[10/16/12 - 05:09 PM]
Interview: Head of MTV Programming David Janollari
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

In a television landscape that is currently bursting at the seams with the broadcast networks bringing new and returning shows to viewers as well as cable networks working hard to sway those viewers to their offerings, MTV finds itself at both an enthusiastic and interesting time. Ratings are strong for popular scripted series like "Teen Wolf" and "Awkward" and reality shows like "Teen Mom" but as final episodes of mega-hit "Jersey Shore" air the question inevitably arises, "What's next?"

Just as its latest scripted project, "Underemployed" launches tonight, our Jim Halterman felt it was time to check in with David Janollari, MTV's Head Of Programming, to talk about where MTV is at right now and what is coming in the future for the Viacom-owned network.

Jim Halterman: You seem to be at a really interesting time in MTV history. Do you feel like you're at a turning point or is that behind or ahead of us?

David Janollari: You know, I feel a little of both. I feel like we are in a great place, positioned so firmly with this young core audience right now. We've had some really great success over the last year or so. Certainly 'Jersey Shore' being a pinnacle of a juggernaut show that any network across the entire landscape would be thrilled and proud to have. And it's clearly a monumental farewell that we believe that the audience is really going to rally behind and be excited by. To the newer direction of some of the scripted shows, with 'Teen Wolf' and 'Awkward,' especially having really scored with our young core audience, to 'Snooki & JWoww,' the first kind of real big scoring spinoff of 'Jersey Shore.'

So, we feel like we're pulling for a lot of great growth. 'Teen Mom' continues to be an incredible performer with our core female audience. And we're excited to go into this quarter, as well as all of next year, with a lot of momentum and a lot of great hit shows, kind of solidifying our schedule. And then, around that momentum, excited to introduce the next wave of scripted and reality shows that we think will really connect with the audience.

JH: Let's talk first about one of those new shows, 'Underemployed,' which seems to be a twentysomething dramedy.

DJ: I'm really excited about it because the theme and the voice of the show are so a part of the zeitgeist right now, from the title to what the characters are going through. It's a unique show in the respect that it mixes both comedy and drama with, as I always kind of like to say, with an emotional sincerity at the core. It's both fun and funny and really emotional. And I think, for our core female audience especially, as this drama unfolds it feels like it is so relevant to their lives and so about what their living every moment of the day right now in this incredibly different world, challenged economy, world of technology and a much more sophisticated and advanced generation that we've seen ever. I think this is a fun ride for them to kind of, hopefully, identify it as their show.

JH: What would you call or what would say is an MTV show? When I look at everything you have now, there might be a through line but it's also a really wide spectrum of genre.

DJ: Yeah. I think the common through line is incredibly youth-centered programming. We are trying to reflect the lives of the core millennium generation, trying to connect with them by speaking their language and portraying characters and storylines that really feel resonant with them. That's the common thread throughout all of the programming across the entire channel. I think you've also got to add in a dose of attitude with that to everything we do. It has to have something kind of attitudinally bold, maybe a little irreverent, maybe a little louder, just a little bit different than the norm. I think that's what our audience has come to expect.

We were doing some marketing testing for 'Underemployed' and the focus group, which was very enthusiastic, kind of said, 'Oh, yeah. That's an MTV scripted show.' And I think they went on to elaborate, 'yeah, kind of clever, young, humorous and sarcastic,' I think was the phrase that they used. And what I was thrilled to hear was that there's an identity with the young core audience with not only all of MTV shows but the scripted kind of product in specific. But I also think you can't underestimate the sense of just good old-fashioned fun entertainment. And I think that people come to MTV to have a good time, to laugh. Comedy is currency today, with this millennium generation. And you cannot underestimate the value of a good laugh, especially in this more challenged day.

JH: Going off on that, do you think that's why people who are not considered the younger generation, like myself, watch 'Teen Wolf' and watch 'Awkward.' Is that something you planned or is that more of a happy accident, that you have some older viewers watching as well?

DJ: Well, what's interesting is I've heard that comment a lot, about a lot of our shows from parents of teenagers or parents of young people in their twenties. That they discover these shows, they don't necessarily seek them out of their own accord because they aren't necessarily targeted towards a demo outside of our core, young 18-24 real bull's-eye target. But when they start to watch the shows and they start to hear from their kids what they're watching and what they're excited about, they check it out and they're like, 'This is kind of fun. This is really good. 'Awkward's' a great show.' I love hearing that.

JH: MTV was one of the first networks that really stared utilizing the internet before others were and, of course, now everybody is on all these different platforms. Does that make it easier or harder for you to measure a show's success? The industry is still trying to figure out how do you accurately measure who's watching and where.

DJ: A great question. Look, the generation we're programming to and connecting with is a generation that has grown up with technology, grown up with the internet, grown up with multiple devices. These days multiple platforms with which they can view programming, any kind, anywhere, any way they want. We are the number one network in the industry in the social space. We are constantly evolving our presence there and using the internet and the social space not just as a marketing tool but as a research tool, as a connecting tool with the audience. I think we have to do that in order to stay relevant to our audience. We have to be as social network savvy as they are. And we think we're successful. We think we're really successful at it right now. And I'm looking forward to see how that kind of world and that space evolves in the near future.

JH: Tell me about some of the other shows coming up. I know 'Catfish' is coming soon but what else?

DJ: 'Catfish' is really exciting. Speaking of the internet and the world that our audience is literally living out there in the moment, of the internet dating world and just the connectivity that's coming through the social spaces, this show is going to go head-on into the challenges and the triumphs of that space of dating in today's technologically savvy world. 'The everlasting search for your true soul mate is real,' is what this show is really going to explore and expose. The movie is very much the prototype and it's just a really, really of-the-moment kind of connective and resonant scene with our young audience, especially with our young female audience.

JH: From having talked regularly with Jeff Davis (creator, 'Teen Wolf') and Lauren Iungerich (creator, 'Awkward'), I consistently hear is that you give your showrunners and creators a lot of freedom in using their creative voices. Do you think that's part of the key to your success, the fact that you haven't kept a tight rein on your creative people?

DJ: I think so. Absolutely. And I would say that that would go across the board with every genre that we put on the network. We're looking for vision and we're looking for voice, first and foremost. Jeff created an incredibly elaborate and complex and fun and fascinating reinvention of 'Teen Wolf' with the series. Lauren struck a chord from the minute that you read that first page of that pilot script. You were captivated by her voice and her central character, Jenna Hamilton. With 'Underemployed,' Craig Wright studied and trolled his son and his friends' lives to really see what was the inner-working of how people are living and talking and trying to survive in this world today in their early twenties. So, yes, voice and creative freedom are key for us. We would not survive without letting our producers and our creators really have an incredibly strong voice.

JH: I want to ask about 'The Inbetweeners.' I know it had some challenges with people who know the British version. How do you feel it's performing for you guys?

DJ: I like it a lot too. And we are incredibly proud of this adaptation. The media response and the critical praise has been overwhelming, which did not go unnoticed by us. And it's finding an audience [and] we're hopeful that the audience continues to find it. I think that all the feedback I've been hearing, as our audience has watched the show and connected with the characters and gone on the storyline, is overwhelming and positive. I'd love to say it's an incredibly crowded landscape out there and we are head-on right now against all of the fall network premieres. So, we recognize the challenges but believe in the quality of the show and the voice of the show.

JH: Where do you see the network in, say, a year from now? Do you see it changing into something different or where we're at now? What do you think?

DJ: Lots more hits. I mean, look, I think the mantra is we are looking to continue to be the entertainment destination of this millennium generation. We will continue to serve many different genres, from drama to comedy to reality to whatever else comes along. We'd like to continue to see this core young audience choose us and come to us and kind of continue to expect the unexpected from us.

"Underemployed" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on MTV.

  [october 2012]  

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