VH1 today unveiled its 2017-18 lineup of new and returning series, the first since Viacom CEO Bob Bakish unveiled a new strategy, identifying six cable networks, including MTV, as flagship brands getting a lot of resources and movie tie-ins, with the rest, including VH1, named reinforcing brands.
VH1 has been a success story, logging seven consecutive quarters of ratings growth. In an interview with Deadline, Chris McCarthy, who oversaw VH1’s turnaround and now serves as president of MTV, VH1 and Logo, talks about VH1’s future as a reinforcing brand. He addresses the scripted strategy for the network, whose slate released today did not include any new scripted projects beyond the previously picked up series Daytime Divas. He discusses the renewal chances of new VH1 hip-hop drama The Breaks (pretty good) and the fate of unscripted series Dating Naked, which made a stir when it first premiered, and The Amber Rose Show (neither is coming back). McCarthy also talks about the move of RuPaul’s Drag Race from Logo to VH1 and the possibility for more series migrating from one network to another.
DEADLINE: What changes are in store for VH1 as a reinforcing brand? Will there be a scaling back, shift to a predominantly unscripted slate, budget reductions?
MCCARTHY: The key of Bob’s messaging is that the Flagship Six are the brands that have global presence, it’s how we build on that presence, how we bring back these wonderful and iconic film franchises, the legacy of MTV Films, and how we fully actualize the global potential for these brands.
VH1 is a special brand that is incredibly dominant in the U.S. We have no plans of stopping or slowing down, if anything, we are getting behind it in a bigger way. This year alone we’ve had 4 of the top 5 unscripted series, 9 of the top 20. Our aspirations are to have more than that next year and in terms of hours of programming, we’re only adding hours. I think we feel incredibly strong about the path that we are on and incredibly optimistic about the shows that we have going forward. Everyone is looking at the combination and the way that we are building and pulling together talent to make amazing shows as a model and secret to success how to rebuild a brand and get a phenomenal growth. Frankly it’s a model we are now going to be applying to MTV.
DEADLINE: What about VH1’s scripted strategy? Daytime Divas is coming up but you didn’t announce any other scripted series being greenlighted or developed. What is the future of new musical drama The Breaks, which just aired its first season.
MCCARTHY: We have a ton of projects in the scripted lane. Our development process is fundamentally different than anybody else’s. We don’t do full-on pilots for anything. We partner with the best show creators and we make a lot of it ourselves so we don’t go through a traditional pilot process and then choose one, we build it all together and as a result, the scripted is slightly behind in terms of timing.
We are very excited about how The Breaks has been performing. We already have opened up a writers room for next season, we haven’t officially greenlighted it but everything is looking good. We also have some amazing new miniseries, historical biopics in development. That’s an area we’ve had great success with projects like CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.
DEADLINE: RuPaul’s Drag Race moved from Logo to VH1, there has been talk about America’s Next Top Model possibly moving to MTV, and two new TV Land series just switched to Viacom’s Paramount Network. Will there be more program migrations in your group?
MCCARTHY: Drag Race was unrelated to anything else other than the fact that it is such a cultural phenomenon. It was so ahead of its time, and it’s only grown, so to be able to give it a bigger platform, it felt like the right thing to do. It wasn’t about switching assets, it was how do we satisfy the audience’s demand to see the show. It’s been amazing to see the show get its highest season ever on a whole new night on a whole new network. We brought in a whole new set of audience that is loving the show.
We love Top Model, we think it’s doing great, we love working with Tyra and 10×10. We thought with MTV there was an opportunity to gather more viewers; as VH1 goes broader, MTV had those viewers we wanted to sample it and see if we can bring more in.
But our strategy as a whole is to develop shows in context, specific to each brand and keep it very unique and special and that is the secret sauce. We are not developing shows, we are developing brands that have great concepts and characters within and not easy to just swap to other networks. Having said all that, I think opportunistically Bob has asked us to look and see whether there is an opportunity to strengthen if it makes more sense.
DEADLINE: Tyra Banks had said she was done hosting Top Model. How did you get her to return as host, succeeding Rita Ora?
MCCARTHY: She has been a force behind the show, she endorsed Rita. When Rita was ready to go back into focusing on her music career, we looked at a group of (host) potentials, and Tyra said, ‘I would love to come back, I would love to figure out how we take the show to the next generation and widen the scope, to welcome models of all shapes and ages, to bring the brand to a different level.’
DEADLINE: What is the future of reality series Dating Naked? Will there be a fourth season?
MCCARTHY: We haven’t made plans to move it forward to Season 4, we think it’s a great, fun format, we would like the opportunity at some point to reinvent it but for right now we felt the shows and assets that we have made more sense as we head into the year. (There also are no current plans to continue with The Amber Rose Show, which premiered last year.)
DEADLINE: What about late-night? You tried VH1 Live there. Are you planning to do more?
MCCARTHY: We’re wide open to doing stuff in late-night. Right now we have tremendous success with all of our primetime shows, but I love being in live, we work very hard to make sure our shows have more live viewing than anything else, creating these watershed moments in all of the shows. We would love to have a daily strip, we have to figure out what is the right mix, right combination, but for right now we have such great success (in primetime), we don’t want to slow it down.