David Janollari, MTV's head of programming, has spent
almost his entire professional life in TV program development. After seven
years at Warner Bros. Television, where he rose to executive VP, series
development, during a time when the studio was producing hits such as Friends and The Drew Carey Show, he left in 1998 to start his own studio with
now-NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt. During the seven-year
partnership, Greenblatt-Janollari Studio produced such hits as Six Feet Under, American Family and The
Hughleys. He was also entertainment president of the WB Network and in
early 2010, joined MTV in a newly created position of executive VP, scripted
development. Later that year, he was promoted to his current position.
A few days before addressing media buyers and advertisers at
this year's MTV upfront presentation on April 26, Janollari talked to MBPT
about his impressions of MTV before he joined the company, how he sees the
network brand today and what he sees the network's programming mission being.
You've been at MTV a little over two years. How did you view the
network before coming in and what has the reality been like?
I grew up on MTV and remember it energizing the scene as a teenager. I was
fixated on it. When you watched it you were part of a neat, cool club. I've
always had a fondness for the brand. Today it's a giant global brand that has
transcended just the U.S., and it has remained vital and vibrant. My perception
from the outside was that it started as a music video network and segued into a
reality series network and that's where I came in. I was hired two years ago to
get the network into the scripted series business. What they wanted me to do
was what I did generally as head of programming at The WB, only this generation
of MTV viewers needed a new genre of scripted. My goal has been to develop hits
for a new generation.
How does programming for MTV differ from programming The WB when you
were there in terms of developing shows for younger audiences? Also, is there a
difference in programming for broadcast and cable networks aimed at that
The MTV brand is incredibly specific but also much broader than the WB brand
was. The WB then and MTV now both speak to a core young audience but each in a
different language. Programming for today's MTV audience has a heightened drama
to it. Our core audience is female 18-24 but overall we still program for the
12-34 demo. All of our programming today focuses specifically on the lives that
teens are living in the real world. Our programming needs to resonate with our
core audience as far as the tone and language. Both our reality shows and
scripted shows have to be amplified so it connects in their world, which to
them is very complicated at that age. But our audience also demands
authenticity and honesty from us. Our programming has to reflect what's
important in their lives.
Everyone now refers to the network as MTV, but other than a couple of
shows and your signature awards shows, and the spring break series, there isn't
that much music on the network any more. What role will music have in the
network going forward?
Music is still a very important part of the network. Music permeates
the entire network; only it might not be only in the form of music-type shows.
We use emerging artists' music in many of our shows. We televise many music
documentaries. But today, the MTV brand means much more than just music videos
that the network based on when it was founded. To today's Millennial
generation, MTV is a core home to them, a safe haven for youth culture. We need
to televise multiple types of programming so we can appeal to and attract the
entire youth segment of the population. But back to music, we've introduced
more young emerging artists in the music industry in our programming than
anyone by simply using their soundtracks.
Some negative critics of MTV say shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom glorify teen pregnancy by making celebrities and stars out of the
young girls appearing in those series and in some instances they can be seen as
role models that motivate other young women to emulate them. What is your
response to that?
Anyone who has watched 16 and
Pregnant and Teen Mom knows that
those series do not glorify teen pregnancy. If anything, it has had the
opposite effect on our viewers because they are able to see the real life of
teens who get pregnant and how it can impact their lives.
I Just Want My Pants
Back has been a ratings success for you,
but the Parents Television Council was trying to organize an advertiser boycott
of series. What is your thinking about that and about their complaints that the
series is too risquÃ© for younger viewers?
That series has been both a ratings success and critical success. It is
incredibly written, directed, acted and produced. We never set out to create a
series to just push the envelope or for publicity value. All of our series are
created so that they will connect with our viewing audience, and they will be
able to identify with them. The programming department works closely with our
ad sales department and with our advertisers. We know the types of shows they
are looking for and that they will support. We are trying to program to
contemporary youth culture and to offer distinctive voices that can speak to
that culture about topics and story lines that matter to them.
What is the future of your longest running shows like The Real
World and Challenge series?
The key to those series is that we have continuously kept them
refreshed and reinvented. I personally hope they continue to draw audiences and
can remain on for a lot longer. Real
World is the rock of not only this network, but of all of reality
television. It was one of the earliest reality series and one whose format was
copied by many other reality series on other networks. Real World is part of MTV's DNA. Both our programming people and
the producers of Real World and the Challenge series are continuously
looking at them and fine-tuning. And we have told the producers that they have
to keep each series up-to-date and reflective of the more complex and changing
culture and they have to make them more compelling for the audiences.
As a programmer, what is the thought process about the two Jersey
Shore character spinoff series and do you
think they will negatively impact the main show's ratings?
Jersey Shore has been a
ratings hit and a pop culture phenomenon. The spinoff series show each of the
stars in a different environment and in a different light than the main series.
Pauly D's show [Pauly D Project] is
taking him on a different journey for our audience to see. We see it as a
complementary side journey and not something that should have an impact or
distract from the Jersey Shore
dynamic. We feel the same way about the Snooki and JWoww series [Snooki and JWoww vs. the World] which we
also believe is complementary to Jersey
Shore and will not detract from it. When those two series finish their
first season run, the characters will come back to join the rest of the cast at
the mother ship to film Jersey Shore's
sixth season. As far as the ratings for Jersey
Shore go, last season, characters in every reality series evolve just like
they do in real life. And the dynamics can change. So far, the bulk of the
audience from earlier seasons is staying with the show. I hope that it will be
around for a long time.