more restrictive broadcast TV, but the distinction is becoming less relevant — at least to viewers.

“I think that this young audience is really interested in quality programming wherever it comes from, and these days, there are more channels and services that are offering programming geared toward this audience,” he said. “They don’t care whether you’re cable or network. All they want is relatable programming that speaks to them.”