EXCLUSIVE: I hear that MTV’s president of programming Tony DiSanto and his top lieutenant, SVP series development Liz Gateley, will be leaving the network to form a production company that will focus on film as well as scripted and unscripted television. I hear Ben Silverman’s Electus, backed by Barry Diller’s IAC, will own a stake in the new company which has already lined up a number of commitments, including some from MTV. Meanwhile, former WB entertainment president David Janollari, who joined MTV in January as EVP scripted development, will most likely be elevated to a top programming position at the channel. Janollari, who may not inherit DiSanto’s president of programming title, would probably oversee series but not specials, news and events. I hear Janollari has been offered the job and has until tomorrow to accept, which he is expected to do. DiSanto and Gateley are expected to stay through the end of the year to help with the transition.
DiSanto, who started out as a producer and director after graduating from NYU Film School in 1991, had been looking to return to producing and reportedly told his bosses of his intention to launch a production company with Gateley back in January. They were asked to stay and stabilize the channel, which then was just coming out of a rough patch as its viewership was undergoing generational transition. DiSanto, whose contact was up in June, agreed, and he and Gateley focused on building a team that would carry on when they were gone. The key hire was that of Janollari in January. While Janollari concentrated his efforts on growing MTV’s scripted slate, he got exposure to the network’s reality business over the past 9 months, which would help him in the new job. (He also developed several unscripted series while at the WB.) And recently, well-known reality producer Shannon Fitzgerald was hired as VP series development, East Coast. Also factoring into DiSanto and Gateley’s decision to stay on was their desire to see through some of the projects they put in development such as scripted shows The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Teen Wolf and Skins. I hear DiSanto and Gateley were pursued by several companies but picked Electus because of Silverman’s great salesmanship across all platforms, so they can focus on the creative and leave the rest to him. (Additionally, DiSanto and Silverman are personal friends.)
DiSanto spent his entire career at MTV. He interned there and then freelanced as a director of music videos before taking a staff position in the mid-1990s. He and Gateley created 2 of the most important series in MTV’s history. Shortly after Gateley started at MTV in 2003, she pitched Laguna Beach, a reality series inspired by her childhood growing up in Palos Verdes, CA. And in 1998, DiSanto co-created Total Request Live. The two are leaving MTV in great shape, with ratings soaring 30% on the strength of several strong franchises, including mega-hit Jersey Shore.