VH1, which had been on a ratings upswing over the past couple of years, had significantly more viewership than MTV in 2016. But as part of the turnaround plan revealed today by Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, MTV, which has stronger global recognition, was selected as one of the company’s six flagship cable networks that will be getting the most attention and support, while VH1, along with Logo, fell in the other category of “reinforcing” brands.
Bakish also signaled a strategy shift at MTV of reducing the volume of scripted programming, which he said “didn’t work,” and returning focus to reality, music and live shows, with Spike, now The Paramount Network, becoming Viacom’s primary channel for original scripted programming.
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In an interview with Deadline, Chris McCarthy revealed that freshman comedies Loosely Exactly Nicole and Mary + Jane won’t be renewed but stressed that “scripted will remain important” for the network, noting series like Teen Wolf which have told “seminal young adult stories” over the years.
“We are going to pair those with great reality series,” McCarthy said. “The real opportunity for MTV is bringing back big, over the top, lovable reality characters. That’s what made MTV stand out — great, soapy reality series that appealed to young viewers.”
He listed Jackass, The Hills and Jersey Shore as examples of the type of big, unscripted franchise the network will be after. While there was more emphasis on scripted in the past year, there will now be a stronger push for unscripted series in that vein, he said.
“It’s about balancing the portfolio,” McCarthy said. Is MTV looking to reboot some of the strongest reality series in its library? “Absolutely,” McCarthy said. “We have 35 years of amazing IP,” he added, noting the company’s current plan to revive My Super Sweet 16.
Music and live programming will be a big priority at MTV going forward with a number of projects in the works, including daily live concerts. McCarthy said that MTV’s big awards shows, like the VMAs, will be made bigger than ever, turned into a week-long events across multiple Viacom platforms.
Also on the live front, MTV was encouraged by the performance of the live in-studio Ridiculousness wrap-ups on Friday, which have logged 100% ratings increases in the young end of the demo, and will expand them to Sunday and Thursday.
As for VH1, it will continue to get the resources it needs, and there will be no reduction in its budget for original programming, McCarthy said. “It’s full steam ahead,” he said, noting that the network has a couple of music-themed projects in the works. VH1 is next debuting two scripted series, the music-themed The Breaks and Daytime Divas.
“The (six flagship networks) strategy is more about the global presence of the brands and having a film side,” he added.
The selected six core networks, including MTV, each will be collaborating with Paramount Pictures on movies based on their shows. “MTV Films has legacy of telling unique stories, from Napoleon Dynamite to Pootie Tang,” McCarthy said. “We want to get back in that spirit.”
Would any of the strongest unscripted shows on “reinforcing” networks, like VH1’s America’s Next Top Model or Logo’s RuPaul’s Drug Race, migrate to MTV to help strengthen its reality offerings? McCarthy indicated that is possible, given Top Model‘s younger appeal, but stressed that the plan is to develop distinct programming for the different networks, not move series around.
That said, it is quite possible for a show on MTV to be shifted to VH1 as its talent starts aging over time, moving out of the MTV and into the VH1 demographic.
To facilitate better synergy between the two music-themed networks, McCarthy has been integrating MTV and VH1’s programming teams, with Nina L. Diaz overseeing unscripted development for both networks and VH1’s Maggie Malina expected to do the same on the scripted side.
McCarthy also expects closer cooperation with sister production company Paramount TV, which produces series School of Rock for Nickelodion, saying that Viacom’s divisions will be “working together to maximize the assets.”
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