VH1 Seeks Gains From New Series, Specials

11/10/2002 7:00 PM Eastern

VH1 last week announced a number of new music-and-entertainment series and specials set to launch during first-quarter 2003 — shows it hopes will help set a new tone for the struggling service.

Merging music and pop culture, the network's new programming lineup will feature documentary and story-based shows not typically identified with VH1, said president of entertainment Brian Graden.

Though the network announced four new series, Graden said the service is on track to debut as many as 15 new shows and specials within the upcoming year.

In one of its biggest moves, the network will ditch its annual fall My VH1 Awards
show and replace it with a new version that celebrates the pop culture events of the year. The VH1 Big in 2002 Awards
will package the year's best in music, movies, TV and personalities.

Graden said the network decided to scuttle the My VH1 Awards
because it wasn't a consistent ratings winner, and because its initial calling card — interactive voting — doesn't have the cachet it did several years ago.

"The [VH1 Big in 2002 Awards] show endeavors to showcase the collective cultural moments that really defined our year," he said. "We're more likely to celebrate Jennifer Aniston's [giving] birth on Friends, the rescue of the coal miners or the Enron [Corp.] scandal then we are a best actress."

VH1 general manager Christine Norman said the network has not decided whether to bring back its annual VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, which has brought plenty of press attention but not yielded high ratings.

Broadening its reach

VH1 has OK'd the following series: Inside/Out, which chronicles the personal or professional crossroads that artists have to deal with; Roc Med, which follows volunteer health professionals working at major concerts in the Bay Area; Mock Rock, which allows local bands to perform with major rock stars; and VH1's Ambushed, in which unsuspecting musicians are chosen to play with popular bands.

The network will also debut a music special, 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Artists of All Time, counting down the greatest hip-hop artists and songs.

"We do believe that nostalgia and storytelling is an equity that VH1 has had, so while we're leading with music, we have license to explore television and movie nostalgia — the last year to 15 years," said Graden.

The news shows are part of an effort to broaden the network's programming reach.

"These are all great news shows that will help take the network to the next level," Norman said. "It's all about embracing a broader area of pop culture and movies that have meant something to our audience."

Graden would not reveal specific costs for the new programming lineup, but said that financial resources "have not been an issue."

Given the network's aggressive programming plans, Graden said the network is evolving rapidly after struggling to find its identity. A rising star in the late 1990s, VH1's ratings have fallen over the past year.

During the third quarter, the network experienced a 7 percent increase in the delivery of its target adult 18-to-49 audience, but household ratings remained flat, according to Nielsen. In October, the network's househould average declinded 20 percent to a 0.4 rating from the year-earlier period.

Along with the new series and specials, the network will remain "selective" in developing weeklong programming stunts, like its recent salute to Paramount Pictures Corp.'s 90th anniversary and shows featuring music from classic TV efforts, which placed atypical fare like The Godfather
and Gilligan's Island
on the music network.

"Our feeling is adding a library of non-music movies is probably not the right programming strategy," Graden said. "However, there are some that are totally iconic and a really defining piece of pop culture.

"We've made exceptions for those type of movies, on the condition that we place it in the right context and explore what the role of that movie was in pop culture."

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