MTV's David Janollari: 'Teen Wolf' is 'Like Puberty Gone Wild' (Q&A)

Teen Wolf Premiere One 2011

Teen Wolf Premiere

The head of programming hopes the cable network’s newest entry into scripted fare resonates with the millennial generation.

Since taking over for MTV president of programming Tony DiSanto in November, head of programming David Janollari has weathered a few storms. In January, the cable network lost advertisers after the Parents Television Council targeted its newest -- and some would say biggest -- leap into scripted programming with drama Skins when it sought a federal investigation into whether the racy teen drama violated anti-child pornography laws. 

Now, as TV prepares to launch Teen Wolf, Janollari has high hopes for the supernatural remake he inherited from DiSanto, dubbing the series relevant to MTV’s millennial viewers, and putting it in the plumb time slot immediately following Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards.

The Hollywood Reporter recently caught up with Janollari to discuss how the series fits in with its strategy to develop original series and how it stands out among a crowded pop culture wolf pack.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did Teen Wolf land at MTV with MGM attached?

David Janollari: It predates my being at MTV. Tony DiSanto had the idea. I don’t know if he’d seen the movie, but he said, “That’s a great title for us,” and tracked it down. It was owned by MGM and they made a co-production deal and developed it from scratch. [Criminal Minds creator] Jeff Davis had a great take on it and was hired to write the script and develop it. We made the pilot and we all fell in love with it. Once we saw the pilot, we decided we had to make it.

THR: How does Teen Wolf fit in with MTV’s strategy to develop original series?

Janollari: Our mantra is to diversify the landscape of the network. We want to offer a multitude of genres to our audience. We believe that our core audience -- the millennial generation -- watches all kinds of entertainment: scripted comedies, scripted dramas, animation and reality shows. They watch movies; they watch entertainment on the Internet. Our idea is to offer original series programming in what ever form it takes to this audience with the core brand of DNA of what’s relevant to their lives; what resonating with the millennial viewers today.

THR: How will Teen Wolf stand out from the other wolves invading television and film with HBO’s True Blood, the Twilight franchise and beyond?

Janollari: No one has really done the wolf; we’ve really taken the wolf and done a deep dive into the mythology. The series is a total reimagination of the ’80s movie. Creator Jeff Davis has done a real switch-up so that there’s something unexpected that reinvents the whole classic werewolf legend in every episode. That’s one of the key DNA ingredients of an MTV show: surprise the audience, don’t deliver the expected.

THR: Considering the Skins controversy, how salacious will Teen Wolf get?

Janollari: No pun intended, but this is its own animal. It’s what we’re trying to do at MTV: every show is unique and distinct in and of itself. This show is like nothing else that we’ve done and not quite like anything else you’ve seen on television. It really does genuinely go for the scare, yet you get wrapped up in the love story.

THR: Any original cast popping in?

Janollari: Michael J. Fox is not in this series. I have had an email agreement from Jason Bateman that he might appear in the second season. You will see some of the characters from the original movie broadened for this generation.

THR: Are you close to green lighting a second season?

Janollari: I’m optimistic, you never know. I’ve seen the whole series and worked on it for a year and a half and I’m in love with it. In my bones I feel like our audience will really, really embrace it.

THR: Is there a particular demo you’re targeting?

Janollari: We sell 12-34, but our real core demo is really 12-24; that’s who lives and breathes all of our shows. This show is really set against high school life with the backdrop of the supernatural wolf mythology. The stories that we tell, where transformation is really the metaphor, is about becoming an adult and dealing with adolescence. Internally, we say this is like puberty gone wild. That story is at the core of it and the forbidden love element is going to be really relevant and resonate with our audience.

THR: Is there a viewership number you have eyes on?

Janollari: Not really. The whole introduction of scripted programming to the MTV slate is very new. We’re one step at a time, brick-by-brick building its presence. We believe it will be very embraced by our audience.

THR: The marketing materials at first glance are very Twilight. Was that part of your approach?

Janollari: The audience that built the Twilight franchise is our audience.

Part 1 of Teen Wolf’s two-hour premiere airs Sunday at 11 p.m. following the MTV Movie Awards. Part 2 airs the following night in its regular slot at 10 p.m. Mondays.