MTV taps two to overhaul programming

MTV Networks, signaling a shift in deemphasizing the reality shows that long have been a staple of the cable channel, restructured its programming department and put two executives in charge of broadening its schedule to appeal to younger viewers.

Chris Linn, a 20-year MTV veteran, was tapped to head production, while David Janollari, a former Warner Bros. executive who joined MTV this year, was named chief programmer.

Tuesday’s executive shuffle was a recognition that the Viacom Inc.-owned cable channel that is synonymous with the preoccupations of teenagers and young adults has not kept pace with so-called Millennials, the generation under 30 years old.

“Our mantra is diversification,” Janollari said in an interview. “A diversification of genres is something our audience wants and will embrace and something that we haven’t served up in a number of years.”


Not long ago, the network’s target audience of 12- to 34-year-olds had a long-running obsession with the glamorous and spoiled lives of youth as depicted in “The Hills” and “Laguna Beach,” and in “My Super Sweet 16,” a show that depicted the excessive coming-out parties that could set parents back the price of a Lexus.

Then came the recession, and suddenly MTV’s reality shows that reflected the indulged youth of Generation X felt less relevant. Millennials, including recent college graduates facing a tough job market that has forced many to move back home with their parents, seem to have a greater need for connection and less desire for irony than their predecessors. MTV’s programming needed a recalibration.

“We held on to Generation X a little too long, and our programming reflected that,” said Stephen Friedman, MTV’s general manager. “MTV needs to shed its skin every three years.... We had to ask ourselves, what does this younger audience want? And the answer was brutal honesty.”

MTV has reclaimed its supremacy and standing in youth culture during the last year with a hard-edged look at life under 30, as exemplified by the highly popular “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom,” which shows the travails of teen parenting. The network’s ratings in the most recent quarter jumped 27%.

But the network now wants some scripted hits — ones in sync with the realities facing its young viewers.

It was after the election of President Obama that the realization that MTV was out of step with youth culture began to sink in, Friedman said. MTV researchers asked young women in a focus group which shows on TV felt “most authentic.” The answer was surprising: “True Blood,” HBO’s drama about Southern vampires adapted by Alan Ball.

Their response demonstrated to MTV that young viewers would flock to something other than reality shows if the stories were told in meaningful ways.

A few months later, in late 2009, MTV’s programming chief, Tony DiSanto, told his network bosses that he wanted to become a producer when his contract expired at the end of 2010. That allowed MTV to set in motion a plan to reorganize management with an eye toward developing more scripted shows.


Janollari becomes executive vice president and head of programming. He will be in charge of scripted programming, animation and reality shows developed by MTV’s West Coast staff. Linn will be in charge of reality shows based on the East Coast as well as manage made-for-TV movies, news and specials, studio productions, music development and production management.

“We are placing big bets on our scripted franchises,” Friedman said. “We wanted to create a very clean structure where there were two people as leaders and not five different people out there competing with each other.”