MTV layoffs a 'creative' decision

Network unveils new programming structure

On the surface, it looked like another cost-cutting measure by a media company in the face of a prolonged recession -- MTV Networks' Music Group and Logo division on Tuesday trimmed 50-something jobs.

But at ratings-challenged MTV, which took the brunt of the layoffs, what may have appeared to be a budget cut was in fact a long-in-the works programming restructuring that created new development teams reporting directly to MTV president of programming Tony DiSanto.

"It was not done for financial reasons, it was purely creative -- an overhaul of the organization to better meet the creative needs of MTV," DiSanto said.

Seven executives, about half of MTV's development team under DiSanto and his top lieutenant, Liz Gateley, were let go. Among those were senior vps Maira Suro, who oversaw for the channel's scripted efforts, and Aaron Meyerson, who shepherded a slate of unscripted series.

Under the new structure, MTV will assemble a boutique comedy team based in New York to be led by senior vp Brent Haynes.

There will be a bicoastal series development department, focused mostly on unscripted fare, under Gateley. There will be a scripted team, a talent department and a documentary group as well.

DiSanto is looking to beef up the channel's scripted and talent departments with the recruitment of department heads. There will be more hires, as the goal was not to trim but to "reorganize (the channel's programming team) for clarity," he said.

Two of the departing execs who worked in the unscripted area, George McTeague and Amy Emmerich, are segueing into producing deals.

DiSanto called coincidental the timing of the restructuring, news of which fell on the same day that MTV unveiled an ambitious development slate boasting names such as Jamie Foxx, Seth Meyers and Mark Burnett.

The announcement of the slate, on which some of the laid-off execs had worked, followed a recent pilot screening and the closing of the majority of deals in that slate on Tuesday; the executive shake-up had been in the works for months, DiSanto said.

The latest change at MTV follows the recent decision of MTV topper Brian Graden, who had overseen the channel's programming operations for 12 years, to step down at the end of the year.

The moves are completely separate, and Graden "has been helping plot out the new structure," DiSanto said.

MTV has been in a ratings slump, posting declines in the past two years.

While most of that stems from the aging of such stalwarts as "The Hills" and the dearth of big new hits, some of the slippage can be attributed to the generational shift of MTV viewers, with the channel's brass focusing on the new teens and twentysomethings, "the millennials."

DiSanto called them "the transparent generation" and said MTV's development is being altered to appeal to them. "They don't want to see a reality show that feels produced or is film-like," he said. "It's got to be real, authentic."

He points to the recently premiered "16 and Pregnant" as an example of the type of unscripted fare that MTV is now after and touts it as one series that could fuel a turnaround.

"Ultimately, we will come out of it and will continue the resurgence at MTV," DiSanto said.
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