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Susanne Danielsis making her mark on MTV. The programming president, in the job for less than a year, just picked up her first two scripted comedy pilots for the youth-skewing cable network and is currently mulling decisions on a robust development slate that includes 19 new unscripted pilots and a crop of 10-plus scripted efforts.
In addition, the former Lifetime and Warner Bros. executive, who is married to The Office co-creator Greg Daniels, is searching for a new showrunner to take the helm of critical darling comedy Awkward and debating what to do with the aging Real World franchise.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Daniels to discuss MTV’s creative direction, adding more shows with heart and the shelf life of the network’s Jersey Shore offshoots.
The Hollywood Reporter: You just greenlit two comedy pilots. How much more original programming are you looking to add?
Susanne Daniels: A lot. We just had our manager screenings this past Tuesday in New York, where we looked at about 19 new pilots. They were all reality and I would say out of that slate, we are probably looking to pick up six to eight new reality series for 2014 — just based on that slate alone. Then we’re continuing to develop more scripted projects as well.
THR: Of those that you’re looking to greenlight, is there a general tone that they have in common? You presented Nurses and Generation Cryo, which both seem to have more heart than some MTV’s other unscripted fare.
Daniels: I like that you said that. I talked about heart in particular because if you look back at all of the shows I’ve worked on — this is my sixth network — I do think shows should have a balance of heart. One of the reasons I started working with the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Programming when I was at Warner Bros. was because so many of our teen dramas were delving into sexual issues and I just felt that we all needed some guidance — the showrunners as well as the executives — in terms of how to handle it so that it’s not totally exploitative, so it’s not just there for titillating moments. I found that really resonated with kids with the feedback we got. I want our shows to have some balance of heart. The MTV sizzle that we ran today had a clip of a Big Tips Texas. On one level, you could argue that it’s nothing more about scantily clad women in their 20s going after big tips in a bar but what I really feel it’s about and what I hope will come through in the show is that it’s about these girls’ dreams and this is the way they’ve found to make money to pursue their dreams. I think that’s so relatable to anybody at any level.
THR: On the scripted side, what happened with Awkward and Lauren Iungerich’s exit? And where are you with the search for a new showrunner?
Daniels: I can’t say who it is yet but I’m really close to closing a deal on a new showrunner. And once I get that duck in its place, we can announce the next season. But it is something that we want to do. I love Lauren, she has a unique voice and is enormously talented. I am 100 percent certain Lauren will create another hit. I felt that way about Amy Sherman-Palladino. I felt that way about Brenda Hampton. I think she’s in a line showrunners who have a really strong voice and are good creators. I would have loved Lauren to stay. This is a Lauren decision that I completely respected. I think she was ready to have her next challenge.
THR: How much longer do you see Teen Wolf running?
Daniels: It’s rare that a network walks away from something that’s working. We had to do that with Buckwild this year. That was really hard and we wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t feel that the entire essence of the show had been compromised. How can we do a show about young kids partying with their friends that they’ve grown up with when the closest friend has died? It was just so heartbreaking and tragic on so many levels. So, when you asked that question about Teen Wolf, my first thought is I’ll milk the cow as long as the cow is giving me milk, to use a really bad analogy [laughs].
THR: Where do you see the network going in terms of original scripted fare?
Daniels: One of the things that I love about MTV, maybe my very favorite thing is that it’s a youthful, contemporary brand but at the end of the day those are my only constraints, if you will. And those don’t feel like constraints because I love programming for teens and young adults. After that, anything goes because this millennia is very interested in so many different things and watches and likes so many different things. We find in our research that millennials are big into food and I have two projects in development right now that are food-related reality projects. They’re into style and they’re into giving back. There’s so many arenas and genres that we can develop that will excite our audience and that makes it very exciting for me as a development executive.
THR: How many more original scripted series are you looking to add?
Daniels: I will probably green light one new drama series for 2014, and one or two more comedies.
THR: How much more life is left in the Jersey Shore spinoffs?
Daniels: I don’t know. I do find them all so appealing. I love Snooki and J-Woww and Vinnie is so adorable and I like Pauly D. I do find them all really appealing but I don’t know much how longer they have.
THR: What’s the big question you’re asking yourself there?
Daniels: Where does The Real World go? Can I evolve the Real World at this point? The ratings are a little soft on that show. Is it a new show and what is that new show? What is the next evolution of Real World? That felt like breakthrough television when it started, much like Cops did. Those are the beginnings of brand new genres on TV.
THR: What keeps you up at night?
Daniels: Are we making the best episodes of the best shows we can make all the time? I think there’s a temptation to develop a pilot or a first season of a show and just say, “Good luck. Go be free!” You have to constantly work on your shows. For me, development is ongoing with a television show. It’s not about a pilot, it’s not about the original concept. I’m not in the pilot business. You’re in the long-term, series business. Are we creating templates? Are we creating seasons that will lead to new, exciting seasons? So that’s what keeps me up at night. And as a person, what keeps me at night is also that I have four kids and I’m always worrying about them, wondering what they’re doing, where they are, are they OK?
THR: Do your kids watch MTV?
Daniels: My son does in particular. I have a son that’s going to be 15 next week and he loves anything Rob Dyrdek: Fantasy Factory, Ridiculousness. I have a new show in development with Rob Dyrdek and he’s so excited.
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