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In an effort to monetize 35 years of content, MTV is launching MTV Studios, with the goal of rebooting old hits — including Daria and The Real World — to sell to other networks and streamers. The effort is part of a larger push by Viacom brands including MTV and Nickelodeon (with more to come) to expand into a fully fledged studio.
MTV Studios is launching with an initial slate that includes reboots of Daria and unscripted entry Made joining previously announced Aeon Flux and The Real World as well as two original docuseries. Viacom’s Nickelodeon has already sold its first off-network series, landing animated kids show Pinky Malinky at Netflix.
All four projects are being produced via MTV Studios and will be shopped to outside linear networks and SVOD platforms. In success, MTV Studios will produce a slate for outlets beyond Viacom with a focus on beloved series, franchises and spinoffs. The third-party content push has been underway in the U.S. and abroad for months, with Paramount Television landing Jack Ryan at Amazon Studios and other content from the studio landing at Netflix (13 Reasons Why) and USA Network (Shooter).
With more than 200 titles created during MTV’s 35-year-plus run, MTV Studios hopes to mine the Viacom-owned cable network’s library of young adult series and franchises. Network president Chris McCarthy, who called the archives “largest youth library in the history of TV,” will also develop originals via MTV Studios. The slate also includes new docuseries The Valley (in the spirit of the hits The Hills and Siesta Key) and MTV’s Straight Up Ghosted (which reconnects lost friends who have been, you guessed it, ghosted).
Launching the studio will help MTV monetize its library while not requiring the cabler to be home to offerings that may be outside the linear network’s wheelhouse. The executive, who recently rebooted Jersey Shore and TRL, told The Hollywood Reporter that a show like The Real World wouldn’t be a fit on MTV today. But reviving the series for a streaming platform would help keep the spirit of the original unscripted hit alive for a new generation. Instead, McCarthy said MTV will continue to focus on “loud” docuseries while also using scripted as tentpoles, a la its retooled reboot of Scream.
The bow of MTV Studios arrives at a time in which ownership is becoming increasingly important to broadcast, cable and streaming services, which typically want to own their own content. While launching a studio is typically indicative of creating and owning content for your own platforms, MTV Studios will face similar hurdles to landing shows on outside networks. Fellow indie studios like Warner Bros. TV and Sony TV have faced mounting obstacles on the broadcast side as the Big Four all look to buy from their own internal studio counterparts.
The move comes as Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is looking to revitalize the media behemoth and as McCarthy wants to transcend MTV from a platform to a larger brand with business outside of the company.
On the programming front, the new Daria is called Daria and Jodie and hails from writer Grace Edwards (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Inside Amy Shumer). The animated series is told through the eyes of Daria Morgendorrfer and one of her closest friends, Jodie Landon, and follows both as they take on the world with their signature satirical voice while deconstructing popular culture, social classes, gender and race.The original Daria, a spinoff from Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head, ran for five seasons on MTV from 1997-2002. Made, meanwhile, is a teen makeover show that ran from 2003-2014. Original docuseries The Valley follows a group of twentysomethings living in Nogales, Arizona, and tells the real-life story of friends on the edge of two countries and two cities as they share one valley, their youth and a common bond. And Straight Up Ghosted explores stories of young people trying to reconnect with lost friends, lovers and family members and confront them about why they were ghosted.
Those join previously announced The Real World, from original producers Bunim/Murray Productions, and animated entry Aeon Flux, from Teen Wolf‘s Jeff Davis.
Below, McCarthy opens up about his plans for MTV Studios and other properties from the cabler’s archives he hopes to mine (paging the Great Cornholio).
What’s the goal with launching MTV Studios? How much of that is about mining your library for reboots vs. creating new programming that’s owned in-house?
It’s about expanding beyond the platforms that we own. When you think about young people and moving the brand to a space where it’s less about a platform and more about us getting back to a youth culture brand, which has been the majority of our history. It’s going back out and redeveloping, whether it’s new hits or reimagined or remakes of classics but doing them on the platforms that are appropriate. In some cases, Jersey Shore: Family Vacation is totally appropriate to do it on traditional cable. But if we were to do Daria and Jodie, which is a reimagination of the classic Daria animated series, for us, the best place for it isn’t necessarily cable but more with an SVOD partner where we can have better storytelling and allow more flexibility and be able to go deeper than traditional cable may allow.
When you say you’re developing new and reimagined iconic series for franchises for SVOD and linear partners, what does that mean? Are you talking about MTV and Viacom launching an SVOD platform for originals, or are you talking about selling this to a third party, like Amazon, Apple, Hulu or Netflix?
The latter. We want to create great stories and let this IP live on. We have one of the largest youth libraries. In the first 30 years [of MTV] nobody was making cable content, so we had to make it ourselves. We’re in the luxurious position of having owned most of our IP. So much of our history has been about looking forward and not looking back. But the world has changed and so much growth is happening for everybody, from Marvel and ABC to NBC, through reimaginations of amazing IP. We stopped and thought that we were leaving something behind that is way more valuable than we realized. Once we started talking to people, they got really excited about how important these characters and franchises were to them. Daria was a good example. We brought on Grace Edwards as the writer and she is a huge fan of Daria. The story she wants to tell of Daria is different, it’s about Daria and Jodie and two close friends taking on the world today and what’s happening in our culture at large. It’s less about the monetization and more about telling great stories. Of course, we’re going to make money but it’s about taking this IP and bring it into the future and doing these shows on platforms where audiences make the most sense.
Do you have a home for the Daria reboot yet? Is that something you could do on MTV.com? It’s hard to imagine MTV content like Daria or The Real World living on a platform that isn’t associated with MTV — or Viacom.
This is the first time we’re announcing Daria. We have talked to a bunch of people, informally, in advance of it and there’s a ton of interest. It’s hard to think about today, but when you think about MTV Films, it was about taking those great stories and characters and bringing them to the big screen on platforms we didn’t own. It’s only the past couple years where we’ve been solely focused on cable. [Viacom CEO] Bob Bakish’s bigger strategy is thinking of these businesses not as platforms but as brands that transcend platforms. It’s why we’re expanding back out to events and the theatrical space. Think about MTV, the channel itself, as a pure channel. We’ll have channels all over the globe, as we do today. But the content we’re going to do on the classic and traditional cable or mobile model is different from the content we now create for studios or theatrical or through our events and experience. It’s the next step in our evolution. We spent the majority of our time focused on the platforms we own because without having a healthy heart, we couldn’t go out there and begin to expand. But today, thankfully, we’re up double- and triple-digits across every platform we own and we can take that next bold step.
Netflix has been known to have a halo effect on programming — Riverdale season two spiked after viewers binged season one on the platform, for example. Many viewers at the time thought it was a Netflix original. Do you hope a Real World on Netflix, for example, would create some brand awareness for MTV and brings viewers to the linear network? Is that the hope?
The hope is to take IP and tell best story on the best platform. It’s not to get one audience from one platform to another. In cable, our goal is to get people who watch cable to watch more of us. On our digital and mobile platforms, it’s to get people on those platforms to spend more time with us. With SVOD partners, be it Netflix, Hulu, Apple or Amazon, we’ve only sold library content. Now, it’s taking a bold step forward and saying the library is nice but the power of this is telling fresh, unique stories for today’s generation with original premieres on those platforms. It’s not the encore. That worked for the past 10 years but today, that requires it to work solely on cable before it goes there and that’s not where the audience is.
In success with a show like Daria, if you’re selling the new version of it to say, Netflix, does that include the library along with the new series? Or are you maintaining the library and Netflix would get the new series?
We’re open to anything. We want to make sure the deals work for everybody and we’re open for business in creating different creative partnerships that work best for the partner and the IP and the audience. I don’t know that there’s going to be a cookie-cutter model; it’s really about what works best and how do we engage these partners in a fresh and different way that isn’t competitive to the platforms we own? Thankfully, the audience has already made the decision — some people have just cable, some have cable and SVOD and some only have SVOD. And they have them for different reasons, and that’s great because we can reach them on all.
You’ve mentioned The Real World, Aeon Flux and now Daria. What other franchises are you looking to revive? Beavis and Butt-head? The Osbournes? Celebrity Death Match?
Other people are excited about what a new Laguna Beach would look like. We’re not ready to announce that, but we’re certainly not against that. When you think about what makes sense for our own platforms, we’ll focus more on the 20-to-mid-30s, louder docuseries on cable. But what that opens up for us is everything that’s pure music, longform, animation, scripted and more of our younger unscripted, whether that be formats or docuseries. That opens up our entire library to do that with new partners. A lot of the franchises you mentioned are ones that there’s some interest in that we’re actively thinking about. What’s important is to not do it through the sale, but to do it through the creative. What made Daria pop for us is because we love the franchise and Grace Edwards has a point of view and angle she wants to tell. Jeff Davis had Aeon Flux — he came in and had a really strong point of view and a creative angle into it that made it rise to the top in a very different way than what our own taste may be.
Would Aeon Flux air on MTV?
I don’t think so. That will be a scripted series we’ll take out and find the right partner to do it with. As a general rule, we’re going to continue to be doing what works today on cable, which is the louder, more adult docuseries that are working in unscripted that are working so well for us. That’s where the cable audience is — they’re looking for news, sports, louder docuseries and competitions and that’s what we’re going to be focusing on for our demo. But it allows us to do scripted content but not force it to only be in what’s going to work for cable.
Is MTV, as a linear network, no longer doing scripted?
Not as a whole. Scream is an event, so that’s different. You’re not going to see us as a general rule of thumb doing a half-hour or hour a week of scripted. When we do it, we want to make it an event so it’s meaningful and breaks through culture. In the same way, like when we launch Daria in an SVOD partner, we’re going to want to use all our platforms to drive to that and make that successful. We’re not looking at it as a competitor platform; we’re looking at it as our product, our story and our IP and we want to make it successful no matter where it is. And the same is true for when we had films and launched those, whether it was Napoleon Dynamite or Election. We put all our powers to driving audience and awareness.
You mentioned Napoleon Dynamite and Election. Will MTV Studios be focused purely on TV, or is film a possibility as well?
MTV Studios will be focused on the TV side. We have amazing IP that spans both TV and film. Paramount Players looks at the film side and we have a great partnership with them. But we’re not judging the IP based on platform.
So you could turn Election into a TV series?
We haven’t gotten that far. Right now, we’re focused on traditional TV content. We have over 200 titles, which is the largest youth library in the history of TV. Reboots are happening in such a massive way that this allows us to look at that IP in different ways. The Real World is another great example. When we came back to MTV 18 months ago, Jon [co-creator/executive producer Jonathan Murray] and Gil [Goldschein, exec producer] wanted to talk with us about how to remake that. The Real World is at its best when it’s telling unfiltered stories. It was ground-breaking at the time. In order for that to work on traditional cable today, it’s going to look a lot more like The Challenge, and I’m not necessarily sure that’s the ethos of that show. Jon and Gil and Nina [Diaz, head of unscripted] were all on the same page. But that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t re-create that with modern storytelling and modern characters of today and be pure to the stories that it was originally meant to be. But that’s not going to be on traditional cable today; it’s going to be on a new platform.
How close are you to setting up your first shows?
Hopefully after this article, a lot closer!
Which outlets have expressed interest in content like Aeon Flux, Real World and Daria?
This is our first formal step but we’ve been having informal conversations, none that we can share. In the beginning, 60 percent of this will land in the more reimaginations of the best IP that we have. But we’re also going to be doing new IP. Depending on whether that is music, scripted or unscripted will determine what platform is best for that. We’ll be announcing two new series that could land on our own platform or, if we focus on the younger demo, could be for another platform. That’s what is getting us excited as storytellers and creators — we’re able to expand our creative spectrum in order to tell the stories on the right platforms.
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