It's Tequila with a twist

Spinoff highlights MTV's strategy

After taking "A Shot at Love," MTV is now saying, "That's Amore."

The channel has greenlighted a spinoff of its hit reality competition series "A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila," which ended its run at 10 p.m. Tuesday with a whopping 6.2 million total viewers tuning in to make it MTV's most-watched series telecast.

The spinoff series, which will include six hourlong episodes and a reunion special, will feature popular "Shot at Love" contestant Domenico Nesci, who was born and raised in Milan. Nesci will be looking for an "American sweetheart" from among 15 bachelorettes who will vie to win his heart and travel to Italy to meet his mother.

"Amore," exec produced by SallyAnn Salsano for 495 Prods., is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Sundays starting March 2.

"Domenico really started popping for us, and we started talking to SallyAnn about putting together a reel of highlights of him," said Tony DiSanto, executive vp series development and programming. "We realized we had a great show there."

"Amore" falls in line with MTV's strategy of fast-tracking production and building on hit series with spinoffs. The game plan was put into place this year by DiSanto as part of a new structure and creative direction for the series development and programming group, which was organized into three divisions: series development, series production content programming and strategy.

The strategy also includes an emphasis on turning series finales into event programming, like with the recent live "The Hills" finale, and creating original specials for the weekend, such as the recent "Legally Blonde on Broadway" and the upcoming "24 Hours of Jackass." Also key to MTV's strategy is experimenting with new formats (as with competition series), handing out "supersized" series orders (for example, "Hills" received an 18-episode order for Season 3) and expanding to hourlong series ("Shot at Love," "Making the Band"). The network also has ramped up development, inking first-look deals with Jamie Foxx, Ken Mok and Joel Gallen.

"This new strategy allowed us to re-steer things, keep an eye out for creative diversity, take risks and try new ideas," DiSanto said.

"Shot at Love" is one sign the move is starting to pay off. The series is one of MTV's top-rated programs for the year in total viewers as well as one of basic cable's top 10 series among the network's target demo of persons 12-34. The show's finale was the second-most-watched MTV telecast of the year in total viewers and in 12-34 (5 million), behind the 2007 Video Music Awards.

"Shot at Love" and other shows like "Hills," whose Dec. 10 season finale drew more than 4.6 million viewers, have helped give MTV buzz this year following a ratings slump that led to the new development and programming strategy.

Executives also have made it a point to think about ways to incorporate multiple platforms at the initial stages of a project's development. As an example, Brian Graden, president of entertainment at MTV Networks Music Group, pointed to ImOnMTV.com, which recently allowed "Shot at Love" fans to interact with castmembers.

Graden noted the importance of staying on top of the trends that resonate with MTV's fickle target demo.

"Our audience traffics in the latest trends and culture," he said. "For MTV, the only thing that is dangerous is playing it safe. We have a much younger audience and are always trying to find the next wave to surf, more so than other channels."

One series that didn't resonate with viewers this year was "Kaya," which marked the network's first scripted series in more than five years. The show failed to capitalize on its "Hills" lead-in and was relocated to Saturday nights before wrapping its run last weekend.

DiSanto said the show will not be getting picked up for a second season but added that MTV is still committed to developing scripted series and noted the recent hiring of Maira Suro as senior vp series development West Coast.

Currently on the network's scripted development slate is an untitled drama from creator/exec producers Adam Ripp and Steven Wolfson (HR 6/14). "Law & Order" veteran Michael S. Chernuchin came on board to write the project before the writers strike, though the project, previously known as "Darius," is now on hold because of the strike.

DiSanto declined to specify whether MTV might be looking at another series starring Tequila, a bisexual who was searching for love among a group of men and women in "Shot at Love." He said only: "We love Tila, and she is now part of our family. I wouldn't be surprised if she pops up here and there." As previously announced, she is set to host MTV's live New Year's Eve programming.

Looking down the road, Graden and DiSanto said the goal is to create a balanced development slate that includes a wide range of programming. Upcoming series include Randy Jackson's new reality competition "America's Best Dance Crew," which premieres Feb. 7, and the returns of "Life of Ryan," "Rob & Big" and "Hills" along with some other music-themed programs, Graden said, declining to be specific.

"Scripted, animation, reality — we're basically looking to widen our net and have a balanced on-air schedule, so we don't repeat ourselves too much," DiSanto said. "Our audience has a lot of choices, so our job is to keep reinventing ourselves and find things to excite them, across all platforms."
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