Now if you have read this blog from time to time, you probably know that I have an issue with reality shows. Outside of only a few, I just don't get the appeal. But the genre works. CBS has a bunch of reality shows and "American Idol" is the biggest show on television. But when I saw what MTV was doing I was floored.
In trying to keep its hold on young audiences, MTV over the decades has undergone some fundamental programming shifts, but never before on this scale. The network's ratings declined 23% in the fourth quarter in its core demo of 12 to 34 year olds. So MTV is embarking on a major programming overhaul, with 16 new unscripted series over the next 4½ months.
The series come from high-profile producers including Sean Combs (Puffy, P-Diddy, Diddy, etc.), Matt Stone & Trey Parker (the guys behind "South Park"), Donald Trump ("The Apprentice" and great hair) and Nick Lachey (Jessica's Simpson's ex). And they represent a major shift for the channel, more toward the pseudo-scripted reality of MTV's "The Hills," one of the its few success stories these days.
While MTV pioneered reality series with "The Real World" way back in 1992, that genre has become a little stale. So the network is offering a slate that avoids the backbiting that usually happens on these shows. Their new shows are more about affirmation and accomplishment. The network says these themes are consistent with the "Obama generation."
Last week, MTV unveiled eight of the series, which will aim visually for either "the cinematic feel of 'The Hills."
OK, I've watched this show "The Hills" once or twice to see what's the big deal. It's sorta like a reality show and sorta like a scripted normal show. Rich kids doing rich things. And it is one of the most popular shows on MTV. I just don't get it and it can't be because I'm slightly outside the core demo.
Here's a sample of the new shows. The show "College Life" shows what happens when producers gave U. of Wisconsin freshman camcorders, then turned them loose to shoot their own lives.
(Wow. Youtube on television. The CW tried that with a show called "Online Nation" that was on the air for a few weeks.)
Another show is an untitled series focused on students at Cincinnati's School for Creative & Performing Arts that's produced by Lachey.
(OOOOH. I'm watching.)
Then there is the Donald Trump-produced "Girls of Hedsor Hall." It will follow a dozen hard-partying young women as they're whisked off to an English finishing school.
MTV's new shows will expand its weekday primetime block of original programming to 8-10 p.m. -- an hour more than the current 9-10 p.m. A primetime block also will be established on Sunday from 8-10 p.m.
So what's the problem? Well after two decades of growth, MTV has in the past five years or so settled into the challenges of a mature media business. There have been several rounds of big layoffs in the past two years.
There also has been a huge digital push in recent years, with MTV using it's resources to follow its viewers into emerging realms like social networking and vidgaming. MTV's fight for relevance in the digital age has led it to the same conclusion that many others rooted in the traditional media biz have come to: Big broadband traffic is certainly achievable for traditional media companies, but it isn't easily show ad dollars.
Meanwhile, concentrating so much on digital media might have distracted channel denizens from the fact that traditional TV viewers were beginning to turn away from the flagship channel in droves.
Three shows have launched since July. And those shows have matched MTV's new thematic vision of young people bettering themselves, such as "From G's to Gents" -- a kind of non-fiction "My Fair Lady" featuring rough-edged urban youth -- went on the air as planned. Meanwhile, plans were scuttled for a number of projects like "50 Cent: The Money and the Power," which personified the kind of attitude that MTV is trying to move away from.
And, perhaps only still important for the era of transition it symbolizes, removed from the sked was MTV's decade-old "Total Request Live," which had at one time been the channel's equivalent to ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Ratings have been terrible over that period, with numbers for females 12-24 cratering 33% and males 12-24 dropping 24%.
Even the network's top-rated "The Hills" has not been immune to erosion, with original episodes tumbling 26% in 12-34 viewers in the fourth quarter compared with the same period last year.
Now here's a little idea: WHY DOESN'T THE MUSIC CHANNEL PLAY FREAKIN' MUSIC?!?!? IS THAT TOO HARD OF A CHOICE? WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SAW A MUSIC VIDEO ON THAT CHANNEL?
Seems like a good idea. You know they cook on Food Network. Sports are shown on ESPN.
Who knows, maybe that would work.