MTV: Music Television's new programming chief is
continuing to put his stamp on the network, giving the go-ahead for a slate of more than
20 pilots this year -- the most ambitious development roster in the channel's 16-year
MTV, looking to drive its ratings, has commissioned pilots
that reflect three goals: making music an integral part of long-form programming on the
network; pushing the envelope by experimenting with new artists and styles; and changing
and trying to revolutionize the way that music videos are presented on the channel.
'There has been a lot of talk of music versus
television on MTV,' said Brian Graden, who was promoted to the post of executive vice
president of programming in December. 'Going forward, everything that we do has to be
music as innovative television.'
Of course, Graden doesn't expect all of the pilots --
a multimillion-dollar effort -- to make it and become full-fledged series. He said
he'd be happy if one-half of them made it on-air, and he added that if two were hits,
'that would be a home run. We definitely have the appetite.'
The pilots that have music as a core element include The
Couch, a talk show where celebrities 'collide,' like the pairing of Martha
Stewart and Busta Rhymes at last year's MTV Video Music Awards. The pilot will
feature comedian/actor Andy Dick, among others.
Fanatic will give viewers the chance to interview their
dream celebrity, while Revue will be a one-person, intimate performance series that
shows artists reflecting on their careers.
'Maybe MTV is recognizing that in order to stay true
to the heritage of music television, they have to be consistent with the music theme, and
not dilute the brand,' said Ellen Oppenheim, senior vice president and media director
for Foote, Cone & Belding New York. 'Clearly, they want to regain the freshness
and limelight that they had when they first launched.'
As part of Graden's efforts to experiment with new
artists and formats, one of the pilots in the works is The Sifl and Olly Show, a
musical-variety program that features a pair of sock puppets brought to life by musician
Liam Lynch and Matt Crocco.
'This younger audience is good to experiment
with,' Oppenheim said.
A major thrust of Graden's programming strategy is to
present music videos in unusual ways. In the pilot Videosectomy, for example, a
group of 'expert' panelists will analyze the most popular videos with a comic
thrust. In Artist's Cut, viewers join musicians to get insights about the
making of their videos. And Six Degrees of MTV will mimic the party game, in that
viewers will connect musicians through personal and professional relationships and watch
as the relationships are visually tracked.
MTV's goal with videos is not necessarily to be
irreverent, like VH1's Pop-Up Video -- 'that's not our voice,'
Graden said -- but rather to approach them in a 'fun' manner.
MTV has also succeeded in closing development deals with
several well-known writers who were attracted by the MTV brand, Graden said. 'I was
amazed at the response I got,' he added.
D.U.M.B.O., a detective show, is coming from Steven de
Souza, writer of Die Hard and 48 Hours, while Diary of a Horny Young Man
will be done by writer Jordan Moffet of Barney Miller and Rhythm and Blues
In addition to the long list of new pilots this year, MTV
is launching a number of series, including MTV's Ultra Sound, a weekly
music-based documentary series. That show, from MTV News, kicks off Feb. 22 at 10 p.m.
with 'Back in the Day,' which chronicles the evolution of 1980s hip-hop through
the eyes of artists of that decade. That episode will be hosted by Run DMC. On March 1, Ultra
Sound will feature an exclusive interview with Madonna during the recording of her new
'I was part of the process to green-light the first
quarter,' Graden said. 'The first phase is reclaiming our voice.'