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VH1 Unveils New Slate: Rappers, DNA Testing and Walks of Shame (Exclusive)

Also included in the pop culture network's new batch of programming are series about Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, "Love & Hip Hop's" K. Michelle and an inside look at New York's No. 1 hip-hop radio station.

VH1 Pilot Season Split - H 2014
VH1's Executive VP Original Programming Susan Levison and VH1 President Tom Calderone

This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

VH1 is on a roll.

With primetime viewership up 33 percent this year among the key 18-to-49 demographic, the Viacom-owned network is seeking to capitalize on its momentum by adding a new batch of noisy original series. In addition to Hindsight, a ’90s-set drama, VH1 will add unscripted entries centered on female rappers, a Backstreet Boy and a mobile DNA testing service. 

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“The goal is to bring a general market audience back into the fold in addition to servicing our African-American audience,” newly installed executive vp original programming Susan Levison says of her plans to broaden the network while maintaining its focus on pop culture, music and nostalgia. 

Levison, a protege of former Fox reality chief Mike Darnell, has been making the rounds at the major talent agencies, outlining what the network is interested in (loud formats, arced competition shows) and less interested in (fashion, weddings, weight loss and game shows). She has looked to expand the producer pool, too, as she focuses on a 28-year-old target viewer who is female, unmarried and, though she has her life on track, “doesn’t see any shame in watching provocative, fun TV.”

Among the offerings: I Heart Nick Carter, about Backstreet Boy Nick Carter’s relationship with his fiancee; an untitled K. Michelle project, featuring the Love & Hip Hop star’s music career; Swab Stories, which chronicles how lost family members reconnect thanks to DNA testing; Walk of Shame Shuttle, a Taxicab Confessions-style series about a young woman who runs a car service for college students who overindulged the night before; This Is Hot 97a comedic look inside the iconic radio brand; and the tentatively-titled White Girls of Rap, a Ryan Seacrest Productions series featuring female rappers striving for success in a male-dominated business.  

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"A great title and a great hook is always something I look for, but I think you also have to have an emphasis on storytelling," she says of her development philosophy, pointing to Walk of Shame as an example of a concept that has a compelling central character to propel the series forward. "You can get viewers there, but to keep them there it has to be incredibly well executed and it has to really be about something."

The new additions will join the Nick Lachey-hosted pop culture morning show Big Morning Buzz Live as well as the previously announced docuseries about LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian’s marriage (LeAnn & Eddie) and the relationship series Naked Dating, one of Levison’s first and most-talked-about purchases. News of the latter, which will involve heavy blurring, had everyone from Today’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly buzzing about the show’s premise and its implications, which Levison and her boss, VH1 president Tom Calderone, suggest is a promising sign. Says Calderone, “When we are successful at VH1, it’s when we get the parody at Saturday Night Live or we become part of the conversation in pop culture.”

Going forward, Levison will look to bulk up on her scripted offerings, too, though she notes that VH1’s scripted and unscripted brands will differ. “Tonally, our scripted [programming] is going to be lighter and soapier than some of our reality series,” she says, adding that she’s after the Grey’s Anatomy or Devious Maids audience that has been underserved by the current TV landscape’s darker, antihero dramas. In her eyes, Hindsight is tailor-made for the VH1 audience in that it offers a light-hearted nostalgia play, complete with '90s era music (Ace of Base's "The Sign") and fashion (remember clogs?).

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But despite the less serious tilt of her dramas and the recent acquisition of Happy Endings repeats, Levison says there are no immediate plans for VH1 to add original comedies to its schedule. She's not ready to commit to a late night talk show, either, though she and Calderon both insist humor is, and will continue to be, a tenet of the the network's brand.

The full slate:

I Heart Nick Carter

The series, set to premiere this summer, will take a closer look at the Backstreet Boy’s road to marriage with fiancee Lauren Kitt. Potential pitfalls include a jealous fan base and a demanding career. The project hails from Eric Bischoff, Jason Hervey and Riaz Patel for Bischoff Hervey Entertainment, with Carter on board as an executive producer.

Swab Stories

The project, which is set to bow this summer, will follow entrepreneur Jared Rosenthal, the owner of “Who’s Your Daddy,” a mobile DNA testing service based in New York City. Part lab, part therapist, part arbiter of conflict, Jared and his team move from neighborhood to neighborhood to give people the chance to answer potentially life-altering questions about who they are, where they came from, and how they fit into their loved ones’ lives. Swab is executive produced by Sean Baker Carter, Joel Olicker, Stephanie Carter, Royd Chung and Rosenthal for Powderhouse Productions.

Walk of Shame Shuttle

Undergrad-turned-entrepreneur Kellyann Wargo has found a way to monetize the morning-after “walk of shame.”  With her “walk of shame shuttle,” she escorts home those hungover students who are trudging home following a night of questionable (and drunken) choices -- for $5, that is. Levison describes the potential breakout series as VH1’s version of Taxicab Confessions, with Wargo offering a bottle of water and her own unique advice as she shuttles her passengers home. The series, set to premiere this summer, comes from Brian Graden, Lois Curren and Gaurav Misra of BG Media.

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This is Hot 97

Beginning March 31 at 10:30 p.m., VH1’s cameras will take viewers inside New York’s No. 1 hip-hop radio station. The half-hour comedy will not only feature the crew but also the well-known celebrities who frequent the station. Hot 97 is being executive produced by Mona Scott-Young of Monami Entertainment and Toby Barraud, Stefan Springman, Mala Chapple and Ian Gelfand of Eastern.

White Girls of Rap

VH1 has teamed with Ryan Seacrest Productions to follow five up-and-coming white, female rappers as they look to establish credibility in an industry not known for being welcoming -- or female-friendly. The half-hour series will launch with six episodes in the fall of this year.

Untitled K. Michelle Project

The summer 2014 series chronicles the next chapter in the Love & Hip Hop star’s life, as she learns to balance life, relationships and stardom in New York City. She’ll do so with her dynamic group of friends, her son and her famously fiery tongue. Mona Scott-Young and Stephanie Gayle will exec produce for Monami Entertainment with Toby Barraud, Stefan Springman and Mala Chapple joining from Eastern TV.